Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Nationality: German
Baptized: December 17, 1770, Bonn Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna (age 56)

String Quartet No. 8 in e minor, Op. 59, Razumovsky, No. 2

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
11:44 I. Allegro
12:51 II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
7:15 III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:33 IV. Finale. Presto
Duration: 38 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1806 (age 35-36)
Published: 1808, Vienna: Comptoir des Arts et de l'Industrie (age 37-38)
10 recordings, 28 videos
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12:47
Miró Quartet
I. Allegro
12:06
Miró Quartet
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
6:18
Miró Quartet
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:11
Miró Quartet
IV. Finale. Presto
13:25
Takács Quartet
I. Allegro
14:59
Takács Quartet
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
6:30
Takács Quartet
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:37
Takács Quartet
IV. Finale. Presto
12:42
Artemis Quartet
I. Allegro
11:59
Artemis Quartet
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
6:09
Artemis Quartet
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:04
Artemis Quartet
IV. Finale. Presto
10:24
Quartetto Italiano
I. Allegro
14:23
Quartetto Italiano
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
8:07
Quartetto Italiano
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:40
Quartetto Italiano
IV. Finale. Presto
9:52
Guarneri Quartet
I. Allegro
13:55
Guarneri Quartet
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
8:24
Guarneri Quartet
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:32
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Finale. Presto
8:45
Juilliard String Quartet
I. Allegro
13:04
Juilliard String Quartet
II. Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
6:31
Juilliard String Quartet
III. Allegretto - Maggiore (Théme Russe)
5:15
Juilliard String Quartet
IV. Finale. Presto
34:02
Quatuor Sine Nomine
33:49
Pascal Quartet
38:34
Cleveland Quartet
36:40
Cecilia Quartet
From Kai Christiansen

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2, "Rasumovsky", 1806

When the Russian Ambassador Count Rasumovsky commissioned Beethoven for three string quartets in 1805, he catalyzed an explosion that expanded the tradition in every direction as Beethoven applied his middle period genius to make the genre his own. Composed in 1806, the Op. 59 quartets set a new standard making profound demands on the performer and listener alike with music that was complex and "difficult" on multiple levels. The timescale grows longer and the emotional compass much wider. Musicologist Arthur Cohn astutely points out that Op. 59 halves the number of quartets in a published set and, after this, all of Beethoven's quartets are singletons. No longer nestled in a half-dozen stylish and rhetorical quartets, from this point on, each quartet is a complex entity of extraordinary individuality. Op. 59, No. 2 is literally the dark center of the triptych ruled by the key of E minor and a restless volatility of extremes. While two of the three quartets contain explicit Russian themes after Rasumovsky's request, it seems that this particular quartet projects the strongest Russian bearing in a kind of pervasive exotic intensity.

The first movement begins by suddenly ending: two definitive chords and pregnant pause. Almost furtively, a hushed figure resolves the line, slowly evolving into a theme as it sheds the inertia of such arrested development. This abrupt disruption occurs many times throughout the movement, each time thwarting the momentum only to slingshot it further forward when it resumes. Sonata form contrasts are especially vivid when the initial minor key moves toward a major tonality. A lyrical second theme flowers and rises briefly into daring if not manic triumph but it is continually denied by violent disruptions and furtive whispers. This pattern is only amplified by the development and the conclusion. The entire movement is almost like one narrative gesture as light repeatedly tries to emerge from dark in a struggle of escalating intensity. The music ends resolutely but quietly, a war into a final whisper.

The slow movement follows with a golden grace as if to memorialize the fallen from the former battle. It is a slow, noble march like a compassionate hymn for a cortege. To counter the profoundly disjointed and wildly unregulated momentum of the first movement, the second movement glides in smooth, long lines of gentle repose sweetly embracing a major tonality. But memorials will inevitably surface grief and so the music rises to a gripping cry with more dark whispers. The noble cortege holds this grief with tremendous care, bearing it onwards unflinchingly until it is lovingly laid to rest.

The Scherzo starts quietly as the unsettling whispers from the first movement rise in a troubled mist yet again. A syncopated allegretto recalls the contrasts of the first movement in miniature as a dynamic swell of volume and texture rises from minor to major only to suddenly stall against a violent disruption that subsequently cools into a sinister softness. The trio glitters by contrast with the lively treatment of a famous Russian theme in a combination of fugue and variation, an ingenious amalgam nestled within the scherzo form. So delightful is the effect that Beethoven has the trio repeat for an ABABA pattern. Again, the two parts reiterate the fundamental contrast of disjointed and smooth momentum, a compressed echo of the first two movements as well as the two themes in the first movement itself.

The presto finale once again encapsulates the vivid polarity of dark vs. light only this time in reverse order. A proud, quick march theme starts in a foolhardy major that soon dips into the minor and then escalates into a familiar contest with mounting energies on both sides. The music pursues a rondo form with the foolhardy refrain defying the episodes that attempt to undermine it. The march becomes a wild dash and finally a brief, mad tarantella ending in the minor mode once and for all.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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