The Julliard String Quartet
========= from the cover ==========
In late 1792, the twenty-two-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna, ostensibly to study with Franz Joseph Haydn. At that time, Vienna was the capital of the Habsburg Empire, the center of string quartet writing, and the residence of an enthusiastic aristocracy eager to encourage the composition of new music. Among those ardent patrons, Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz (1772-1816) was one of Beethoven's early supporters. Beethoven in turn dedicated many of his finest works to the prince, including the six Quartets of Opus 18 and the Eroica Symphony. As his sketches reveal, Beethoven labored assiduously over Opus 18, his first venture into this medium. Working from 1798 to 1800, he completed the Quartet in I) major first, then those in F, G, A, and B-flat major, probably concluding with that in C minor. Due to Beethoven's habit of constant revision, the Quartets waited for publication until 1801. Remarkably, during this same period, he also finished his First Symphony, Third Piano Concerto, Trio in B-flat, several piano sonatas, and other works.
Although Beethoven's counterpoint teacher dismissed one of the Opus 18 Quartets as "trash" and the composer remarked that he had "just learned how to write quartets properly," many authorities attest that Opus 18 represented a milestone in the history of string quartet writing.
The Opus 18 series reveals Haydn as the source of such elements in the younger composer's style as inventive thematic procedures, solemn slow movements, abrupt geniality, dramatic urgency, moments of utter serenity, and a predilection for distant keys.
Op. 18, No. 3 in D Major
Beethoven's Quartet Opus 18, No. 3 in I) major, the composition of which preceded that of the remainder of the set, demonstrates the Beethovenian style, which permeates all four movements: an evoking harmonic and melodic urgency, a depth of harmonic resource, subtle logic of structure, ferocity coupled with engaging suspense, and brilliant instrumental writing realized through sagacious counterpoint.
In the opening Allegro, the initial theme establishes a momentum resulting from harmonic expectation and structural continuity. Not even the sudden presentation of the second theme in a distant key can interrupt the perpetual drive. The second movement, Andante con main, displays the serenity and deceptive simplicity so often found in early Beethoven slow movements. Amidst a solemn luxuriance in texture and harmony, a lyrical theme unfolds over an ingenious contrapuntal framework. A subtle rondo underlies the entire movement.
The terse third movement adheres to a somewhat elongated "classical" scherzo-and-trio form. Daring harmonic shifts enclose alluring but transient dissonances. Although Beethoven's sketches for the Presto finale, composed later than the earlier movements, disclose that he labored extensively on it, the movement breathes fresh spontaneity paired with technical wizardry.
Op. 18, No. 1 in F Major
At the suggestion of the celebrated violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, Beethoven directed that his second quartet be published first in the Opus 18 group. The F Major Quartet abounds in deft modulations, daring explorations of harmonic contrast, and formal counterpoint. A shade of Haydnesque jocularity pervades the whole.
In the initial Allegro con brio, the salient opening thematic figure, more rhythmic than melodic, suffuses the entire movement. Beethoven's sketches disclose that this motivic idea endured many transformations before the composer felt satisfied. In contrast, the second thematic idea remains tentative and subordinate, harmonically wavering in a typical early Beethovenian manner.
The inscriptions affettuoso and appassionato heading the awesome Adagio movement signify a profundity of feeling. According to the violinist Karl Amenda, Beethoven had pictured the burial vault scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet while composing this movement. An extended sonata form comprehends the entire range of conscious emotion. Raw pathos is expressed by tragic gestures, fervid explorations of the minor key, contrapuntal intensity, breathtaking harmonic suspense, and dramatic contrasts of dynamics.
The caprice of the Scherzo shines in brusque exchanges of octave leaps with rushing scales, continual shifts of key, and playful dynamic strokes. An. Allegro concludes the Quartet with a leisurely succession of varied melodic episodes encased within an expansive sonata-rondo structure.
Opus 18, No. 2 in G Major
German string quartet players refer to this work as the Komplimetitierungsquartett, for it embodies a courtly rococo grace and balance reminiscent of Haydn. On the other hand, the Quartet contains some thematic kinship between movements, heralding nineteenth-century cyclic form. For the opening Allegro, Beethoven parades a jaunty succession of melodic fragments, which he gradually reshuffles rhythmically and exploits with unexpected harmony. A complicated fugal episode, liberally drawn from the initial thematic ideas, creates suspense in an idiom akin to some of Haydn's Opus 20 quartets. The. Adagio cantabile continues the classical urbanity already established, its majesty deriving from its homogeneous texture and seamless melodic flow. A sudden shift to stylised dance style in an intermediate Allegro section interrupts an otherwise leisurely gait before the return of the Adagio theme. Chromaticism and unexpected minor harmony portend Romantic sentimentality.
The Scherzo: Allegro displays a masterful condensation of ideas. Coquettish humor and wit evolve from the droll main theme, sparked by an animated transition back to the first section. The closing Allegro continues this vein, its momentum characteristic of a spirited classical finale. Abundant canons, other contrapuntal workmanship, and harmonic surprise produce this liveliness despite the stolid, formal sonata structure.
Opus 18, No. 4 in C Minor
In the fourth Quartet of Op. 18, Beethoven's use of the C minor tonality, perhaps influenced by Mozart, reflects his predilection for this mode to express somber intensity, tragedy, and even heroism, as in the Sonate pathetique and Fifth Symphony.
Despite the rather gently lyrical temper of the opening Allegro, powerful rhetoric marks both themes, which share a similar motive and structural resemblance. An early but unostentatious subsidiary theme surfaces in the coda with an unexpectedly threatening gesture.
The moderately paced Scherzo, full of conscious wit and intended simplicity, functions as the slow movement of the Quartet, nevertheless maintaining the airy geniality of a traditional scherzo. Very complex counterpoint predominates, sometimes skillfully converted to homophonic texture.
The leisurely Menuetto displays an elegant, stylised dance quality coupled with seemingly casual harmonic movement and an unsettled tonality creating dark emotion. This somber passion also derives from Beethoven's singular fusion of Mozartian chromaticism with Romantic intensity. In the trio, the three lower instruments chatter away against shimmering commentary in the first violin. Externally, the finale follows rondo structure, with clear divisions between the principal and intervening material. Internally, however, Beethoven unleashed diverging thematic and harmonic invention, bordering on variation technique. Now - as with the last two Op. 18 Quartets -finales carry the principal weight in the composition.
Opus 18, No. 5 in A Major
Mozart's Quartet in A Major, K.464, probably furnished the "model" for the fifth Quartet of the Opus 18 series. Giraceful in its Mozartian melodies, the opening . Allegro of Beethoven's Quartet winds effortlessly and whimsically through successive ideas in a somewhat spare texture, countered by forceful counterpoint, a brisk temper, and colorful harmonies. Atypically for Beethoven, a certain peacefulness pervades the development section through its harmonic quietude and rather conventional treatment of thematic material.
Deviating from traditional quartet design, the Menuetto appears as the second movement, rather than the third. Full of sanguine melodiousness, this movement borders on a lean Haydnesque texture, the second part endowed with a dark harmonic color. The trio displays the familiar geniality of Viennese dance style fortified by powerful unisons.
Beethoven copied out the final two movements of Mozart's A Major Quartet, the theme and variations of which -according to Joseph Kerman - descend from Haydn's Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4. Despite his predecessors, however, harmonically Beethoven retained his individuality in the complexly imaginative Andante variations, the true heart of this Quartet. In contrast to the melodically and harmonically bare theme, the climax at the closing fifth variation reaches symphonic proportions. This stroke and the broad emotional sweep of these variations perhaps predict Beethoven's late style. In his Allegro finale, Beethoven again paid homage to his classical forebears, borrowing the second theme from Mozart's Quartet. Both the older and newer finales, moreover, merge classical sonata form with counterpoint.
Opus 18, No. 6 in B-flat Major
An unorthodox amalgam of varying emotions, compositional techniques, and stylistic effects, the sixth Quartet gradually gains intensity as the movements pass by, from the shimmer of the opening Allegro con brio to the depth of the finale, La Malinconia. The vivacious opening movement suggests a spirited Haydnesque idiom cast in the manner of opera buffa. Intriguing harmonic turns hinting at later Beethoven, assisted by the jarring separation of the theme and its harmonic foundation in the development section and by incisively etched counterpoint, partially compensate for the relative scarcity of major thematic material.
Through the rococo embroidering of the principal subject, the Adagio truly becomes a set of variations, the development of motivic ideas generally yielding to a subtle exploitation of instrumental color intensified by textural contrast and harmonic invention. The individualism of the Scherzo lies chiefly in the metrical ambiguity wrought through skilful harmonic shifts and displaced rhythmic accents, the trio adding a note of jocularity.
The concluding La Malinconia represents a composite structure in a remarkable fluctuation of musical moods, indicated by the composer to be performed "with very great delicacy." The slow introduction's elusive chromaticism and strange melodic ornamentation have been translated by convention as "melancholy". In its harmonic instability, motivic suggestion, dramatic vacillation in dynamics, and antiphony, it could more accurately be interpreted as pathos. After La Malinconia, the sparkling and dance like last section,. Allegretto quasi Allegro, brings relief, except for the intervening interruptions of Adagio.
-Cecelia H. Porter