beethoven the middle string quartets
ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
THE MIDDLE STRING QUARTETS
Excerpt from liner notes by Eric Bromberger
Count Andreas Kyrillovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, was an amateur violinist and string quartet enthusiast who had studied with Haydn. When he commissioned a set of three string quartets from Beethoven in 1805, he could not possibly have known what he would receive in return. Beethoven had at that time written one set of six quartets (published in 1801 as his Opus 18), cast very much in the high classical mold as set out by Haydn and Mozart. Doubtless Razumovsky expected something on this order, and he provided Beethoven with some Russian themes and asked that he include one in each of the three quartets. The count further assisted the composer by putting at his disposal the count’s own string quartet, led by Beethoven’s friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Beethoven worked two years on these quartets, completing them in 1806 and publishing them two years later.
The three quartets Beethoven published as his Opus 59, known today as the"Razumovsky Quartets", were so completely original that in one stroke they redefined the entire paradigm of the string quartet. These are massive works — in duration, sonority, and dramatic scope — and it is no surprise that they alienated their early audiences. Only with time did Beethoven’s achievement in this music become clear. Trying to take the measure of this new music, some early critics referred to the Razumovsky quartets as “symphony quartets,” but this is misleading, for the quartets are genuine chamber music. But it is true that what the Eroica did for the symphony, these quartets — and the two that followed in 1809 and 1810 — did for the string quartet: they opened new vistas, entirely new conceptions of what the string quartet might be and of the range of expression it might make possible.
Schuppanzigh’s quartet is reported to have burst into laughter at their first reading of the Quartet in F Major, convinced that Beethoven had intended a joke on them. When Schuppanzigh complained about the difficulty of this music, Beethoven shot back: “Do you think I worry about your wretched fiddle when the spirit speaks to me?”
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(part of 9 CD boxed set)
String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59 No. 1,
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2,
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3,
String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74, "Harp"
String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, "Serioso"