The String Quartets By Ludwig Van Beethoven

2470 words - 10 pages

The string quartets of Ludwig Van Beethoven were written over a long period of his life, stretching from 1799 to 1826. The tragedies that occurred throughout Beethoven’s life did not stop him from writing these seventeen masterpieces. The string quartets can be divided into three periods; early middle and late with the first six quartets of Op. 18 marking his ‘early’ works. As Beethoven’s writing began to flourish with creativity and imagination, he wrote the ‘Rasumovsky’ quartets that mark the ‘middle’ period in his career. Finally, the late quartets (also last works that Beethoven ever wrote) mark a cornerstone for various composers writing string quartets through the Romantic era and into ...view middle of the document...

In the last movement of the same quartet we hear an example of Beethoven’s effective use of key change and dynamics. In the development all four instruments work towards a climax with crescendo from piano to forte over one bar and moves, harmonically towards the key of D flat major. Just afterwards the level of excitement is greatly reduced and goes into a dreamlike episode, in D flat, avoiding a mature climax. This radical mood swing is Beethoven’s tactic that changes the music’s direction and occurs in all stages of his quartet writing. It is used by Romantic composers for the purpose of instantly abolishing more energetic episodes.
When Beethoven began writing the ‘Rasumovsky’ quartets the development and ideas in string quartet was blooming. Beethoven writing skills have hugely advanced in creativity and expression, despite only writing them five years after Op. 18. The most noticeable development in Beethoven’s string quartets by the time he reached Op. 59, No. 1, was that movements in his quartets were longer lasting. A performance of his seventh quartet in F lasts over forty minutes whereas one of his earlier quartets typically lasts under thirty. No string quartet before Op. 59, No. 1, or in any quartet by any other composer, not have a repetition of the exposition. Here, Beethoven goes straight into development and continues to explore new harmonies and ways of expression that were not developed in his earlier quartets.
What makes the second movement very interesting, is the use Beethoven makes of rhythm: the first motif is played by the cello, alone and plays just a B flat, but the variety of rhythm in this motif gives it a rather percussive quality. Here, Beethoven turns what might be ‘unmelodic’ into something that is in fact, fascinating and memorable to the listener. The second motif, now played by the viola, is the complete opposite of the first motif as it is instead, melodically driven and is played in a run of semiquavers. The two motifs are developed and shared by the four instruments that gives no dominance to one instrument. Here, Beethoven has ensured equal importance for each instrument, and has abandoned the accompaniment-texture style of quartet writing, which is greatly favoured by his earlier quartets.
In Op. 59, No. 3, Beethoven begins to make use of counterpoint in the fiendishly-fast, last movement. When all four instruments have entered the violins and the viola and cello double, making a fugue for just two voices and thinning the texture. Nonetheless, the use of counterpoint in string quartet writing is carried on into the late period and used with a greater, more emotional effect and complexity.
When Beethoven was writing Op. 131 in C sharp minor in 1825/6, he completely broke away from the standard structure and form and taking string quartet writing to a new level, unmatched by any composer before. He manages to think of ideas both unimaginable during his time, and also revolutionary in the development of the...

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