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String Quartet No. 14

Composer: Beethoven Ludwig van

Instruments: Violin Viola Cello

Tags: Quartet


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Complete. Piano (Louis Winkler)Presto (No.5). Piano (Karl Tausig)Complete. Piano four hands (Hugo Ulrich)Adagio quasi un poco andante (No.6). Piano (Ullman, Spenser Ford)Adagio quasi un poco andante (No.6). Clarinet(2) + Flute(2) (Ullman, Spenser Ford)Complete. Orchestra (Müller Berghaus, Karl)Adagio quasi un poco andante (No.6). Organ (Baruk, Jason)
The String Quartet No. 14 in C♯ minor, Op. 131, was completed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1826. It is the last-composed of a trio of string quartets, written in the order Opp. 132, 130 (with the Große Fuge ending), 131.
It was Beethoven's favourite of the late quartets: he is quoted as remarking to a friend that he would find "a new manner of part-writing and, thank God, less lack of imagination than before". It is said that upon listening to a performance of this quartet, Schubert remarked, "After this, what is left for us to write?" Schumann said that this quartet and Op. 127 had a "grandeur ... which no words can express. They seem to me to stand ... on the extreme boundary of all that has hitherto been attained by human art and imagination."
This work is dedicated to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim [de] as a gesture of gratitude for taking his nephew, Karl, into the army after a suicide attempt. Beethoven died before the work's publication by Schott Music and before its first performance, the date of which is uncertain.
About 40 minutes in length, it consists of seven movements played without break:
The Op. 131 quartet is a monumental feat of integration. While Beethoven composed the quartet in six distinct key areas, the work begins in C♯ minor and ends in C♯ major. The finale directly quotes the opening fugue theme in the first movement in its second thematic area. This type of cyclical composition was avant-garde for a work of that period. Joseph Kerman wrote: "blatant functional reference to the theme of another movement: this never happens". (It had happened in some other Beethoven works such as the Piano Sonata Op. 101, Cello Sonata Op. 102 No. 1, and the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies; it had even happened before in Joseph Haydn's Forty-Sixth Symphony. Nevertheless, Op. 131 is the first Beethoven work in which the quotation is integrated completely into its new context instead of appearing like an explicit quotation, though even this effect had been anticipated the previous year in the young Felix Mendelssohn's Octet, and much earlier in Christian Latrobe's A major Piano Sonata dedicated to Haydn.)
Op. 131 is often grouped with Opp. 132 and 130. There is motivic sharing among the three works. In particular, the "motto" fugue of the leading note rising to the tonic before moving to the minor sixth and then dropping down to the dominant is an important figure shared by these works.
This quartet is one of Beethoven's most elusive works musically. The topic has been written about extensively from very early after its creation, from Karl Holz, the second violinist of the Schuppanzigh Quartet, to Richard Wagner, to contemporary musicologists today. One popular topic is a possible religious/spiritual genesis for this work, supported by similarities to the Missa Solemnis. In the first movement of Op. 131, the continually flowing texture resembles the Benedictus and the Dona Nobis Pacem from the earlier work. In addition, whether purposefully or not, Beethoven quotes a motivic figure from Missa Solemnis in the second movement of the quartet.
The piece was featured in the plot of the 2012 film A Late Quartet. It also featured in the Band of Brothers episode "Why We Fight".
A fugue based on the following subject, which contains (bars 2–3) the second tetrachord of the harmonic minor scale, the unifying motif of Beethoven's last string quartets:
Richard Wagner said this movement "reveals the most melancholy sentiment expressed in music". Joseph Kerman calls it "this most moving of all fugues". J.W.N. Sullivan (1927, p. 235) hears it as "the most superhuman piece of music that Beethoven has ever written." Philip Radcliffe says "[a] bare description of its formal outline can give but little idea of the extraordinary profundity of this fugue."
A delicate dance in compound duple meter in the key of D major, in compact sonata form based on the following folk-like theme:
In the spirit of recitativo obbligato following the key of B minor; the modulation from B minor to E major functions as a short introduction to the next movement.
This, the central movement of the quartet, is a set of 7 variations (6 complete and 1 incomplete, with coda) on the following simple theme in A major shared between the first and second violins:
This movement is the apotheosis of the 'Grand Variation' form from Beethoven's late period.
In E major, this is a brilliant scherzo (though in duple rather than triple time), based on the following simple idea:
Towards the end of the scherzo, there is "an astounding "passage of pianissimo sul ponticello writing for all the instruments, mostly on their highest strings." Joseph Kerman asks "Was this a sound Beethoven had actually heard, back in the days when he was hearing, or did he make up the sound for the first time in 1826? Beethoven deaf was quite capable of 'hearing' or imagining or inventing not only relationships between notes but also sonorities pure and simple."
In G♯ minor, this movement is in bar form with a coda, which serves as a slow, sombre introduction to the next movement.
The finale is in sonata form and returns to the home key of C♯ minor. The first subject has two main ideas:
The violent rhythm in this subject is contrasted with the soaring, lyrical second theme: