Beethoven and Bartok

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

On Thursday, October 13 2016, The Juilliard Quartet performs Beethoven and Bartok.

The evening opens with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F minor, Op.95, written in 1810.

The quartet was written soon after Napoleon invaded Vienna for the second time in 1809, occupying and bombarding the city for one night. Beethoven reportedly hid in the cellar, and covered his head with pillows, during that night.

The first 8 bars of Opus 95 include tempestuous and dotted rhythms, and a chorale.  In the first movement, instruments are assigned highly changeable roles.  The second movement provides a hymn like lyrical pause between movements, and the third and fourth movements are a return to the hectic tumultuous mood of the first.

Bartok – Quartet No. 1

This quartet which actually consists of three movements has been described as one of Bartok’s “tamest” string quartets.  He composed the piece for Stefi Geyer, a violinist with whom he fell in love.  Around the same time, Bartok had rejected the Catholicism he was brought up in, and declared himself an atheist.  The opening movement is slow and somewhat subdued at the start, and then it rises to a grand climax and then ends quietly.  The second movement is energetic, though at times ethereal.  It, also ends quietly.  Not so the third movement which is fiery, even to its ending.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet No. 7 in F major (“Rasumovsky No. 1”), Op. 59/1

Beethoven wrote these quartets in 1806 for Count Rasumovsky.  Initially, they were not well received.

The quartet begins in an amiable manner but soon fragments into sudden shifts of mood and colour. When first written, they were described by violinist Felix Radicati as “not music”.  The cellist Bernhard Romberg is said to have thrown the music on the ground and stomped on it.

In February 27, 1807, a piece in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung was a bit kinder.  It read,

“Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets … are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended.”

Of the quartets, Beethoven presciently said to his critics, “They are not for you, but for a later age”.  For us, they may be perfect.

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