October 19th, 2017 at 1:30 pm
CALIDORE STRING QUARTET
Jeffrey Myers, violin ; Ryan Meecham, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello
“MUSIC FOR A LATER AGE”
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127
– Maestoso – Allegro
– Adagio ma non tropo e molto cantabile – Andante con moto – Adagio molto espressivo
– Scherzando vivace – Presto
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131
– Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo – attacca:
– Allegro molto vivace – attacca:
– Allegro moderato – attacca:
– Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile -Andante moderato e lusinghiero – Adagio- Allegretto – Adagio ma non troppo e semplice – Allegretto
– Presto – Molto poco adagio – attacca
– Adagio quasi un poco andante – attacca:
Beethoven’s Late Quartets: The composition of the sixteen Beethoven string quartets, from 1798 to 1826, encompasses much of the composer’s career, and offers an intriguing glimpse into the development of genius, as well as the progression from 18th-century classicism to 19th-century romanticism. The “late” quartets, Op. 127 through Op. 135, written in an astonishing creative burst from 1824 to 1826, were received badly by contemporary audiences and critics alike. Louis Spohr, a much-respected composer of the time, famously dismissed them as “indecipherable, uncorrected horrors.” They are now universally regarded as the pinnacle of achievement in the string quartet form.
Beethoven Op. 127: The first performance of Op. 127 was by all accounts a disaster. It took place on March 6, 1825, barely two weeks after Beethoven belatedly delivered the music to the Schuppanzigh Quartet. The composer required each of the four eminent musicians to sign a bizarre contract, guaranteeing their utmost diligence in performing his work. Perhaps anxious about the success of the debut, Beethoven did not attend the event. His nephew Karl reported that the first violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh played “so badly.” He cited many breakdowns in ensemble, as well as Schuppanzigh breaking a string and continuing to play on a three-stringed instrument. (As a violinist, I can’t even imagine such an impossible task!)
In 1822 the Russian aristocrat (and amateur cellist) Prince Nikolai Galitsin, who had spent a number of years in Vienna, had written to Beethoven, asking to commission “one, two, or three” quartets, and offering to pay “whatever amount you would deem adequate.” The composer agreed, specifying 50 ducats for each of three quartets. Galitsin promptly sent 50 ducats for the first work. But then Beethoven became deeply involved with his Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis. Op. 127 was not started for over two years, in spite of Prince Galitsin’s numerous impassioned pleas for progress.
There were further difficulties involving Schuppanzigh, one of Beethoven’s few lifelong friends. Like most of the composer’s relationships, their friendship was complicated. Schuppanzigh had enjoyed a respected career in Vienna as the leader of the world’s first professional string quartet, and had been involved in many Beethoven premieres. But when he complained to Beethoven about a difficult passage in one of the Op. 59 quartets, the composer testily responded “Do you believe I think about your miserable fiddle when the muse strikes me?”
Convinced that Beethoven had promised him the rights to the first performance of Op. 127, Schuppanzigh had advertised it in his schedule of upcoming quartet concerts. But Beethoven’s brother Johann (the composer’s inept financial agent) had promised the same rights to Joseph Linke, cellist in Schuppanzigh’s quartet. When Schuppanzigh erupted in displeasure, Beethoven settled the matter by offering Linke instead the first performance of his next quartet, Op. 132. (The opus numbers of the last five quartets are in order of publication, not composition.) Both Johann and his son Karl maintained a steady barrage of criticism of Schuppanzigh, based unkindly on the violinist’s corpulence. The two insisted that his hugely enlarged waistline and fat fingers were adversely affecting his technique, especially his intonation.
Was Schuppanzigh solely to blame for the failed premiere of Op. 127? Second violinist Karl Holz, perhaps in a bit of remorse, later admitted to Beethoven, “If you had heard it, we would all four of us together have received a beating.” But at the time, Schuppanzigh’s three colleagues seemed to consider their first violinist responsible for the March 6 imbroglio. They immediately replaced Schuppanzigh with the prominent violinist Joseph Böhm. (Böhm later claimed it was Beethoven who initiated the change.) Just under three weeks later, on March 23, the re-formed ensemble presented a concert devoted entirely to Op. 127: the work was performed twice, separated by a brief intermission. More successful than the premiere debacle, the concert nonetheless suffered what musicians often refer to as a “train wreck” (complete breakdown) near the start, requiring the no doubt embarrassed players to start anew.
Schuppanzigh pressed for another chance at the work, at a scheduled upcoming performance. Once again, he was passed over, this time in favor of his former student, Joseph Mayseder, with whom there were two further presentations of Op. 127.
It is not known just how much involvement Beethoven himself had in Schuppanzigh’s humiliation. We do know, however, that twenty-four years earlier Beethoven had written a short piece for full chorus and three solo male voices entitled “Lob auf den Dicken” (In Praise of the Fat One), which concludes, “Oh scoundrel Schuppanzigh, Oh donkey Schuppanzigh, We all agree, That you are the biggest ass, Oh ass, hahaha.”
Beethoven Op. 131: The three string quartets commissioned by Prince Galitzin would become Op. 127, Op. 130, and Op. 132. Soon after he had paid for and finally received the first, Op. 127, the Prince had gone bankrupt and was apparently unable to pay for the second two works. Less than a week before Beethoven died in 1827, he made the last of his many attempts to collect the remaining two-thirds of the promised fee. It was not until 1858 that Galitsin’s son George deposited the full amount in a German bank, to be used by the composer’s sole remaining heir, the widow of Beethoven’s nephew Karl.
Beethoven had not stopped after completing the three Galitsin quartets. He continued, without commissions, with two more, clearly and solely from internal impetus. Opus 131, his last complete quartet, was begun in late 1825 and finished in the summer of 1826, just months before the composer’s death the following year. The work was not played in public until 1835, but private performances included one in 1828 for Franz Schubert, at his request, on his deathbed. He is said to have remarked, “After this, what is left for us to write?”
When he sent Op. 131 to the publisher Schott, Beethoven wrote whimsically on the score, “Patched together from various bits filched here and there.” This was probably to call humorous attention to the work’s remarkably unusual structure. Gone were the traditional four separate movements, replaced by a novel succession of seven sections, to be played virtually without pause. Schott was not amused by the inscription, and, aware of Beethoven’s questionable dealings with publishers, demanded reassurance that the work was, in fact, completely new.
Richard Wagner praised Op. 131 extravagantly in his 1870 essay on Beethoven, declaring the opening Adagio “surely the saddest thing ever said in notes.” And the composer himself considered Op. 131 his favorite of the late quartets, rating it as his most perfect single work.