Philips - 2 LPs - 6747 139 - (p) 1974
Philips - 3 CDs - 420 797-2 - (c) 1989


Long Playing 1 - 6599 741

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet in F major, Op. 59 No. 1
40' 29"
- Allegro 11' 40"

- Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando 9' 00"

- Adagio molto e mesto - 13' 11"

- Thème russe (Allegro) 6' 38"

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2
38' 19"
- Allegro 10' 23"

Long Playing 2 - 6599 742

- Molto adagio
14' 20"

- Allegretto 8' 05"

- Finale (Presto 5' 41"

String Quartet in C major, Op. 59 No. 3

32' 01"
- Introduzione (Andante con moto) - Allegro vivace
10' 41"

- Andante con moto quasi allegretto
9' 58"

- Menuetto (Grazioso) -
5' 01"

- Allegro molto
6' 21"

- Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violino
- Piero Farulli, viola
- Franco Rossi, violoncello


Luogo e data di registrazione
Musica-Théâtre, Salle de Musique, La-Chaux-de-Fonds (Svizzera) - 13-19 dicembre 1973

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Tony Buczynski, Frans von Dongen

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 6747 139 | 2 LPs | (p) 1974

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 420 797-2 | 3 CDs - 40' 29" - 58' 51" - 64' 35" - (1°, 1-4; 2°, 1-4; 3°, 1-4) | (c) 1989 | ADD

L'edizione in CD contiene anche i Quartetti Op. 95 & Op. 74.

On february 27, 1807 the Vienna correspondent of the "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung" announced: "All connoisseurs of music have been greatly taken by three new, very long, and difficult violin quartets by Beethoven, dedicated to the Russian Ambassador, Count Rasoumovsky! They are of profound intellectual content, admirably developed, but not easy of access, although the Third in C major, should win the heart of every music-lover by its originality, and its melodic and harmonic power."
This differentiation in favour of the C major quartet made by Beethoven's contemporaries is still valid today. What is certain is that all three quartets of Op. 59, belonging to that period after the completion of the "Eroica" Symphony and after such incomparable creations as the "Waldstein" and "Appassionata" sonatas, occupy a dominant place in Beethoven's middle creative period.

All four movements, including the scherzo of the Quartet in F, are in fully expanded sonata form, and have been likened to four self-contained works. Another exception to the customary rules of form is the placing of the scherzo second, and it is worth noting that Beethoven does this again in the colossal Ninth Symphony, though there too it is still exceptional. In this quartet it is an early crystallisation of his highly individual ideas about the balance of a work.
Probably because of the dedication to Rasoumovsky, the quartet contains a Russian theme, specifically so named by Beethoven. This, however, is not used as a motto, and does not in fact appear till the finale. There is nevertheless an unmistakable resemblance between the opening of the first movement and that of the last. The artful, sonata-like "processing" of the Russian theme in the finale - in which Beethoven goes to the extent of weaving isolated parts of the theme together contrapuntally - is surpassed only by the composer's exploitation of the possibilities of his own theme in the first movement. The latter is unique in the rhythmic and melodic riches it affords for a development which reaches its peak in an absolutely regular double fugue. A characteristic Beethoven touch, which also shows that the work belongs to the same creative period as the "Waldstein," is the way in which the first subject, to a throbbing accompaniment, gradually emerges from the depths through a deliberately delayed revelation of the basic key.
The second movement opens with a strongly characterised dialogue, contrasting resonant and rhythmically varied notes on the unaccompanied cello (received by Beethoven's contemporaries with anger or derision) with the melodious answering phrases of the second violin. That the extreme simplicity of this passage is not merely an idiosyncratic effect but in fact an essential, is shown as the movement develops, not least at that point near the close where these rhythmic repetitions clearly, played by each of the four instruments in turn.
The unusually slow tempo, tragic intensity, and predominantly minor cast of the Adagio are reminiscent of the Marcia funebre of the "Eroica." An annotation on Beethoven's sketches for the Adagio could well serve as a motto for the whole: "A weeping willow or acacia on my brother's grave."

The E minor quartet, particularly, has characteristics which unconsciously anticipate the style of the last quartets. Even the very beginning of the work points to the future. First we hear the almost abstract sound of two strongly played chords, followed by a rest; then, instead of the usual thematic development of a motive, there follows a figure lasting a mere two bars. Several times in this first movement we hear the armonic progression known as the Neapolitan sixth.
Czerby has told us that the slow movement (Molto adagio) came to Beethoven while he was gazing at the starry heavens and thinking of the music of the spheres. The solemnity, and the broadly flowing, hymn-like nature of this movement render almost superfluous the rather strange direction it bears: "Si tratta questo pezzo con molto sentimento" (this piece should be treated with much feeling). It looks forward to the third movement of the late A minor quartet, Op. 132, headed "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit" (Hymn of gratitude, from one who has recovered, to the Deity).
Typical of Beethoven too is the rhythmic structure of the following Allegretto, high spirited, and with unusual accentuation on the off-beat. Into the trio of this movement is introduced the Russian theme, which one might almost judge to be incidental to the work as a whole. It appears with an accompanying contrapuntal figure, and is skifully woven into the succeeding canonic development. The complaint of the nineteenth-century criti Ulibishev, that here we have a Russian folk-song drowned in German erudition, is surely not justifiable. Beethoven's explicit direction for the repeats creates an ABABA structure by alternating the opening section (Minore) with the trio.
At the beginning of the finale the listener finds himself on very slippery ice indeed, since a clearly marked C major persists for several bars before finally yielding place to the basic E minor - a procedure repeated several times. This leads on to a series of correspondingly unexpected harmonic progressions throughout the movement, and similar tricks of rhythm. A number of commentators have found this last movement "symphonic," because of various "orchestral" effects.

Although written at the same time as the E minor quartet, the C major work is one of greater kinetic energy, much livelier and more stirring. The slow Introduzione is unique, unlike anything met in even the late quartets, since for several bars the tonality of the movement is concealed, and the introduction itself is not connected thematically with what follows. The Allegro is all the less problematical in comparison; it is introduced by two straightforward, clear chords, with the first violin playing concertante.
The positive forward drive of this quartet is not stemmed by an adagio; the second movement is a bodly striding Andante con moto quasi allegretto. The cello here is the focus of attention, and that from the very beginning, by its repetition of the same note pizzicato. Beethoven's scrupulous attention to the finlest nuance of sonority is shown by the forte indication for the opening pizzicato, the piano marking for the other instruments, and the pizzicati that follow. Dynamically modulated pizzicato figures underline still further the independent role of the cello, which also has the last word at the close. In this movement again, a particularly attractive effect is made by concealing the basi key at the beginning. Not until the other instruments come in does one realise that the solo cello which begins has given not the key-note, but its dominant.
Although it has not been established that this third quartet contains quotations from Russian folk song, critics have sought to find in the individually and strangeness of this movement something Russian in the broadest sense, namely Beethoven's insight into that special mentality. What is beyond doubt is that this piece is one of the most rewarding in the whole of quartet literature.
Beethoven's hair-fine judgement of balance in a work is evident in the beautifully proportioned Menuetto, which has surprisingly few modulations, and whose grace and charm are reminiscent of the Rococo period.
The basic dynamic orientation of the work finds its logical culmination in a fugal finale, with Beethoven's characteristic "spinning out" of the rigid form. Dramatic highlights, and a stretto at the close, remind us ot its closeness to other works of a different kind in this period.
If modern scholarship has renewed the question of innovation and originality in Beethoven, surely the intensity of expression in these middle-period quartets makes eloquent answer.
We may judge of Beethoven's own attitude to his art at this period from his letter of November 1, 1806 to his Scottish friend George Thomson, in which he writes à propos of a commission: "I shall endeavour to make the composition light and agreeable, as far as I can, and as far as this is comparable with that elevation and originality of style which specifically characterise my work; I shall never lower my standards."
Hans Schmidt