Philips - 1 LP - 802 806 - (p) 1968
Philips - 4 CDs - 426 050-2 - (c) 1989

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
47' 10"
- Assai sostenuto - Allegro
10' 00"

- Allegro ma non tanto 8' 21"

- Canzona di ringraziamento (Molto adagio) - Sentendo nuova forza (Andante)
19' 33"

- Alla marcia, assai vivace - Pi allegro - Presto
2' 20"

- Allegro appassionato
6' 55"

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


Luogo e data di registrazione
Thtre Vevey, Vevey (Svizzera) - 18-31 agosto 1967

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Tony Buczynski

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 802 806 | 1 LP | (p) 1968

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 426 050-2 | 4 CDs - 63' 45" - 62' 00" - 42' 22" - 47' 10" - (4*, 1-5) | (c) 1989 | ADD


These was a time early in the century when an unfortunate mystique surrounded the last five of Beethoven's sixteen string quartets. They were regarded as the last terrible utterances of a musical superman which were somehow beyond mortal comprehension. Ordinary music lovers baffled by esoteric discussion of their spiritual significance hesitated to approach this holy ground and those who had the temerity to do so somehow guilty about finding enjoyment in them ar a first hearing.
The last quartets are, in fact, completely approachable works  and to say this in no way detracts from their greatness - for greatness does not imply lack of enjoyment at the first hearing but rather increased enjoyment at the second. The real measure of these works is that no matter how often they are heard, they still have something to offer the listener.
The truth is that Beethoven's greatness lay in his humanity and not in some supposed divinity; his last quartets are all the more meaningful if we regard them for what they are - great testaments of human experience in which joy and humour have their place with deeper emotions.
The A Minor Quartet, Op. 132 has a good claim to being the most human of them all. It was the second (in order of composition) of a set of three commissioned by the Russian Prince Galitsin in 1823 - a commission which encouraged Beethoven to devote himself to the string quartet form again after a gap of nearly fourteen years. Illness, however, interrupted the composition in 1825 and in so doing became the central feature of the work. Over the deeply felt Adagio, Beethoven inscribed "Hymn of Gratitude of one who has recovered from illness to the Deity, in the Lydian mode" - the illness being a flare-up of the stomach and liver troubles which bothered him chronically in later life and must have been all the more depressing in the isolation imposed by his then total deafness.
Beethoven's sketchbooks show that the basic material and form of the work emerged from wide study which affected many other works of the period. While working on the Missa Solemnis, for instance, he became engrossed in the early liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church and the works of Palestrina which he found in the library of the Austrian Archduke Rudolph, for whom the work was intended. These influences became marked in his later works and account for the use of what he calls the Lydian mode in this quartet. (It is actually the Hypolydian mode the scale represented by the white keys of the piano between F and F.)
The sketchbooks show, too, an obsession with the four top notes of the minor scale and his experiments with their intervals gave rise to the quartet's four-note opening as well as the fugue of the G-Sharp Minor Quartet, Op. 131 and the Grosse Fugue (originally the finale of the B-Flat minor Quartet, Op. 130). There is also some evidence that the main subject of the A Minor's finale was at one point considered for the finale of the Ninth Symphony.
At the same time Beethoven was advancing his own frontiers of form even further. Form in the last quartets, as in the late piano sonatas, had become for Beethoven a flexible channel whose shape was determined by what had to be expressed rather than the rigid mold of Haydn and Mozart to which the content had to conform. The first movement of the A Minor Quartet, for instance, is unique in its structure and the Adagio is a development of the double-variation form also employed in the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony.
But however unusual the forms of these movements may be, they are quite as clearcut and straightforward as the regular forms (the scherzo and trio and the rondo) which Beethoven uses in the quartet when they suit his artistic purpose. Certainly they should not discourage anyone approaching the quartet for the first time. The fact is that, despite the lenght of the work and its "peculiarities" - and despite the esoteric theories of music-metaphysicians of earlier days - contemporary accountes prove that the work was very popular in Beethoven's lifetime. The composer's nephew Karl, for instance, was present at the first public performance on November 6, 1825. (The work was first heard at a private recital two months before.)
"The hall was packed no capacity," Karl wrote to his uncle. "It was too full to hear many of the comments, although I do remember that many of the passages were greeted with cheers and many members of the audience could speak of nothing else than the beauty of the new quartet after the concert was over. Schuppanzigh wishes to play it again in a fortnight's time."
If the Viennese public could show such unabashed pleasure in hearing the work for the first time, there seems little reason why we should feel guilry about enjoying our first encounter with it, or about looking forward to the even deeper pleasures that growing familiarity with this musical masterpiece can bring.

First Movement
This is sometimes described as a movement with three expositions but, far from it being adaptation of sonata form, it has a quite definite structure of its own. It opens with four notes on the cello which are used immediately to build up what seems like an introduction to the first theme. They are, however, thematic themselves and provide the unifying element of the whole movement. When the first theme appears after a sudden solo scamper by the first violin, they form the basis of the accompaniment and thereafter continue to give the music the appearance of breathing slowly and steadily even beneath violent activity.
Beethoven continues with a natural development of his first theme, moving to F major (instead of the expected dominant of sonata form) for the transition to the second theme. It is a lyrical flowing melody shared by the violins against a rippling triplat accompaniment which disguises the fact that the melody's ehythm is derived from the first theme and that the harmony is based on the opening build-up of the four key notes.
What would correspond to the development section in sonata form begins with the key notes in canon on cello and viola. After their brief development in conjunction with the first theme, Beethoven moves now to the dominant of E minor, with the key notes in a forceful unison, and proceeds to restate his material in a revised version (the second theme being in C major). We emerge in a questioning passage with the four instruments hesitating together on the key notes before moving into another developed version of the first theme in the home key of A minor; shortened versions of the transition and the second theme in turn (the second this time in C, the relative major). The long coda is built on the key notes and features of both themes.
Second Movement
In comparison nothing could be more straightforward in form than the nest movement in A major, which is a scherzo and trio. It is not, however, the kind of bold, boisterous scherzo normally associated with Beethoven: the music has a strangely subdued, almost weary air about it. The scherzo theme is built the same way as the previous movement's main theme - an opening three-note motif played in unison is used by the second violin as the solo accompaniment to the "melody" which amounts to only one short falling figure on the first violin. The fact that the whole scherzo is based on these two simple elements gives it an inescapable air of austerity. The trio, a mustte in A major, is much lighter in texture but thebagpipe drone characteristic of this dance and lack of key contrast perpetuates initially at least, the slightly depressed air.
Third Movement
The heart of the work is the Molto adagio, the "hymn of Gratutude" in the Hypolydian mode (see introduction). The hymn is presented in five short sections and is yet again dual in character for each section is proceded by a short prelude which later assumes an independent thematic role. Beethoven then presents a new, more vigorous theme in D (Andante) which he marks "Feeling new power" - obviously symbolising the regaining of strenght after his illness. The hymn then returns on the first violin, the preludial sections being developed into a continuous polyphonic accompaniment in the other parts (the cello retaining the octave leaps from its accompaniment of the second theme). The second theme is then recalled for similar variation treatment. Finally this wonderfully conceived movement ends with further variation of the preludial music, the hymn being ever present like a cantus firmus but moving all the while from one instrument to another.
Fourth Movement
In complete contrast is the simple, rather forlorn little march in A major which follows. It is in two short sections, each repeated, but even so hardly merits the title "Movement", Beethoven, indeed, seems to reproach himself for it, breaking off into a passionate "recitative" which carries us into the finale without a break.
Fifth Movement
The finale is in a simple rondo form (ABACABA), the main recurring theme (A) being a yearning waltz stated initially the first violin against a restless accompaniment. Beethoven moves to G major for the first episode (B), which opens with the first violin trilling in a series of descending phrases against an accompaniment derived from the preceding section. After the return of A, episode C (in fact developed from the material of A and B) carries the music to an emotional climax full of biting sforzandos. Instead of introducing a third new episode Beethoven then recalls a new version of B after which yje main theme makes its final official appearance in an agitated presto. We then move into A major for the long coda based on the material of thema and episodes alike.