Philips - 1 LP - 802 915 - (p) 1969
Philips - 4 CDs - 426 050-2 - (c) 1989

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
42' 30"
- Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo 8' 51"

- Allegro molto vivace 3' 06"

- Allegro moderato 0' 58"

- Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile - Più mosso - Andante moderato e lusinghiero - Adagio - Allegretto - Adagio ma non troppo e semplice - Allegretto
14' 39"

- Presto 5' 37"

- Adagio, quasi un poco andante 2' 26"

- Allegro 6' 52"

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


Luogo e data di registrazione
Théâtre Vevey, Vevey (Svizzera) - 26 luglio / 3 agosto 1969

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Ko Witteveen

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 802 915 | 1 LP | (p) 1969

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 426 050-2 | 4 CDs - 63' 45" - 62' 00" - 42' 22" - 47' 10" - (3*, 1-7) | (c) 1989 | ADD


The C sharp minor quartet, Op. 131, written in the first half of 1826, the year before the composer's death, is Beethoven's penultimate string quartet and arguably the greatest of the five last quartets which preoccupied him till his death. It is, in fact, the natural culmination of the musical ideas on which he had based his two previous quartets, Op. 132 and op. 130 (With its original finale, the "Grosse Fuge" now known as op. 133).
The three quartets together (in order of composition - Op. 132, Op. 130, and Op. 131) might be regarded as a tryptych for everything points to their artistic unity. They share a close thematic relationship through Beethoven's obsession at that time with the four upper notes of the harmonic minor scale and he employs these in almost serial arrangements throughout the three works. Rearranged round the interval of a rising sixth they form the opening notes and thematic germ cell of Op. 132 and they ultimately recur in the same sequence in the finale of Op. 131. In a similar arrangement they form the motto theme of Op. 130's original finale, the "Grosse Fuge", and it is no surprise to find them again, rearranged round a third this time, as the opening notes of Op. 131. In the finale we find the four notes descending in the scale sequence which originally fascinated Beethoven because of the wide interval of a tone and a half between the two middle notes.
Beethoven's sketchbooks prove that these remarkable features cannot be passed over as coincidences. Even if they were there would be other coincidences to explain - for instance the "ABC" sequence of the tonalities of the three quartets (A minor, B flat major, C sharp minor) and the fact that they have successively five, six, and seven movements. The case for op. 131 being regarded as a six-movement work is admittedly arguable for the third "movement" is only ten bars long. It bears the same A major key signature as the movement which follows and some critics, notably Vincent d'Indy, regard it as simply an introduction. The tonality, however, is clearly B minor and if we take the tonal centres of the first four movements - C sharp, D, B, and A - we have the same pattern as the mottos of Op. 132 and the "Grosse Fuge"; the key notes of the remaining movements complete a cyclic progression back to C sharp for the finale.
Earlier in the century, when the late Beethoven quartets were regarded with undue reverence as the last words of a musical superman, these structural subtletics were invested with metaphysical and spiritual significance.
The detailed analysis which follow treats therm simply as musical facts and Beethoven's own attitude to his late quartets, in public at least, suggest that he regarded them the same way. For instance, before handing over Op. 131 to the publisher's agent on august 12, 1826 he scribbled on the copy "Put together from pilferings from one thing and another". ("Zusammengestohlen aus Verschiedenem diesem und jenem".) This typical Beethovenian joke, presumably based on Op. 131's references to the other quartets, so alarmed Schott the publisher, that the composer had to write an earnest letter assuring him of the work's originality.

First movement:
Beethoven discards first-movement form and begins with a fugue which has a curious air of deyacjment. The opening of the subject is derived from a simple rearrangement of the molto notes of Op. 132 and the "Grosse Fuge". The second part of the subject soon becomes detached and with its inversion forms contrapuntal sequences which carry us through a bewildering maze of keys (at on stage we find the sequence anticipating the theme of Op. 135's finale) until the full subject enters again in A major.
We arrive back in the home key with the tailpiece again and the full theme makes its final entries against a diminution of it. The movement reaches its climax with the subject entering in augmented form on the cello and ends with pulsing sforzandi fading against the tailpiece in contrary motion in the inner parts. The tonic C sharp is heldo to become the leading-note of the next movement in D major. (All the movements, in fact, are linked.)
Second movement:
Again Beethoven look back in form, this time to the Baroque suite. The subject is a dance-like theme of only superficial cheerfulness. It makes four appearances in all and the first violin and viola share the first statement. Two variants (the first transformed into the "Grosse Fuge" motto) carry us in an episodic passage to the first of three reappearances of the theme - this time in E major. Then comes a second episode featuring three derivative figures and forceful piano/forte contrasts. The theme reappears in the tonic and Beethoven proceed with the first episode's "Grosse Fuge" variant followed by the whole second episode centred this time in G major. In this key the theme begins again on the cello before the First violin takes it over in the tonic. The second part of the first episode then provides the coda.
Third movement:
Only ten bars long, this dramatic "recitative" employs a fragment in the rhythm of the next movement's theme. Despite the A major key signature, the key centre is B minor and within the ten bars we find a microcosmic development in which the fragment is steadily transformed until, in a sudden Adagio, the universal motto emerges first in retrograde on the viola and then shared in harmony between first and second violins. After a cadenza-like flourish on the first violin we move towards A major for the next movement.
Fourth movement:
Here we have a restful
theme with seven variations. The first embellishes the theme. In the second, a più mosso, Beethoven fashions a new melodic tune against a variant of the throbbing accompaniment. This builds to a climax in a contrapuntal "roller-coaster" before the cello sftly introduces the fugato treatment of No. 3 based on fragments of the theme in altered rhythm; next is an Adagio on the theme's harmonic basis of No. 6 which wanders into a recollection of the introductory movement's "cadenza" and carries us to G major. The theme takes shape again in this key in a little accelerando before continuing to a trilling accompaniment on the first violin. The accelerando returns in F major before the movement ends with a coda in the tonic based on the introductory third movement.
Fifth movement:
A grand scherzo follows full of vigorous humour with a tinge of mystery. Its layout is best summarised in the formula ABABA/CDE/ABA/CDE/ABABA/ Coda and throughout there are reminiscences of the variation movement. The main scherzo theme (A), for instance, seems to have roots in the repetitive staccato and cello interjections of No. 6. In the "trio" section, passage D is in A major and passage E leads back to both the tonic and the scherzo theme with an engaging pizzicato. The pattern is roughly similar to the Seventh Symphony scherzo and in the coda Beethoven employs his favourite scherzo trick of resummoning his trio material only to cut it short. Here he goes one step further, and rounds off with an impudent caricature of the scherzo played sul ponticello (i.e. with the bow close to the bridge).
Sixth movement:
Three dramatic notes take us to G sharp minor for a very brief, but deeply felt adagio interlude, the theme of which is in two sections. The second, with its basic falling phrase passing from instrument to instrument, is strikingly similar to the second subject of Op. 132's first movement.
Seventh movement:
The superb finale is the logical conclusion not only of Op. 131 but also of its two predecessors. It form is best regarded as irregular sonata form. A powerful introductory motif in unison precedes the main theme, whose rhythm inevitably recalls the opening fugue of the "Grosse Fuge." Then comes a second theme (in the tonic) which opens with the four descending notes that have been the basic material for all three quartets; the theme as a whole has also the same rhythmic pattern as the first movement's fugue subject.
We then move to E major for the third theme (the true second subject), a simple falling scale figure against high rising third in the first violin. The unison figure and main theme then return in F sharp minor to begin the development. First comes a fugato in which main-theme elements are contrasted with a subject based on the key notes of the second theme in reverse. Phrases of the unison figure against the third theme's scales take us back to the tonic and a swelling oscillation leads to the recapitulation and the movement's masterstroke. Somehow Beethoven manages to combine both the preliminary unison and the main theme. And then suddendly beneath it all we hear the motto of Op. 132 entering in majestic fugato. The recapitulation then progresses fairly normally except that the third theme recurs first in D major before leading back to the tonic for one of Beethoven's "terminal development" codas. Here all the thematic elements reappear in a bewildering variety of combinations. As we near the final bars the important descending notes of the second theme dominate the scene before the work ends with a final reference to the decisive fugato which began the recapitulation
A. David Hogarth