Philips - 1 LP - 839 745 - (p) 1968
Philips - 1 CD - 422 840-2 - (c) 1989

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 12 in E flat major, Op. 127
38' 04"
- Maestoso - Allegro 6' 58"

- Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile 15' 26"

- Scherzando vivace 8' 36"

- Finale
7' 04"

String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
25' 20"
- Allegretto
6' 21"

- Vivace 4' 01"

- Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
7' 12"

- Der Schwer gefasste Entschluss (Grave, ma non troppo tratto - Allegro)
7' 46"

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


Luogo e data di registrazione
Théâtre Vevey, Vevey (Svizzera) - 11-18 giugno 1968

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Tony Buczynski

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 839 745 | 1 LP | (p) 1968

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 422 840-2 | 1 CD - 63' 55" | (c) 1989 | ADD


There 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.
The truth is that Beethoven's greatness lay in his humanity and not in some supposed divinity; his last quartets (of which Op. 127 is the first and op. 135 the last) 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.
Op. 135, Beethoven's last work, written in 1826, the year before hedied, was always the stumbling block of musico-metaphysicians. It was an embarrassingly chherful little work, fairly regular in form and full of catchy tunes which did not quite befit the last words of a superman. The result was that great significance was laid on an inscription on the lasto movement, "Der Schwer gefasste Entschluss" (The decision hard to make) and on two motifs quoted with the captions "Muss es sein?" (Must it be?) and "Es muss sein!" (It must be!).
These seem full of fatalistic significance. But the facts (according to the biographer Thayer) are that earlier, a certain Herr Dembscher, who had fallen foul of Beethoven, asked the composer's friend Holz how he could regain favour as he wished to borrow a quartet manuscript. Holz, knowing how attached to his purse Dembscher was, told him it would cost him 50 florions. Demscher found the decision hard to take. "Muss es sein?" he asked. Beethoven delighted when he hear the story, immediately wrote a little canon on the "Es muss sein!" motif and the phrases were soon a standing joke.
Some still maintain that Beethoven privately regarded the words as fatalistic, but the mood of the finale hardly bears this out. This surely is the same old rogue who wrote a duet with two obbligato eyeglasses and poked fun at the metronome in his Eighth Symphony.
Op. 127 is appealing in a different way. It was the first of three quartets commissioned by Prince Galitzin, a wealthy Russian amateur string player, when he visited Vienna in 1822. Beethoven, then occupied with the Ninth Symphony, wrote the work in 1824. It is on the whole a relaxed work with a pastoral air about it. The forms, though not as regular as in Op. 135, are easily followed and display some of the unique features of the three great quartets which were to follow - recurring introductions, dramatic interpolations, and almost operatic interplay of instrumental voices.
In Op. 127, as in Op. 135, there is much to delight the ear at the first hearing. But to describe these as completely approachable works in no way detracts from their greatness. The real measure of their quality is that no matter how often they are heard they still have something fresh to offer.

Quartet in E flat, Op. 127
First movement: A sonorous introduction is followed immediately by the sweetly flowing first subject (Allegro). The last phrase is the basis of the forceful bridge theme which leads to G minor for the longer second subject. Here there are further echoes of the main theme before the final trilling cadence is repeated to carry us to G major. In this key the introduction returns to begin the development. Treatment of the first subject is rounded off with the cadence from the second, taking us this time to C major. again the introduction reappears and after presistent treatment of a fragment of the main theme's final phrase, the music returns to the home key for the recapitulation. When all seems over the main theme's tailpiece returns for further development in the long coda.
Second movement: The sublime melody of the theme and variations in a flat seems to borrow its rhythm from the previous movement's introduction. The five variations, as usual in Beethoven's last period, represent more a continuous spiritual development than a series of technical transformations. Indeed, in the beautiful third variation in E major we find Beethoven distilling his material into what amounts to a new theme.
Third movement: The jerky scherzo in E flat is interrupted by brief, moody interpolations on viola and cello which recall the first grumbling of thunder in the "Pastoral" Symphony scherzo. The trio (Presto) hurries along uneasily until a friendly bucolic theme emerges. The Presto begins again at the end of the movement but is cut dramatically short and the main figure of the scherzo theme gets the last word.
Fourth movement: The finale is in sonata-rondo form - a boisterous merry-go-round of four themes preceded by a short introduction. Beethoven presents his material in this order: Intro A B A C D (C being the true second subject in B flat). He then recalls the introduction (in the tonic) and modulates to C major for the development of themes C, A and B in turn (C and A, being combined at one point). The recapitulation is a semple parade of the themes in order of appearance, A B C D. Then comes the surprise - a coda which falls on the music like a soft, swirling mist. But wha seems to be a new theme is the opening phrase of A in subtle disguise.

Quartet in F, Op. 135
First movement: The first movement, like the famous finale, opens with a questioning introductory phrase. The fragmented main theme follows immediately. Beethoven teases us in the bridge passage, which opens with the instruments see-sawing on a falling seventh: two catchy tunes throw us off the scent of the second subject which starts with the second violin striding up through a spate of triplets on the common chord of the dominant (C major). The "new" theme in the codetta is based on phrases of the first subject. The "see-saw" passage then returns to begin the development. The recapitulation is regular and the long coda develops the introductory motifs before ending with a reference to the main theme.
Second movement: Syncopation lends charm to the simple scherzo theme wich is interrupted briefly by a reproving comment anticipating the exclamations of the finale. Beethoven then changes the mood sumply by giving the first violin the original cello accompaniment and submerging the theme on the viola. From here he builds up subtly to the trio. The elemets again are simple - a little quaver group which sparks off a long rising scale passage ending in another "see-saw" passage (from the viola accompaniment in the scherzo). Things become so boisterous when the first violin begins "seesawing" over persistent repetition of the quaver group that the return of the scherzo's rocking comes as a relief. The movement ends with the interpolative phrase - approving instead of reproving this time.
Third movement: a sketch for the beautiful Lento in D flat, the still point round which the work revolves, is inscribed "Sweet song of rest or peace." The music unfolds slowly like the petals of a rose until, at the centre, we find the "worm in the bud" - questioning and conflit in a 10-bar più lento in which the music is shredded in fragments. Finally the petals of the theme fold in again leaving the conflict unresolved.
Fourth movement: Viola and cello first ask the three-note question "Muss es sein?" (see introductory note) in a Grave introduction in F minor   which is as much an epilogue to the previous Lento as a prologue to the coming Allegro: the tentative wandering of the first violin both looks forward to the main Allegro theme and back to the Lento's melody, ard the dramatic exclamations which follow echo the cries from the eart of the più lento. Suddenly we are in F major and the first violin opens the cheerful Allegro with the "Es muss sein!" motif, following it with the main theme. After a short, bouncy bridge passage, the theme reappears politely to usher in the cello with the jaunty second subject in A major. The development proceeds mormally till we find ourselves slowly sliding down on the main theme into F minor and a new trembling version of the Grave introduction. "Muss es sein?" gets its answer before the recapitulation of the Allegro begins with the main theme and "Es muss sein!" miraculously combined in what is almost a new melody. The coda begins with "Es muss sein!" intoned in mock sorrow, after which Beethoven finally thumbs his nose in a delicious pizzicato version of the second subject and an impudent violin obbligato