Monday, November 14, 2011

Beethoven - String Quartet No. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) composed his first string quartets, six of them comprising his opus 18, between 1798 and 1800.  The first quartet in F major wasn't the first one composed, but Beethoven placed it as the first one, perhaps because he thought it was the best of the six. Beethoven had given the original quartet to a friend, but two years later he did a thorough revision of the work.

Beethoven wrote these first six quartets while Joseph Haydn was still alive.  Haydn was the acknowledged master of the string quartet, and along with Mozart he had taken the form to a new level. Beethoven was flexing his musical muscle and showing with his first quartet that the form still had possibilities.

The quartet begins with a statement of the first movement's major theme in unison by all four instruments. The theme goes through some dramatic development in the middle section of the movement. The second movement has been compared to the tomb scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. some say Beethoven himself did the comparison, some say the friend that he gave the first version of the quartet to said it. Regardless of who said it, the movement is a passionate, dramatic one. The Scherzo and Finale are both short movements and help to balance out the first two long movements.

Beethoven went on to compose a total of sixteen string quartets over a span of 26 years.  He became a master of the form and used it for some of his most profound and beautiful music.

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