beethoven the early string quartets
ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
THE EARLY STRING QUARTETS
Excerpt from liner notes by Eric Bromberger
Some composers have an instinctive sense of form. Some do not. Mozart seems to have been born with a grasp of sonata form, but it took Beethoven a difficult decade of lessons, trial and error, and practice to achieve that same command. The string quartet, with its complex interplay of four equal and flexible voices, gave Beethoven particular trouble. The quartets of Mozart and Haydn (who was still writing quartets even as Beethoven began to explore the form) must have seemed a daunting challenge for the young composer, and Beethoven worked for several years on the six quartets that make up his Opus 18 before publishing them in 1801.
It has been easy for some to overlook these quartets, particularly in light of Beethoven’s subsequent expansion of the form. Some have been quick to point out the influence of Haydn and Mozart (influences the young Beethoven would readily have acknowledged), while others have found these works wanting because they do not approach — or even point the way toward — Beethoven’s later quartets. For many listeners, these early quartets remain—in Joseph Kerman’s elegant phrase — “a merely mortal, not a celestial, nourishment.”
Yet even if Beethoven is looking backward in these quartets, even if he is learning and consolidating as he goes, these six quartets remain the clearest evidence possible of his growing mastery of classical form during his first years in Vienna. Before Beethoven could make the string quartet truly his own, he had to understand what others had achieved with it. In the six quartets of Opus 18 — not written in the order in which they were published — we watch him doing just that.
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(part of 9 CD boxed set)
String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18 No. 1
String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18 No. 2
String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3
String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4
String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18 No. 5
String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18 No. 6