At a Glance
career is traditionally divided into three style periods—early, middle, and
late—and tonight’s program includes one string quartet from each of them. As
such, it charts the composer’s evolution from the callow piano virtuoso who
took Vienna by
storm in the 1790s to the mature artist whose revolutionary conception of music
set the pattern for the Romantic era.
In his six Op. 18 string quartets, written between 1798 and 1800, the young
Beethoven staked his claim to the title of Haydn’s and Mozart’s successor in
the realm of the string quartet. The last of the set, the B-flat–Major Quartet
is refreshingly iconoclastic in both form and expression: The hauntingly
mercurial finale, with its sharp contrasts of mood, anticipates the language of
Beethoven’s late quartets.
A mere decade separates the mostly well-tempered classicism of the Op. 18
quartets from the idiosyncratic and emotionally intense Quartet in F Minor,
aptly subtitled “Serioso.” Beethoven’s five late-period quartets pose special
challenges, and offer commensurate rewards, for listeners and performers. The
Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127—one of three commissioned by Prince Nikolai Golitsïn,
the composer’s Russian patron—is remarkably adventurous both formally and
tonally, packing a wealth of surprising twists and turns into its
“conventional” four-movement format.