Friday, August 15, 2014

The Budapest String Quartet Plays Beethoven

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Tuesday Blog from August 2nd, 2011.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.


Last month, I dusted up a post from one of our Chamber Music series we hosted on TalkClassical in past summers. This week, a look back at The Summer of the String Quartet, and a quartet of quartets by Beethoven, which forced us to get crafty in order to keep the original post more or less intact.

Indeed, until the Summer of 2012, we embedded hyperlinks to the now-defunct site Public Domain Classic, and got bitten by its disappearance on many of our old posts.\

Thank Goodness, YouTube enthusiasts came to my rescue!

For today (and back then...) I have chosen to present four quartets, as played in the early 1950's by the Budapest String Quartet. These monaural recordings, which can be found on their "complete cycle", were recorded at the Library of Congress.


With the exception of the quartet no. 4, the remainder of the program explores three of the five "late quartets" - which go far beyond what musicians or audiences were ready for at that time. One musician commented that "we know there is something there, but we do not know what it is." Composer Louis Spohr called them "indecipherable, uncorrected horrors." Opinion has changed considerably from the time of their first bewildered reception: their forms and ideas inspired musicians and composers including Richard Wagner and Béla Bartók, and continue to do so. Of the late quartets, Beethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C♯ minor, which he rated as his most perfect single work.

Beethoven wrote the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the deeply felt slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Beethoven called "Holy song of thanks ('Heiliger Dankgesang') to the divinity, from one made well." He went on to complete the quartets now numbered Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth. The last work completed by Beethoven was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet, which replaced the difficult Große Fuge.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, no. 4
String quartet No. 14 in C sharp mino, Op. 131
String quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
String quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135


Performed by the Budapest String Quartet (In concert at the Library of Congress, 1951-52)
(Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetsky, violins, Boris Kroyt, viola and Mischa Schneider, cello)