Friday, July 16, 2021

Beethoven 250: String Quartet No. 13 (Artemis Quartet, 2009)

Cover sheet of Beethoven's 13th string quartet as published in Berlin on 2 June, 1827 (originally in French). Photo and caption: Wikipedia.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 53/80
Artemis Quartet: Natalia Prishepenko (violin I), Gregor Sigl (violin II), Friedemann Weigla (viola), Eckart Runge (cello). Recorded: 2009.

Opus 130: Streichquartett Nr. 13 B-Dur (1825)
1. Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro (B-Dur)
2. Presto (b-moll)
3. Andante con moto, ma non troppo (Des-Dur)
4. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro assai (G-Dur)
5. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo – attacca (Es-Dur)
[NB. missing from the CD box set:
6. Finale. Allegro (B-Dur)]
    Dedication: Troisième Quatuor pour deux violons, Alte et Violoncelle des quatuors composés et dédiés à son Altesse Monseigneur le Prince Nicolas de Galitzine par Louis van Beethoven.

Opus 133: Grosse Fuge B-Dur (1825) [the original finale of the string quartet]
Overtura: Allegro – Fuga.
Dem Erzherzog Rudolph gewidmet.

AA: There has been a break in my blogging about Beethoven after I jotted down notes about his piano sonata number 27 last November. I have not had enough time to write, but I have proceeded listening to my complete Beethoven box set, jumping ahead to violin sonatas, duos and trios, and entering the universe of the string quartets. For the first time I'm listening to that extraordinary set of 16 compositions back to back.

Like Beethoven's symphonies, piano concertos and piano sonatas, the string quartets can be experienced as a continuous cycle of an evolution. They tell an inner history of the spirit, an adventure in interiority, a voyage to the bottom of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, the Challenger Deep. Or perhaps an inner space odyssey.

In November my life changed because we decided to establish a second home in another city, Lappeenranta, a wonderful place by Lake Saimaa, and a perfect place to shelter from the pandemic. It has been a big deal. Much energy has been needed to reorganize everything.

All the time Beethoven has been the soundtrack. For the first time I have also started reading large Beethoven biographies. I am very grateful for the English translation (2020) of Jan Caeyers' Beethoven: A Life (the Dutch original is from 2009). Caeyers makes sense of partial glimpses that have been served about Beethoven, and he achieves that without streamlining. Beethoven remains edgy, inexplicable and wilful, more than a sum of his contradictions.

Beethoven's favourite book was Plutarch's Bioi paralleloi / Parallel Lives, also Shakespeare's favourite. Beethoven wanted his biography written in Plutarch style ”warts and all”, and Caeyers succeeds in this exceptionally well. Now I'm in the middle of Maynard Solomon's (1930–2020) equally grand Beethoven biography (1977 / 2001) with many different angles and perspectives.

The full experience of the 13th string quartet is in effect a seven course menu. On this CD it has puzzlingly only five movements. The first movement (13 min) begins with a haunting, magical invocation. The second movement (2 min) is a compact presto. The third movement (7 min) is a delightful andante. The fourth movement (3 min) is a lovely German dance.

The fifth movement (6 min) is the legendary Cavatina, one of Beethoven's most engrossing compositions, full of love and wisdom. It is a work bathing in the golden sunlight of warm and tender harmony. Full of great emotion, yet sober and unsentimental. It was entered into the Voyager Golden Record.

That's it on my CD, the 13th string quartet ends abruptly and without an explanation.

But the next track after the 13th string quartet is Grosse Fuge Op. 133 (15 min), its original ending. Structurally it would make sense: two long and reflective movements bookending four more joyous ones. But the Grosse Fuge is so much weightier than the rest that the string quartet would lose balance if it were included. Grosse Fuge exists in another sphere (mesosphere, thermosphere, exosphere?), ”this absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever”, as characterized by Igor Stravinsky.

After the decision to separate Grosse Fuge from the string quartet, Beethoven wrote a new Finale, the last full movement composed by him. It is missing from my ”Complete” Works box set, and it feels more lightweight, but Jan Caeyers defends it:

The alternative finale is clearly less about making an impact. The music maintains a greater compositional distance and carries undertones of reflection, catharsis, emotional detachment, and tender consolation”. ”Despite its retrospective leanings, the new closing Allegro is by no means regressive – on the contrary, its outward simplicity belies a complex, barely audible yet rigorous structure and multilayered textures characteristic of Mahler.” (Beethoven : A Life, p. 524).