Beethoven's own String Instruments


When I was very young and when I heard the sounds of Beethoven's String Quartet, Op. 131, for the first time, they evoked in me the urgent desire to run away from them; for the life of it, I could not imagine that anyone would have the strength to face this work's dire seriousness.

Had I, at that time, already been familiar with Richard Wagner's statement to this work in his 1870/1871 Beethoven Essay, namely that "The longer introductory Adagio, probably the most melancholy musical statement that has ever been made, I want to compare with the awakening in the morning of this day 'which, during its long course, shall not fulfill one wish, not even one!'" (See our Section on Wagner and Beethoven), I would have totally agreed with him.

However, when I later heard both Leonard Bernstein's orchestral version with the string players of the Vienna Philharmonics, but also pure string quartet versions with any one of the outstanding String Quartet Ensembles, such as Quartetto Italiano, I could not agree with Wagner's statement--which I had become familiar with, in the meantime--, at all.  On the contrary, at that time, namely at a difficult personal crossroad, I found a considerable degree of consolation in this seven movement masterwork of chamber music that is played in one piece and that Irving Kolodin, in his excellent book The Interior Beethoven, describes as being "beyond praise".

The reference to my "personal journey" is only intended to serve as an illustration of the point that absolute music of this quality will always demand of us to take a position with respect to it and that our position might change as we, ourselves, change and grow.

Since the string quartet, itself, emerged out of an interesting development, our own exploration into the world of Beethoven's string quartet begins with a look at the development of this genre, from its forerunners to Beethoven, the details of which we will discuss in the relevant section.

Although Beethoven did certainly not compose his string quartets in his three so-called creative periods in order to facilitate our allotting of them to those three periods, this outline offers itself as the most natural one.  

Each of these sections will contain a creation history, a description of the musical content, a look at contemporary music criticism, a link section and bibliography. 

You can reach the various sections by clicking on the images featured below.  

With all that we offer you here we wish you an interesting time of exploration and a great deal of reading enjoyment!  

Available at present:

Development up to Beethoven, Early Quartets, Op. 18, Middle Quartets Op. 59 to Op. 95, Late Quartets:  Introduction, Transition and Commission Pages 


Development up to Beethoven

The String Qartets, Op. 18

The String Quartets
of the middle Period

The late String Quartets