Composers Datebook®

Beethoven's new quartets

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) String Quartet in F, Op. 59, no. 1 Orford Quartet CBC 2020

Composers Datebook for September 3, 2018


September 03, 2018


Today in 1806, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel: “You may have at once 3 new string quartets.” Beethoven had written this music on commission from the wealthy Russian ambassador to Vienna, Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky.

Beethoven was stretching the truth a bit when he told his publisher they could have the quartets “at once,” since as per the Count’s commission, Razumovsky had exclusive rights to the music for a full year, and the ink was still wet. But then, Beethoven had also promised the Count that he’d weave authentic Russian melodies in all three quartets, but ended up doing so in just two of them.

Today, these “Razumovsky” Quartets rank among Beethoven’s most popular chamber works, but initially they were not well received. When shown the music prior to publication, a professional Viennese quartet assumed Beethoven was playing a practical joke on them. “Crazy music” and a “patchwork by a madman” were some of the comments of others who purchased the music. “Pity to waste the money,” was a common reaction.

The second movement of the first Quartet, with its cello solo on just one note, provoked particular disdain from performers and audiences alike.

Muzio Clementi, who had seen these quartets in manuscript, remarked to Beethoven, “Surely you don’t consider these works to be music!” to which Beethoven replied, “Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) String Quartet in F, Op. 59, no. 1 Orford Quartet CBC 2020

On This Day


  • 1568 - Italian organist and composer Adriano Banchieri, in Bologna;

  • 1695 - Italian violinist and composer Pietro Locatelli, in Bergamo;

  • 1891 - French composer and harpist Marcel Grandjany, in Paris;

  • 1897 - Brazilian composer Francesco Mignone, in Sao Paolo;


  • 1914 - French composer Alberic Magnard, age 49, killed by German soldiers while defending his house in Baron, Oise;

  • 1974 - American composer, performer and instrument inventor Harry Partch, age 73, in San Diego, Calif.;

  • 1987 - American composer Morton Feldman, age 61, in Buffalo, New York;


  • 1906 - Victor Herbert: operetta, "The Red Mill," during trial run in Buffalo, N.Y.;

  • 1912 - Schoenberg: "Five Orchestral Pieces," at a Proms concert in London, conducted by Sir Henry Wood;

  • 1931 - Ives: "Washington's Birthday," at the Community Playhouse in San Francisco, presented by composer Henry Cowell's New Music Society; with a chamber ensemble conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky;

  • 1938 - Jon Leifs: "Loftr" Suite, at a Nordic Music Festival concert in Copenhagen conducted by the composer;

  • 1944 - Hindemith: Theme and Variations ("The Four Temperaments"), in Boston, conducted by Richard Burgin;

  • 1949 - Bloch: "Concerto Symphonique" at the Edinburgh Music Festival, with the BBC Scottish Symphony conducted by the composer.


  • 1806 - Beethoven writes to his publisher that he has completed his three "Rasoumovsky" String Quartets (Op. 59); The premiere performances were given in February the following year, probably by Ignaz Schuppazigh's quartet, at an unknown site in Vienna, since Rasoumovsky's palace was not yet ready.