Composers Datebook®

Beethoven's "Razumovsky" Quartets

Composer's Datebook - September 3, 2023


On today’s date in 1806, Ludwig van Beethoven offered his publisher Breitkopf and Härtel three new string quartets—works we know today as the three Razumovsky Quartets, that were eventually issued as Beethoven’s Opus 59.

In Beethoven’s day, Vienna was swarming with Russian, Polish, and Hungarian aristocrats with a taste for music. Among them was Count Andreas Kyrilovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna. The count was an amateur violinist who occasionally played in a string quartet he maintained at his own expense.

The count commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets, stipulating that they should incorporate Russian melodies, real or imitated. The most recognizable of the Russian tunes, Beethoven employed occurs in the scherzo of the second quartet: It’s the same theme that was later quoted by Mussorgsky in the coronation scene of his opera “Boris Godunov.”

When these Razumovsky Quartets were premiered in Vienna in 1807, one contemporary review noted, “These very long and difficult quartets… are profoundly thought-through and composed with enormous skill, but will not be intelligible to everyone.”

When one Italian violinist confessed to Beethoven that he found them incomprehensible, Beethoven retorted: ‘Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age.’

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwiv van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, no. 2 Emerson String Quartet DG 479 1432

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.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®