Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, September 3

Beethoven's new quartets

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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