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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, September 3

Beethoven's "Razumovsky" Quartets

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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