Work

Streichquartett Nr. 15 A-Moll, op 132, op 132 (1825)

Ludwig van Beethoven

string quartet

Performances

Program Notes

In 1822, Beethoven received a request to compose three string quartets for Prince Nikolaus Galitzin, a Russian amateur cellist who had lived in Vienna and admired Beethoven’s music. Illness delayed the composition of the promised quartets, but by June 1825, Beethoven had completed two of the three, Opus 127 and 132. In these first two quartets he already presented an entirely new conception of the genre.

The first movement of Opus 132 creates a high level of musical anxiety that is sustained throughout the movement with its mood shifts, truncated phrases and unexpected harmonic excursions.

Although the Scherzo represents a lyrical interlude between the anguished first movement and the intense and ethereal third, the melody also bears more harmonic tension than one would expect of any other composer.

The third movement, one of his most solemn utterances. opens with a slow, solemn hymn, interrupted by a surging, vigorous second section bearing the heading Neue Kraft fühlend (Feeling new strength). The two sections recur twice and the movement ends with the sacred song of thanks marked in the score to be played Mit innigster Empfindung (with innermost feelings). One of the qualities that adds to the movement’s emotional intensity is the composer’s seeming unwillingness to end it.

In the short march-like fourth movement, the music comes back down to earth, leading into a short slow recitative-like segment that serves as a bridge to the Finale.

In a return to A minor, the final movement is a rondo with regular periodicity of phrasing, and in fairly rapid triple time. But the ensuing chromatic and often dissonant harmonic language is nothing like the upbeat finale one expects at the end of a long arduous musical journey. Beethoven doesn’t seem to want to end this movement either, teasing the listener with hints that it’s all going to end. When the quartet finally does come to a close, it is a sudden, almost unexpected cadence in the obligatory A major.