Beethoven's Razumovsky Quartet
Performed by the American String Quartet and filmed live in The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York for WQXR's Beethoven String Quartet Marathon on November 18, 2012.
INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED as one of the world’s foremost quartets, the American String Quartet celebrates its 38th season in 2013–2014. The Quartet is also known for its performances of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bartók, and Mozart. The Quartet is Peter Winograd violin; Laurie Carney violin; Daniel Avshalomov viola; and Wolfram Koessel cello.
Beethoven's three "Razumovsky" string quartets left both their first performers and the public shocked and suspicious. The violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose quartet premiered the Opus 59 works, complained they were unreasonably difficult. After playing the opening solo from the second movement of the first of the three quartets, cellist Bernhard Romberg threw his music to the ground and stamped on it. What sort of sorry substitute for a tune was this? How insulting to give a cellist of his stature such a banal rhythm, the sort of thing anyone could tap out with a pencil! Meanwhile, the violinist Felix Radicati is said to have complained these were "not music". "They are not for you, but for a later age," Beethoven told his critics.
Commissioned in 1802 by Count Razumovsky to write three new quartets, Beethoven surprised his Russian patron by presenting him with lengthy compositions that express intense, shifting emotions. Imagine the scene: the guests at Count Razumovsky's new Viennese palace, after a sumptuous meal, pause on the terrace to look down over the Danube and spires of Vienna; they adjourn to an elaborate concert hall to listen to these brand new works. But the opening music of Opus 59 No 2 is hardly an aid to digestion: two loud chords followed by a bar's silence. A few bars of breathless, mysterious music and another silence. It was like nothing they had heard before. The complicated rhythms and dialogue between the different parts must have perplexed anyone encountering them for the first time. Schuppanzigh had good reason to feel worried about the music – exposed runs and leaps that cover the whole range of the violin with alarming velocity.
But it was not only the technical demands that disturbed these early interpreters. They suspected that the music was inappropriate – that it did not behave as classical chamber music should. The movement that so offended Romberg is marked sempre scherzando – "always jokingly". With its unpredictable changes of emotion and texture, the musicians probably felt that the joke was at their expense. A sweet melody has only just got going when it peters out to be replaced by an aggressive rhythm. Very loud passages end abruptly and are superseded by cheeky, quiet music that seems to bear no relation to the previous music. The last bars of the movement feature wrong-sounding notes righted only by emphatic final chords.
The closest thing to a favourable review of Beethoven's new quartets was published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung on 27 February 1807:
"Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets … are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended." READ MORE
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Four decades after bursting onto the European musical scene, American pianist Stephen Kovacevich remains one of the great soloists, chamber musicians and conductors. Also known as Stephen Bishop, he has appeared on concert stages worldwide, esteemed for his interpretative mastery of the classical canon. His extensive discography includes repertoire spanning from the Baroque to the modern era. This recital, recorded live at the 2009 Verbier Festival in Switzerland, presents works by Bach, Schumann and Beethoven. The program is Bach: Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828; Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15; and Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, and Six Bagatelles, Op. 126.
The Gewandhaus Quartet performs Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, KV. 465, nicknamed "Dissonant"; String Quartet No. 21 in D major, K. 575 (“The Violet”); String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K. 387 ("Spring"); and Serenade in G, K.525, known as “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
Recorded at the beautiful Baroque palace Rammenau, Saxony.
"The performing arts website many of us have been dreaming of…" --James Wolcott, VanityFair.com
To subscribe to Classical TV, go here. Full access to Classical TV's unique and growing collection of great performance is only $6.99/month (or the equivalent in most currencies). No advertising. Cancel anytime. And the first month is free!
As always, we invite you to read our Informer articles, which are available for free, with no subscription.
To subscribe to Classical TV's YouTube channel, go here. It's only $3.99/month, with the first 14 days free! No advertising.
And to get the most out of your Classical TV subscription, try Roku, the streaming player that connects with your television and high-speed internet.