Composition 3

MUH 2026

Beethoven Late String Quartets

article on Beethoven (APU Campus only)

The late quartets are amongst the last of Beethoven's works.

Three of the most prominent are often grouped together:

Various connections - the most famous being the use of the 'motive' - a minor 2nd and an augmented 2nd (or diminished 7th), which is present in some respects at the opening of all three works (the relevant notes are marked in red in the following):

Op130, bars 1-3 Op132, bars 1-5
Beethoven, B flat String Quartet, bars 1-3 [midi file] Beethoven, A minor String Quartet, op132, bars 1-4 [midi file]
MIDI [1k] • RealAudio (28k) [28k] • RealAudio (56k+) [38k] MIDI [1k] • RealAudio (28k) [55k] • RealAudio (56k+) [83k]

Op131, bars 1-4 Op133, bars 1-5
Beethoven, C# Minor String Quartet, bars 1-4 [midi file] Beethoven, B flat String Quartet, Grosse Fuga, op133, bars 1-5 [midi file]
MIDI [1k]RealAudio 28k [88k]RealAudio 56k+ [129k] MIDI [1k] • RealAudio (28k) [66k] • RealAudio (56k+) [101k]

Op130, bars 1-4 Op131, bars 1-4
Beethoven, B flat String Quartet, Grosse Fuga, [midi file] Beethoven, C# Minor String Quartet, op133, VII, bars 1-4 [midi file]
MIDI [1k] • RealAudio 28k [109k] • RealAudio 56k+ [165k] MIDI [1k] • RealAudio 28k [55k] • RealAudio 56k+ [83k] • RealAudio ISDN [124k]

As with many of Beethoven's later pieces they are recognised as being innovative while remaining within classical norms, although these are sometimes quite strained. Beethoven had a history of this - notably in the Eroica Symphony (the 3rd), and the 5th. Possibly a major 'innovation' is the depth of personalisation, especially in the codas. From the fifth symphony onwards, Beethoven regularly used the codas as an area of almost rhapsodic self-expression, where he was 'freed' from the classical boundaries of sonata form.

The late quartet's anomolies, or extremeties are:

If it is true that Beethoven 'maintains classical norms' here, in what sense are they classical norms and how do they differ from a more romantic approach? In this sense how far has Beethoven come to superceding these stylistic tags?

In terms of language the three are also quite innovative - most obviously in terms of the Grosse Fuga - where contrapuntal and harmonic complexity almost reach breaking point. Elsewhere this quartet is less innovative in this respect.

The C# minor's first slow movement uses some very odd phrases - again, almost breaking down at times. Similarly the scherzo is very disjointed towards the end.