Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet in C Major, Op.59, No. 3
(final two movements)
spacerby Ludwig van Beethoven


Excerpt from Death and the Maiden by Gerald Elias

“One day we were rehearsing the finale of Beethoven Fifty-nine number three.  You must agree that, of any piece in the literature, it is simply too fast to play on the string and at the point of the bow on the violin, let alone on the cello.”  Short stopped, apparently awaiting a response.
“I take your point,” said Jacobus.  “Go on.”
“Well, poor Pravda was doing her best, but Aaron browbeat her mercilessly.  I mean, after all, her bow was only obeying the laws of nature.  That’s why bows are made of wood, isn’t it, for their flexibility?  Aaron told her that her playing matched her looks.  Like a cow chewing her cud.  And you know what she did, Mr. Jacobus?”
“I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
“She just sat there.  Impassive.  I decided something needed to be said, so I noted that every other string quartet in history has played this fugue in the middle of the bow, and no amount of insulting would change that fact.  I knew when I said it there would be retaliation.”                                                                   

Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet in C Major
Op.59, No. 3 - movements 3 and 4

performed by the Abramyan String Quartet


Music from Death and the Maiden
String Quartet in C Major, Op.59, No. 3
by Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven was often accused by his contemporaries of not having the necessary academic qualifications to be a truly great composer.  In particular, they said he couldn’t write a proper fugue.  (This is ironic, since the music of the greatest composer of fugues, JS Bach, was considered outdated and pedantic, and far too cerebral.)  Though Beethoven customarily had nothing but contempt for his critics, he must have been stung by this criticism because he spent his life trying to disprove it.  His greatest fugal achievement, the Opus 133 Grosse Fuga, which he wrote near the end of his life and is one of the most complex and avant garde pieces ever composed, put the lie to any doubts about his ability in this genre.  Perhaps his second greatest fugue is the finale of the Opus 59, No. 3 String Quartet, a whirlwind of virtuosity that combines Beethoven’s unique ability to compose on the highest intellectual level with his incomparable visceral understanding of the dramatic potential of structure and content.  For this reason, he precedes the breathtaking finale not with his customary Scherzo, but with a much more traditional and elegant Menuetto, setting up the listener for a roller coaster to end all roller coasters.