Beethoven String Quartet: Op 59, No. 1, Finale analysis
Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, No.1,
Finale: Theme Russe – Analysis This essay will analyse contrapuntal and harmonic techniques in the finale of Op. 59 No.1 – the Theme Russe. In order to understand the work more fully, a brief look at the aesthetic, stylistic and social context in which it is located will preface.
Beethoven’s ‘middle period’ Beethoven’s three String Quartets of Op. 59 were commissioned by Count Razumovsky, Austrian ambassador to the Austrian Empire. Razumovsky was an enthusiastic amateur violinist and admirer of Beethoven, commissioning the works for his own private house quartet; either in homage to or by request from the Count 1, Beethoven incorporated Russian and Ukrainian themes into each of the works. The Opus 59 quartets were written by the end of 1806, and published in 1808, in what is known as Beethoven’s ‘middle period’. The middle period is to some degree shaped by Beethoven’s early success and established reputation as a formidable performer and composer, leading to his enjoyment of relative artistic freedom in composing due to his financial security resulting from patronage, commissions, and publishing. He was able to experiment and innovate without
1 Michael Steinberg, "The Middle Quartets", in The Beethoven Quartet Companion (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1994), 182.
undue concern or consideration of popular demand and expectation 2. The middle period is also more drastically shaped by Beethoven’s increasing deafness and his realisation that it would degenerate rather than heal – a massively traumatic experience for a virtuoso performer and successful mid career composer 3. The defining characteristics of the middle period are increasing use of Romantic ideas – the importance of tragedy, the expression of subjective experience and authentic emotion 4 – while continuing to explore and apply, in increasingly skilful and innovative terms, learned elements. Works from this period tend to be less formulaic and more innovative, dramatic; more challenging to both listener and performer than the early period. It is not overly surprising then, that initial reception of these quartets was mixed, from incomprehension to displeasure5.
The Razumovsky Quartets The Razumovsky Quartets come six years after his early period quartets, not long after the Eroica symphony astonished audiences and opened a new path for Beethoven’s famed genius to express itself. The Razumovsky quartets continue compositional techniques developed in the Eroica6 and take the traditionally private, small scale genre to a place far more symphonic in scope and scale7. And yet they continue the ‘private’ nature of the genre in terms of their intensely 2 Donald Jay Grout, J. Peter Burkholder and Claude V Palisca, A History Of Western Music, 9th ed.
(New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014). 3 Richard Taruskin, Music In The...