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A Thesis


to the Faculty o f

California State University Dominguez Hills

In Partial Fulfillment

o f the Requirements for the Degree

Masters of Arts




John C. Vaughan

Spring 2013
UMI Number: 1523705

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APPROVAL PA G E..................................................................................................................... ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS........................................................................................................... iii

ABSTRACT................................................................................................................................. iv


1. INTRODUCTION............................................................................................. 1

2. EARLY TO RISE....................................................................................................................6

3. THE CONFESSIONAL SPIRIT......................................................................................... 12

4. THE LATE QUARTETS AND QUEST FOR LEGACY............................................... 20



WORKS CITED..........................................................................................................................50

Much has been written as to the circumstances surrounding Beethovens Op. 127

through Op. 135, referred to as The Late String Quartets. The past century has seen

scholars examining the man in general, and these final compositions in particular, from

either internal or external biographical perspectives. This study utilizes primary and

secondary sources to study Beethovens personal and artistic struggles. The philosophical

implications they yield to modem artists are garnered through fusion o f chronological

events in Beethovens life; in depth study o f the quartets asserts that a balanced approach

of analytic and speculative theory is required to appreciate their lasting validity. The

modem artists, musicians in particular, are challenged to examine their own artistic

footprint through appreciation o f this multi-dimensional study. The methodology of

utilizing a comprehensive approach to these quartets asserts that Beethoven was a

complex, revolutionary and relevant artist precisely because o f his psychological and

environmental influences.


As the two hundred and fiftieth birthday o f Ludwig van Beethoven approaches in

2020, it is fascinating to note the extent to which his works continue to spark discussion

and debate in both the academic and artistic communities. He has long been

acknowledged as a composer whose works have the unique distinction o f bridging the

Classical and Romantic styles. As the strict forms o f composers such as Haydn and

Mozart gave way to the musical experimentation o f those such as Schumann and Chopin,

it is Beethoven who provides philosophers, historians and musicians with the missing

link that bridges this epic shift in musical genre. The fact that a chronological

examination of Beethovens personal circumstances mirrors in many ways the evolution

o f these two periods should not be lost on this same group o f scholars. Here was a man,

bom o f privilege in 1770 as a grandson to a noted German Kapellmeister, who studied

with Haydn and moved at quite a young age into the whirl o f the music centric, upper

crust o f Viennese society. After a relatively brief ascension to acclaim in this world o f

royalty and monetary musical commission, Beethoven was beset by loneliness, financial

difficulty and, most famously, complete hearing loss that resulted in several late period

works o f historic musical experimentation. It is no wonder that Charles Rosen in his The

Classical Style writes that the Beethoven of these final years, a Beethoven who had

already been viewed in Viennese circles as a deeply unconventional composer, produced

works that evidenced deliberate flouting of the contemporary musical language and style
that often made his work so difficult to understand and accept by his contemporaries

(449). The epitomic fruits o f this flouting was a series o f string quartets, Op. 127

through Op. 135, commonly referred to as The Late String Quartets. Recently Jim

Merod sees these compositions as startling, unprecedented monuments o f sound that

were not merely a manifestation of the turmoil that surrounded Beethovens personal life

and inner psyche, but indeed as iconoclastic, never emulated (never rivaled) instances

of modernism catapulting the Classical and Baroque to Romantic lyricism (35). Given the

amount o f scholarly debate that continues to surround these works, it is no great

conjecture to surmise that they would be perceived as equally relevant, not to mention

controversial, had they been written almost two centuries hence.

The past century has seen scholars examining Beethoven in general, and these

final compositions in particular, from either internal or external biographical

perspectives. In biographer Maynard Solomons Beethoven, the author views the quartets

as the culmination o f a man whose external life circumstances resulted in a Freudian

manifestation o f these unique and turbulent works. Solomon also views the timing o f the

string quartets, with the breakdown o f traditional aristocratic patronage following the

Napoleonic Wars and the disintegration o f enlightened attitudes, as a manifestation o f the

avant-garde musical preferences prevalent amongst Viennese intellectuals during the

1820s {Beethoven 415). J.W.N. Sullivans much earlier biography entitled Beethoven,

His Spiritual Development applies an approach that focuses on the internal spiritual

struggles o f Beethoven such as his deafness and lifelong battles with depression. Sullivan
is not concerned with a chronological record of Beethovens life, but rather he seeks to

gain an understanding o f Beethovens spiritual growth through his music. He asserts, I

am concerned with Beethovens music solely as a record o f his spiritual development

(Sullivan viii). Various other scholars examine the man and his late works in much the

same vein, focusing alternately on external, environmental factors or internal,

psychological motivations for insights to Beethovens genius. Recent scholarly journals

examine alternately the quartets as compositions that should be analyzed strictly for their

musical relevance and quality, or as metaphors that have deep implications to the intrinsic

artistry o f modem musicians. This presents a vexing paradox. It is not possible to truly

understand the germinations of such revolutionary works by historical methodologies that

utilize primary and secondary resource material.

As one contemplates such a paradox, it begs the question, how can an artist in

contemporary society tmly glean the implications o f such magnificence without a

thorough dissemination o f all of the influences that precipitated such works? It is no

wonder that Joel Smirnoff, first violinist of the Julliard String Quartet, calls playing these

quartets a deepening experience personally: it demands that one go into the world o f a

very deep mind and a deeply feeling person (qtd. in Lockwood 229). Michael Spitzer, in

his Music as Philosophy: Adorno and Beethoven's Late Style, delves even more

intricately into the import o f a total examination of the stratosphere o f influence upon a

multi-faceted study o f Beethovens works; he observes that A philosophy of

Beethovens style makes the basic assumption that musical rules correlate both with
social convention and with conceptual reason and are underpinned by certain natural

categories o f perception- in short, that musical material bears the imprint o f society,

mind, and nature (3). Such contemporary analysis drives the modem scholar to a more

universal course o f study. The lasting import o f Beethovens late works, necessitated by

their technical proficiency, their lasting controversial nature, and the undeniable fact that

they were written by a totally deaf composer beg that a multi-faceted approach be utilized

in order to fully appreciate their nascence. The Late String Quartets yield significant

philosophical questions to the modem artist, as well as an artists perspective o f his or her

own relevance within society; these questions may yield a multitude o f answers which

should be derived by examining Beethoven, his life and music, from both internal and

external perspectives rather than as separate entities.

As Beethovens Late String Quartets were the last compositions o f his career, it is

imperative to examine the internal and external influences upon his life chronologically.

His early years were marked by a hero worship of his grandfather as he felt alienated

from his father; the love o f his grandfather led to a nascent musical career as a child

prodigy and study with Haydn. The years of study with Haydn were highly influential in

his composition of his early string quartets, which adhered more strongly to the Classical

style. His early musical success was juxtaposed with an unhappy personal life that

included unsuccessful romances and early onset o f deafness. The dichotomous nature o f a

successful musical career and an unhappy personal life eventually led Beethoven to a

serious period o f stagnation mid-career. He found renewed purpose in both areas in his
later years, however, as he fancied himself a surrogate parent to his nephew Carl

throughout a period that culminated in the composition of the Late String Quartets. The

Late String Quartets, themselves, must also be examined in intense detail as they yield

fascinating clues that mirror aspects o f Beethovens personal life. As Beethovens health

deteriorated and his hearing completely left him, he still had a strong propensity for

legacy that drove the ingenuity of the Late String Quartets as well as Beethovens desire

to have them accepted, both critically and publicly. By following this chronological study

o f Beethovens life and career, a pathway to the questions that are spurred within the

modem artist can be revealed.



Though bom into the privileges o f an upper middle class German family,

Beethovens early life was not a happy one. His grandfather, Ludwig van Beethoven

(1712-73), was a third generation court musician with a fine bass voice who had been

appointed Kapellmeister in 1761 o f the court o f the Electorate of Cologne, which had its

seat in Bonn. This appointment came after a long, distinguished career that included

marriage to his wife Maria Josepha Poll, but undoubtedly due to her penchant for alcohol,

resulted in just one surviving child, Beethovens father Johann van Beethoven (cl740-

1792). Johann was much less o f a man than his father, perhaps due to his diminished

talents or perhaps for the same penchant his mother had for drink. This descent into

alcoholism resulted in a family environment where debt, instability and reckless financial

ventures were the norm. Johann saw in his young sons talents not only a source o f pride

within the community, but also a source o f income and self-glorification (Solomon,

Beethoven 23). The young Beethoven did not excel in other subjects; arithmetic in

particular was difficult for him, and as a result his music studies were heightened to the

greatest degree possible. This allowed Beethoven to spend many hours alone at the piano,

withdrawing into the fantasy world o f his musical studies. This unhappy familial

environment is crucial in understanding the forces that would drive Beethoven

throughout his career. Beethoven used music as his solace from a very young age,

perhaps as a means to shut out any perceived negativity that the world presented him.

Music was his fortress against the prevalent negative forces that all humans face, using

art and artistry to console his inner self rather than the all too ugly examples o f worldly

solaces such as alcohol that he saw evidenced in his father.

It is no surprise, then, that by the time Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792 with a

primary purpose to study with the great master Haydn, he was well on his way to both

notoriety and acclaim as both a composer and pianist. What other purposes might have

motivated him at the tender age o f twenty-two to leave Bonn and seek his musical

fortunes in the competitive world of Viennese society? Was it to escape the memories o f

his turbulent upbringing or a desire for success and notoriety that so many young men

seek? It is probable that both familial escape and youthful ambition were at work in this

change o f venue, but equally important was his desire to emulate his grandfather Ludwig.

Beethoven obviously never knew his grandfather as he died when he was but three years

old. The elder Beethovens reputation was o f such note within the family and the Bonn

community that the youngers devotion to his memory verged on hero worship. Solomon

believes that Beethoven transposed the lack o f affection from his alcoholic father to his

grandfather with a fantasy driven Freudian condition known as the Family Romance;

this psychological theory surmises that a child replaces one or both o f his parents with an

elevated surrogate such as a hero or celebrity (Beethoven 28). Solomons book

thoroughly embraces this Freudian theory o f a life propelled by fantastical hero worship,

and it may indeed be valid; the book continuously utilizes examples of Beethovens

circumstances to justify this theory. It also serves as tidy reinforcement to the notion that
Beethoven, his career driven by this Family Romance, would be a natural to lead his

fellow composers boldly into the Romantic era. Perhaps Solomon misses a more obvious

reason for Beethovens emulation and devotion to his grandfather. The elder Ludwig, as

Kapellmeister and devotee o f the Classical style, was also a devotee o f the stability and

order that was dictated by this classicism; it is possible that Beethoven simply wished to

embrace the stability and strict adherence o f this musical form as a means to replace the

disorder that his early years imposed upon him. The notions o f idealism, fantasy and

idolization o f family figures is nothing new, nor has it declined in modem times,

particularly with artists. Beethoven proved he was an artist at a young age and having

these idealistic qualities does not necessarily deem that they must be interpreted through

a Freudian interpretation.

The early string quartets o f these years, along with his studies with Haydn, give

credence to the notion that Beethoven appeared to be headed into history as yet another

composer o f the Classical style, and not the innovative musical rebel rouser he was to

become. Although he had experimented with piano sonatas and some small orchestral

works in the 1790s, it was not until 1798 that he began his first foray into string quartets.

This musical excursion resulted in six works collectively known as Op. 18, each

numbered first to last, although their chronological composition does not follow how he

chose to number them. Beethoven, ever the perfectionist, was intent on his first foray into

the genre to be both a critical and commercial success. Unlike many o f his works, he

rewrote them several times and the now accepted order of chronological composition is 3,
1, 2, 5 ,4 and 6 (Solomon, Beethoven 133). He published the first three in June o f 1801

by the Vienna firm o f T. Mollo and Company. O f Op. 18, No. 3, Joseph Kerman sees no

great diversion from strict classical form in this work; indeed, he believes it reveals little

sense o f any intimate facing, little deepening o f the sense of sequence beyond the

conventional classic model (The Beethoven Quartets, 20). Perhaps this is why

Beethoven chose to lead the publication with Op. 18, No. 1, a much bigger and

impressive composition, one that has become a perennial staple in the world o f classical

performance. In essence, he was putting his best foot forward, a trait attributed to many

an aspiring artist. The first three compositions exhibit the strictest adherence to Classical

style; they are hallmarks o f Beethovens homage to his predecessors Mozart and Haydn,

who had mastered the form with such aplomb. Yet, even as a young composer, he could

not, or would not, adhere to the strict conventions o f the form, as evidenced by the final

three works o f Op. 18. By studying them more closely, a pattern of a composer that was

also a non-conventional risk taker begins to emerge.

Solomon notes that the final three works o f Op. 18 began to diverge from strict

Classical style in a way that alters the weights and textures o f the music within the usual

four-movement structure; he sees within these works high evidence o f Viennese Classical

style, but occasional pre-Romantic essences that highly suggest a composer on the verge

of true change (Beethoven 134). Michael Steinberg also notes that although these early

quartets sound Haydnesque or Mozartean, they also evidence that the young

Beethoven, in specific, was highly underrated by stating you would have a hard time
finding a dozen measures in any o f these compositions that would fit plausibly into any

piece by Haydn or Mozart {The Beethoven Quartets 149). What implication does this

somewhat strict adherence to Classical form yet timid exploration into experimentation

reveal about how Beethoven will approach this form some twenty-five years later? It

displays a composer who respects his educational foundation, respects his predecessors,

but one who is also ready to make his mark on the musical world. Through these early

string quartets, he displays himself as a man who will not be bound by convention, but

rather a conventional man who has no fear of invention.

Publications o f the early string quartets were nascent musical moments in the

early years o f the nineteenth century, a marked transitional decade that foreshadowed the

Romantic era. These years were also arguably the most successful and prolific time in

Beethovens life professionally. His symphonic compositions flourished, the two most

notable to this day being his sweeping ode to the Napoleonic Wars, Symphony no. 3, or

the Eroica symphony, and the popular Symphony No. 5. The success o f his Sonata no. 8

Pathetique, published in 1799, was followed by an additional one dozen compositions

in this form throughout the decade. Piano variations, chamber music with piano,

continual revisions o f his one operatic work Fidelio, and even a foray into marches for

wind band marked a decade of fearless musical exploration and experimentation. It is

important to note that most o f these compositions still held, for the most part, within the

confines o f the Classical form. Shortly the personal crises that marked the early years of

this decade will be examined in detail; the pronounced anguish of his acknowledgement
o f hearing loss in his Heiligenstadt Testament, the ongoing squabbles with his immediate

family and his unfulfilled romance with Josephine Deym did little to negate his

ascendance as the premier composer o f Viennese music circles. Beethovens success in

this decade provides a template with which many a modem artist o f even modest success

could relate. Pressures and struggles o f everyday life affect everyone, and a journey o f

success is often marked with personal failures. Lockwood writes that during this period,

Beethoven generally seems to have been able to cast his current miseries aside when it

came to composition, finding ways to free his creative work from his physical and

psychological afflictions (21). A closer examination o f these personal miseries will

reveal a man headed for a long period devoid o f significant creativity, a period that will

thankfully lead to a time of his greatest compositional experimentation.



Despite the outward critical and professional success o f Beethovens early years, his

inner demons and psychological turmoil would have a lasting and marked effect on his

later compositions. Certainly the most notable early evidence o f this struggle is presented

in the Heiligenstadt Testament, a strange document, undiscovered until after his death,

which he wrote to his brothers in the summer o f 1802 while staying in the village of

Heiligenstadt outside Vienna. Sullivan details a series of letters written to friends and

colleagues prior to the Testament in which Beethoven is angrily defiant regarding his

hearing loss; his calamity is a torment that he seeks to overcome through sheer will, being

willing to take Fate by the throat (107,108). The Beethoven prior to the Testament is a

man who is overcome by alarming frustration, quite understandably so. Although not a

lengthy epistle, it is a painfully difficult one to read; it evidences a man thoroughly

engulfed in the despair o f an unforeseen illness, one that has the dually cruel outcome o f

impairment upon a beloved and passionate career. Although Sullivan sees this document

as evidence o f a man in crisis, he also sees it as an expression o f inner strength; through

the Testament Sullivan believes Beethoven conquers a great deal of inner fear, and

becomes a man aware within himself of an indomitable creative energy that nothing

could destroy (113). Conversely, in Solomons early study, Beethoven, he is not content

to view the Testament as a mere expression o f inner turmoil, but believes the focus on

deafness is also an excuse to vent other aggressive tendencies displayed in earlier years
toward patrons, teachers and rival pianists (155). Solomons more recent work, Late

Beethoven, Music, Thought, Imagination, delves far less into a strict Freudian analysis of

the composer, perhaps a wise evolutionary process for a scholar devoted to a lifetime o f

analysis o f one historical figure; indeed, in this study he continues to focus on the inner

psyche o f the man, seeing the Testament as a means of convalescence to Beethoven, an

evidentiary clue to a man who uses retreat from the world as a means to adapt to

adversity (Late Beethoven 61). Both authors have valid analytical views o f the

Testament, but the conclusion that should be taken from them is that they are both

correct. If historical documents, even personal ones such as the Testament, are to be

analyzed by contemporary scholars in an effort to understand the individuals thought

processes and the impact on their life and career, then certainly the historical framework

is not enough. Similarly, the inner psychological framework does not suffice. Only

through a fusion of these factors can a true retrospective vision emerge. It is entirely

conceivable that emotions derived from environmental factors in ones life, as well as the

psychological impact o f a loss o f one o f the primary senses, would lead one to such a

frank and tortured individual declaration as the Heiligenstadt Testament.

The inner torment that Beethoven faced as he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament is

clear. The fashionable world and expectations o f Viennese musical society cannot be

negated either, particularly as to the influence that these conventions will play in

Beethovens late works some two decades hence. Although the Beethoven of the early

years o f the nineteenth century was certainly no pauper, he was by no means a wealthy
man either. In a modem multi-media driven society, it is hard to imagine a world in

which musical composition and performance are primary motivators to social standing,

acceptance and monetary gain, yet this was exactly the world in which Beethoven

inhabited. He was young, he was talented and the aristocratic circles o f Vienna doted on

him. He had no regular source o f income and was therefore dependent upon these

aristocrats and their generosity in order to survive. Commissions by such aristocratic

luminaries as the Russian Count Razumovsky and Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II, along

with the success o f the public performances o f these commissions were the means by

which Beethoven sustained himself financially (Kermin, Tyson 43-44). In these early

years o f the nineteenth century, it was common knowledge throughout Viennese society

that the great Mozart had died in abject poverty less than two decades earlier; this cruel

ironic fact would have been a source of nagging uncertainty to Beethoven and his own

future prospects. Indeed, a few poorly received public performances could be the quick

and savage end to a budding young composers career; this was a fact certainly not lost

on Beethoven in this time o f early success, and surely stayed with him in his later years.

One prime example o f the constraints of an unreceptive audience can be found in the first

public performance on March 21, 1826 o f the final movement of Beethovens Op. 130,

otherwise known as the Grosse Fugue. Barbara R. Barry writes that at the infamous first

performance o f this work the audience was flummoxed- as well they might have been-

their perceptions o f the monstrous length and incomprehensible difficulty o f the fugue

no doubt overrode more subtle issues o f concept and relationship (358). The Grosse

Fugue was later published independently. This fact should not negate the more important
issue that Beethoven was compelled to replace the last movement o f Op. 130 either by

inner need for acceptance, or outward acknowledgement that pandering to the masses

was a necessary evil o f the Viennese social strata. Most significantly, it is important to

note that the roots o f this all consuming requirement to please aristocratic patrons were

bom in the years surrounding the Heiligenstadt Testament; it is more than a confession of

Beethovens worry of impending deafness, it is a confession o f a man who fears losing

his livelihood. Such an assertion reinforces the notion that Beethoven was indeed tortured

by his inner demons, but also shrewdly aware o f the requirements of the balancing act

between artist and business affairs.

Yet another aspect o f Beethovens personal life that would have grave consequences

to the artistic stagnation that preceded his late works was the sad state o f his romantic

adventures. As would almost any young man o f any age or social station, Beethoven

yearned for romantic love. This quest seemed to have centered upon two women, the first

being Josephine Deym, a young widow to whom Beethoven began giving piano lessons

in early 1804. Upon the death of her husband, Josephine was left with four children, and

was moved by Beethovens devotion to her as well as by his moral ideals and sublime

artistry. The relationship was at its most intense in late 1804 and early 1805, but

continued into late 1807 through a series o f letters. These letters, although brimming with

warm sentiment by both parties, also provided succinct evidence that the stronger

romantic interest was clearly on the side of Beethoven. Deym was of a higher social

standing than he, and that fact combined with the devotion to her children left little room
nor possibility for a more intimate relationship to develop in her mind beyond warm

friendship; she left Vienna in 1808 and later married one Baron von Stackelberg in 1810

(Kermin, Tyson 40). This relationship is significant in that the period o f its greatest

intensity, 1804 to 1805, also marked a significant decline in the quantity o f new

compositions by Beethoven. This gives credence to the assertion that Beethoven was

distracted by such unrequited desires. He displays himself a man who is not adept at

romantic relationship, which by its very nature is one that is a result o f external

interaction with another person and internal emotional variance. Indeed, as the

relationship with Josephine waned, his compositional output became more abundant; the

period o f 1806 to the end o f 1808 was one o f his most prolific, with some o f his largest

and most successful works being produced at this time. Again it can be seen that he was a

man influenced by personal and environmental factors that drove his actions, desires and


Solomon notes that Beethovens relationship with Josephine Deym was a rarity

for the composer in that he was far more often given to brief infatuations, self-deceptive

amorous flirtations that bordered on but never became love affairs {Beethoven 207). He

had a tendency to lend his romantic feelings towards women that were either already

attached, or displayed little or no reciprocal emotions. These brief flings, along with

Deym, were but precursors to his most notorious romantic attachment, specifically to that

o f a woman known as the Immortal Beloved. Much o f what modem historians know o f

this woman is found in a few letters that Beethoven wrote to her, letters in which it

becomes clear that the love affair was not only intense, but reciprocated. The identity of

this woman, as well as the date of the letters and timing of the affair, has been a source of

ongoing and intense scholarly debate. Although early scholars such as Alexander Thayer

pinned the relationship as around 1806, it was Solomon who makes the case that the time

period o f summer o f 1812 is far more accurate (Beethoven 219). Solomon also asserts,

and it should be noted that his assertion is generally accepted as fact by most

contemporary scholars, that the Immortal Beloveds identity belonged to a woman named

Antonie Brentano. Antonie was the daughter o f a noted Viennese statesman, and was by

all accounts a woman o f tortured physical and emotional malaise. She found herself

embroiled in a marriage with a man who was consumed by his business affairs and left

little time for significant emotional attachment; through Beethoven, whom she met in

Viennese aristocratic circles, she discovered an alternative amour utterly devoted to the

emotional needs so lacking in her husband. Unfortunately, the societal mores o f the day

made the development o f such a relationship utterly impossible, and Beethoven him self

could see that a fruitful future with such a woman was not to be. By 1813, the

relationship had run its course, and Beethovens romantic interludes from this time until

his death appear to be scant at best.

Discussions o f the Immortal Beloved abound and provide viable, crucial clues to

the inner psychological implications o f a man who seems devoted to unrequited love.

Based upon Solomons assertion of the timing o f this relationship, the more important

aspect for this analysis o f Beethovens Late String Quartets is the fact that the decade o f
1810 to the early 1820s was one o f little import compositionally when one examines

Beethovens total oeuvre. The first ten years of this century left Beethoven a famous

critical success; indeed, he was now the most highly regarded composer o f Viennese

society. It also left him, for the first time, a financial success. He was given a position as

the Kapellmeister o f Kassel in 1809, an appointment that resulted in a lifetime annuity of

considerable sums, as long as he continued to reside in Vienna. Although

correspondingly at this time he had grown a bit weary of the constraints o f the proprieties

o f the Viennese social scene, he certainly was not willing to give up such a financial

windfall. As a result, the time period o f 1810 to 1820 was one in which he assumed the

role of elder statesman to the musical society o f Vienna; it was not, however, a time o f

prolific compositional writing.

Is it significant that this time period also follows the end of the relationship with

the Immortal Beloved, as did the dearth of compositions following the intense period o f

his relationship with Josephine Deym? The period o f musical inspiration following

Josephine was quite short; the period following Antonie, if indeed she was the Immortal

Beloved, was decidedly longer. The length o f time o f musical inactivity should not

matter. The more important issue at hand is the prolific periods that followed. The period

o f 1806 to 1810 was a time o f great compositions for Beethoven, compositions that were

summarily commercial in nature. The period of the early 1820s marked the time just

prior to the composition o f Late String Quartets; these works were far more experimental

and far less commercial. Whether commercial or experimental, clearly Beethoven utilized
the periods following the dissolution o f romantic attachment, when he did compose, as

further means to vent his inner emotional state. Writing, whether in prose such as his

Heiligenstadt Testament or in letters to the Immortal Beloved, was a confessional of sorts

to Beethoven. Musical composition was yet another means with which he manifested this

confessional spirit. It is upon this basis that the period of the Late String Quartets can be

analyzed more successfully. Beethoven had now proven himself quite consistently as a

man whose environmental influences had great, often grave, consequences to his inner

psychological health. His music was a cathartic external response to these deeply private

emotional quandaries. The coupling o f these factors proved to one o f the prime reasons

that they were so revolutionary.



The last years o f the second decade o f the nineteenth century and the early years

of the 1820s marked a recovery o f sorts from the period o f compositional stagnation for

Beethoven. The middle years o f this second decade were consumed by two distinctly

different emotional burdens that no doubt contributed to this dearth o f new works. The

first, already discussed briefly, was of his inability to find romantic love. Regardless of

the identity o f The Immortal Beloved, it became apparent that after 1812, no significant

romantic attachments with females can be gleaned from historical documents regarding

the remainder of Beethovens life. He was by no means reconciled to a state of

bachelorhood, but did his best to rededicate himself to the pursuit o f art and humble

obeisance to God, writing in 1813, Thou mayst no longer be a man, not for thyself, only

for others, for thee there is no longer happiness except in thyself, in thy art- O God, give

me strength to conquer myself, nothing must fetter me to life (Kerman, Tyson 57). It is

interesting to note, that although he makes this commitment to gain what little happiness

he is able through his God and his art, very few compositions ensued. This was surely ,

due to the second aspect o f his personal life that was to play a huge role in the final

decade of Beethovens life, the pseudo-parenting o f his nephew Karl.

Beethovens imbroglio in the upbringing of Karl, the son of his brother Caspar

Carl, was complex and tumultuous. In 1813, Caspar Carl became gravely ill with
tuberculosis and appointed Beethoven guardianship in the event of his death. Caspar Carl

recovered from this bout o f illness, no doubt aided by Beethovens ongoing tendency to

lend him money. Money was an issue for Beethoven in the early years o f this decade, due

in large part to a decline in value of the Austrian florin. As a result, Beethoven turned to

writing primarily commercially driven music; these compositions, largely forgotten

today, were a necessary evil in order to put him back in acclaim with Viennese society

and on firm financial footing (Kermin, Tyson 62). By the time Caspar Carl took a turn for

the worse in 1815 that led to his death in November, Beethoven was in good financial

standing and subsequently became co-guardian with Carls wife Johanna to the then nine-

year-old Karl. Beethoven became consumed with his nephew; he also became consumed

with proving Johanna an unfit mother. Solomon sees this obsession with Karl and

wrestling sole parental rights over him as a pathological extension o f the Freudian

Family Romance that consumed him stating, Beethovens seizure o f his nephew was

his delusory method of fulfilling the prophecy o f the Family Romance, o f becoming the

noble father o f a commoners child (.Beethoven 326). Sullivan notes that Beethoven

went into a state o f self-imposed poverty after he assumed guardianship o f Karl,

presumably because he had no wish to meddle with the assets that he wished to leave his

nephew; his domestic affairs were a shambles that drove him deep within himself.

Sullivan states, No external storms could now influence his work; at most they could

interrupt it. The music o f the last quartets comes from the profoundest depths o f the

human soul that any artist has ever sounded (220). Once again, these two scholars have

uncovered certain valid truths about Beethovens external world and inner psyche that led
to the composition o f the Late String Quartets. Solomon is quite correct that Beethoven

became obsessed with Karl, but no more so than he had become obsessed over the years

with numerous issues such as his compositions, his deafness and his romantic pursuits.

By 1818 Johanna had had quite enough o f the machinations o f Beethovens legal

attempts to gain sole guardianship o f Karl, and she subsequently won this right. This was

certainly an emotional defeat for Beethoven. Beethovens commitment to Karl continued

to the end o f his life, but this setback certainly did not curtail Beethovens return to

compositional fervor in late 1818, a period o f artistic proliferation that continued into the

1820s. As shall be seen, there were also several external storms that contradict

Sullivans assertion that Beethovens art was immune from such influences.

Despite these personal issues, and although he was now completely deaf, the

years o f 1818 to 1820 produced his critically and commercially well-received

Hammerklavier Sonata (Op. 106), among others. Beethoven was now a revered, if at

times quaint fixture on the Viennese music scene; he and his music were widely

respected and performed. Although he struggled with his personal demons, clearly a need

to move beyond the confines of accepted musical structures and conventions were

prevalent in his mind. The need for musical invention consumed him. This need is no

doubt a result o f several intertwining factors. Even after losing his guardianship o f Karl,

the care o f the boy was o f constant concern and importance to him. This desire was

integral in necessitating that he maintain a steady flow o f his finances, even as he was

miserly with his personal affairs. His public popularity led to many commissions,
including a series o f piano variations in 1821, then the completion o f the Ninth Symphony

in 1823, and finally six bagatelles fo r piano, Op. 126, completed in the Spring o f 1824

(Kermin, Tyson 79). All o f these were but precursors to the genre he would return to for

the final years o f his life.

It was Beethovens final years of 1824 to 1827 that heralded a return exclusively

to the form o f string quartet; it was also in this form that his need for musical

experimentation found fertile musical soil. Op. 127, Op. 132, Op. 130, Op. 133, the

Grosse Fugue which was originally the final movement of Op. 130, Op. 131 and Op. 135

comprise the six works chronologically that are now known collectively as the Late

String Quartets. They are as divergent in style as is possible in this form, as were the

circumstances that surround their composition and reaction at public performance. The

first three were composed as a result o f a commission by Prince Nikolai Gallitzin of St.

Petersburg. Gallitzin told Beethoven the fee for these quartets would be whatever

Beethoven thought appropriate, which was set at fifty ducats per quartet; Gallitzin was

later financially embarrassed and Beethoven never saw payment until after his death. The

fourth quartet was intended for a Maurice Schlesinger of Paris, to whom Beethoven wrote

a letter requesting eighty ducats with a side-note stating, for quartets are now in demand

everywhere, and it really seems that our age is taking a step forward (Kermin, Tyson

82). Records o f these commissions are crucial in understanding that Beethoven was still

very much a businessman, and utilized the timeworn tradition o f commission for pay

even in these final years. Much has been stated from scholars such as Sullivan that
Beethoven was a complete recluse during his composition o f the Late String Quartets. He

has often been described as a huddled old man, confined and entrapped by his deafness,

slaving away at them with little or no contact with the outside world. In truth, he was still

very much a man o f the world. Through in depth analysis o f the individual quartets, it

can be seen that there were many variables to the inner workings of Beethovens psyche

that aided in their creation. He was very much aware that he was composing in a genre

that was not only fashionable, but in demand.

In contrast to the quartets that Beethoven composed in the early years o f the

century, the Late String Quartets, particularly the first three, were far more technically

difficult; these were virtuosic excursions into a compositional style that had never been

heard before. Robert Adelson notes that by the mid-1820s public performance of

Beethovens string quartets, in specific his earlier works, were as commonplace as they

were accessible; the early quartets were firmly ensconced in the dictates o f Classical

forms (220). Perhaps this is why the early performances o f the Late String Quartets met

with such mixed results; the easily accessible forms that marked a fairly strict adherence

to Classical style were no longer in evidence. Adelson determined that the initial

performance o f Op. 127 was met with a largely unresponsive and unenthusiastic

audience, although he believes this was actually a result of poorly prepared and under

rehearsed musicians (220). The technical skill required o f any o f these quartets was often

beyond the musicians o f this time, a fact interesting to note for players who no doubt

often performed exclusively in such genre. Later performances of Op. 127 met with
wider, but mixed approval (Adelson 221). It was these varied public reactions that was to

be the mainstay o f early critical reaction to all o f the Late String Quartets. Michael

Steinberg recounts one early review o f Op. 127 as an incomprehensible, incoherent,

vague, over-extended series o f fantasias- chaos, from which flashes o f genius emerged

from time to time like lightning bolts from a thunder cloud (The Beethoven Quartets

217). Such harsh words no doubt had a profound effect upon Beethoven, for here was a

man who had truly come into his own as the premier composer of Viennese society; as

has been noted he was widely regarded as the most gifted and talented living composer of

the time. As evidence to that assertion, Adelson provides an account by the first violinist

named Rohm who played at this initial performance, When Beethoven learned o f this

(the failure o f the quartet) - he became furious and let both performers and public in for

some harsh words (quoted in Adelson 227). Although there are varying accounts that the

early performers o f this work were having as much difficulty understanding it and

performing it as the public was in digesting it, it is Beethoven himself who will ultimately

come to terms with the many complexities o f these works. Gerhard von Breunings

memoirs recount that a couple o f years later, as the great composer was nearing death and

was asked about the disappointing performances o f Op. 127, he replied, It will please

them someday, was the laconic answer he gave me; and to that he added, fully and

firmly aware that he wrote as he thought fit, and was not led astray by the judgments o f

his contemporaries: I am an artist (Adelson 232). These words give keen insight to the

fact that Beethoven knew he was composing outside the mainstream, but he also knew
that the quartets would eventually be given their critical due. Unfortunately, there was

still a rocky road ahead, most notably with the performances o f Op. 130.

Although Op. 132 was the second of the late string quartets composed and was

played at two private performances in September of 1825, it was his third quartet, Op.

130 that proved the most controversial. This work consisted o f six movements, but the

last, an immense fugue that is now known as the Grosse Fugue, was not well received at

its initial performance on March 21,1826. This last movement, in its original form, is a

complex and intense intertwining of themes that are reminiscent of the first five

movements, but so challenging to the ear it left initial audiences unnerved. Barry asserts

that these early audiences failed to apprehend a new and daring kind o f relationship

between the finale and the rest o f the quartet (358). The audience, quite simply, was

either unable or unwilling to go on such a new, daring musical excursion that Beethoven

had initiated. Indeed, critics were the least kind in their assessment o f the Grosse Fugue,

labeling it incomprehensible, like Chinese, a confusion o f Babel, even one savagely

declaring the entire concert an event only the Moroccans might enjoy (Solomon, Late

Beethoven 35). It was later replaced by a much lighter cavatina, while the Grosse Fugue

was published independently as Op. 133. Beethovens sketch books reveal that the final

movement of Op. 130 was not an easy undertaking for him; he tried at least six versions

much closer to rondo form before he decided to move forward with the fugue form

(Barry 359). Is this a possible reason that replacing the final movement was not such a

big ordeal for Beethoven as many scholars have surmised? Was it an ego bruising
decision that he moved forward with in order to gain commercial success for the larger

work, or a yeoman acknowledgement that he needed to do such a thing in order to please

the masses?

It is interesting that Beethoven conceded to replace the final movement o f Op.

130 with the lighter version, given his penchant for disregarding the critics o f his works.

Therein lies one o f the many paradoxes that surround Beethoven, and is crucial to linking

his decision to do so to the modem artist. Upon hearing that the second and fourth

movements o f Op. 130 received thunderous applause, yet not the final movement, he

disgustedly announced, Yes, these delicacies! Why not the Fugue? Cattle! Asses!

(Solomon, Beethoven 421). As much as he may have preferred to keep the final

movement to Op. 130, and as much as he may have stated that he was immune to the

opinions o f critics, nevertheless he did indeed change it. He didnt discard the Grosse

Fugue, valuing it highly enough to publish it independently and satisfying his inner need

to see it chronicled in his body o f work. Just as significantly, he did bow to external

reaction and rewrite a new, more accessible ending. This shows a man who was neither

the emotional hermit crab presented by Sullivan, nor the Freudian basket case described

by Solomon. He was an artist, a successful artist, and as such was susceptible to the

w him s o f a fickle public and critical circle as can be found in contemporary times. In this

adjustment to one o f his final works, he displays him self a man of compromise, a man

who lived, breathed and was influenced by the world that surrounded him.
The year o f 1826 was to prove the final period of composition for Beethoven, and

also one in which his tumultuous relationship with his nephew Karl was to reach its

zenith. During January and February he began and completed the fourth Late String

Quartet, Op. 132. July through September saw the completion of the last, Op. 135, as

well as the cavatina that would replace the Grosse Fugue o f Op. 130. Beethovens health

deteriorated greatly during this time period; his life was now a sad state of affairs

aggravated by an increasingly difficult time with Karl. After Beethoven lost guardianship

of Karl, the years o f 1820 to 1825 were a time of estrangement between nephew and

uncle. Karl was now a young man, matriculating from an educational institute to

university; he spent almost all o f his time without the company of his mother or his uncle.

He tried continually to please both o f them, seeing his mother against Beethovens wishes

and attempting to maintain only friendships that Beethoven thought were worthy o f his

time. Solomon writes that the overbearing constraints o f Beethoven upon Karl were

perhaps a fear that the boy was homosexual, that he was frantically trying to bar his

nephew from sexual experience, a pathological effort that carried implications of

homoerotic domination, but centered on warped paternal longings and the incest fear that

together had impeded Beethovens lifelong search for a normal family existence

(Beethoven 368). Arguments between Beethoven and Karl escalated throughout the

summer months, and in late July Karl fled to Baden. The strain of attempting to please

both o f his elders, along with mounting debts, led him to attempt suicide in early August

by two shots to the temple. Although he survived, one of the bullets remained lodged
inside his skull. Obviously, such a gruesome event was to weigh heavily upon the master


Upon being asked o f his suicide attempt, Karl reported that he was tired o f life

and weary o f imprisonment (Solomon, Beethoven 371). Despite his clear frustration

with his domineering uncle, there seems to have been a reconciliation o f sorts; Beethoven

fled to his side in order to aide in his recuperation after the suicide attempt. Beethoven

finally relinquished all legal ties to Karl, and stopped trying to control his entire social

stratosphere. Together with family and doctors, it was decided that after Karls recovery

he would join the military in hopes that the strict discipline found there would put him on

an even keel. He remained at hospital until September of 1826, and it was during this

time that Beethoven finished composition o f Op. 135 and the new movement to end Op.

130. Both o f these works are distinctly lighter in tone than Op. 127 and the original Op.

130, heralding a return to Classical form and structure. Unfortunately, as Karls health

improved, Beethovens deteriorated alarmingly. Cirrhosis o f the liver, a nasty case of

dropsy that showed no abatement, excruciating abdominal pain, and accumulation of

fluid rendered him bedridden by December o f 1826. His condition did not improve; he

died on March 26, 1827. Perhaps his declining health and Karls suicide attempt were

the driving forces that led him to compose in this lighter vein as a means to escape the

rapid descent that was ahead o f him.

The Late Quartets were undoubtedly a quest for legacy on Beethovens part. He

was a thoughtful and intelligent man. He knew he was in declining health, and certainly
knew he was a renowned composer by this time. He knew that the form was fashionable;

composing in this popular form would ensure that his final works would be analyzed by

critics, but more importantly played for the masses. As his personal life was consumed

alternately between the reaction to the quartets and the issues with Karl, it is intriguing to

note that he continued to compose so diligently, most unlike the previous decade. It is

just as intriguing to note the vast differences between each o f the Late String Quartets.

The experimentation o f Op. 127 and Op. 130 are contrasted by the relative quaintness of

Op. 135. Lockwood describes the Late String Quartets as an interconnected series of

musical ideas, Their interconnections argue for an integrated conception behind all of

them; they are like an extended family o f highly profiled individuals who nevertheless

have some features in common (188). A closer look at the intricacies o f each of the Late

Quartets reveals a man as psychologically complex as the compositions themselves.





Each o f the Late Quartets obviously have a unifying element in that they are in

the same genre, but each also have elements that give them distinctive character. Op. 127,

the first composed, has a fairly traditional four-movement structure. The movement is a

Maestoso-Allegro, a rather short majestic fanfare followed by a light and quick thematic

excursion. The second movement is an Adagio, a slower movement that contains six

variations to the main theme. The third movement is a Scherzando vivace, a scherzo that

begins with four neat, striking chords and then proceeds through a series o f fascinating

plays on rhythm, key and speed. The last movement is labeled simply Finale, a sequence

of robust, gypsy-like rhythms that build to a spicy, thigh-slapping climax. Kermin

describes the Finale as one o f Beethovens sweetest and simplest-sounding, as well as

one o f the most perfectly conceived and executed (Kermin Beethoven Quartets 234).

The entire four movements are a study in contrasts as Beethoven moves effortlessly,

although at times with strikingly inventive dichotomies, from one variation to another.

Michael Steinberg calls Op. 127 a miracle to the last o f rhythmic and harmonic

delicacy (Winter 227). This first of the Late String Quartets is arguably one of the most

non-traditional even though it is scored in a traditional four-movement format and uses

theme and variation to establish musical contrast; it is the depth and breadth o f those

variations that make the contrasts so unique. Beethoven took quite awhile to complete
this quartet, from May o f 1824 to February o f 1825. This was just after he had completed

work on the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis, two works that in and of

themselves provide a great contrast to one another. Joseph Kermin believes it is the

intertwining o f these two works that provide the lyric impulse of Op. 127, with certain

musical phrasing from the Ninth Symphony as inspiration for the scherzo as well as

elements of Missa Solemnis found in the adagio (Kermin Beethoven Quartets 229). This

provides key evidence that as Beethoven was launching his return to this genre, he was

more than willing to use his recent work as inspiration. This should not be seen as an

example o f plagiarizing from himself, but rather, as an artist who worked in a consistent

style o f creativity even as he moved from one genre to the next.

The second o f the quartets to be composed was Op. 132. Much confusion has

reigned over the years as to the ordering of the quartets, but is better understood when

one realizes that they were all collectively published after Beethovens death; this was the

order in which he wanted them numbered. This quartet is comprised o f five movements, a

bit o f a departure from a traditional string quartet form. The first movement starts slowly,

in an Assai sostenuto tempo, meaning a fairly slow, lyrical phrase led by the cello. The

first movement then quickly departs to a lengthy quick second motif, an Allegro that

alternates between the slower theme in fresh and striking manners. The second movement

continues with quick rhythms; it is marked Allegro ma non tanto, meaning quick, but

not so much so. The distinctiveness here is found in tempi as it is a movement that

features a lilting, triple meter melody. Rather than sharp variance of rhythm, Beethoven
employs the use o f the various instruments to capture the lead melody line, delighting the

listener with surprising turns o f melodic invention. The third movement is the most

famous of the opus; Beethoven entitles it A Convalescents Holy Song o f Thanksgiving

to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode. As Beethoven was ill just prior to the time o f the

composition o f this opus, Steinberg sees this title as evidence that he is drawing directly

on his own life experience, himself having been extremely ill and in pain to the point

where he had to interrupt his work on this quartet for many weeks (Winter 269). The

movement begins as a hymn, with a slow adagio line that is restated twice with

variations. It then transitions to a quicker, dance like andante triple meter; Beethoven

even marks this section feeling new strength. The hymn then returns, but now with

greater force, with several sections marked sforzando. The movement ends with long, yet

powerful passages that descend into airy serenity. The movement is clearly transitive; the

listener is quite literally following Beethovens illness and recovery through musical

imagery. It provides one o f the most poignant examples from Beethovens late

compositions that the external forces of his life find fertile compositional soil in his daily


The fourth movement o f Op. 132 is a brisk march, an Alla Marcia, assai vivace,

followed by the brisk fifth movement, an Allegro appassionato- Presto. The march, with

its fanciful flights o f melodic play between the four strings is a fitting musical ode to a

Beethoven renewed from recent illness, it is as if he is marching forth to life again. The

finale movement accelerates from allegro to presto tempo, propelling from a minor key
to major that is thrilling to hear; it leaves the listener both breathless and ecstatic. When

one listens to Op. 132, it is striking how much more Classical it sounds than the

previous Op. 127. The melodic lines are more reminiscent o f the earlier quartets. Could it

be that Beethoven was taking a break from his intense experimental mode as he

progressed into and out o f illness during the compositional period o f this work? Kermin

seems to agree stating, one cannot help feeling that if Mozart had still been living (aged

69), he would have found it to his taste, more so than most o f Beethovens other music.

Its grace, workmanship, and something about its humor- so purely professional and

strange and inward- would surely have struck a responsive note {The Beethoven

Quartets 253). Op. 132 is arguably the least controversial o f the Late Quartets, perhaps

because it adhered to more traditional compositional elements; it certainly evidences a

man who lived through his music as embodied by the clear references to recovery from a

time o f ill health.

In stark contrast to Op. 132 is the next Late String Quartet that Beethoven

undertook, the sprawling Op. 130. It was composed almost immediately after Op. 132,

from August to November o f 1825. Renewed and recovered from the illness o f summer,

Beethoven began his most controversial of the Late String Quartets. This work was much

larger than the first two, containing six movements, most notably the finale movement,

the Grosse Fugue. It begins with an Adagio ma non troppo-Allegro, a slow, but not too

slow lyrical melody that progresses to a quick variation. The first measures start with

slow, calming melodies, yet they are intertwined with rich harmonic overlays that give

the music a strange, haunting quality. It is familiar, yet ethereal. Steinberg describes this

musical texturing as something o f an antique flavor, though the phrasing and dynamics

are distinctly 1820s modem (Winter 229). Just as this harmonic texturing begins to

darken, Beethoven allows the first violin to launch into the allegro section with a cascade

o f sixteenth notes. The other three instruments soon join this musical quick step, but just

as quickly, the adagio tempo returns. This begins a long interplay between these two

rhythms, alternately played and exchanged amongst the four strings; it is as if a

delightful, yet confounding musical game is being played. In other hands, it might sound

jarring, but Beethoven handles it masterfully, providing a unique and fascinating musical

trip for the listener. Steinberg observes o f this movement, In a way that is characteristic

for his late style, Beethoven confronts us constantly with extremes- unisons and densely

polyphonic textures, the odd and the straight, the propulsive and the hesitant (Winter

232). As has been discussed, Beethovens personal life was also a life o f constant

extremes, in health, in his dealings with his nephew, and indeed in the response to his

work. This initial movement o f Op. 130 is an apt example o f how Beethoven morphs

these extremes into his compositions.

The next four movements o f Op. 130 are shorter, character pieces that vary in

tempo and style. The first is a brief two minute Presto, a quick and whimsical movement

that airily mixes the melody line between the first and second violin, and ends with a

short coda. The next movement is marked Andante con motto ma non troppo, a

luxuriously melodic section that is to be played neither too fast nor too slow; Beethoven

additionally marks this movement with a direction o fpoco scherzoso, translated as

moving along, but not too much. In these markings we see that Beethoven is a bit o f a

controlling composer, giving extensive directions to the conductor as to the tempo o f the

movement. In this movement, the viola and the cello play prominent roles, adding to the

lush, sighing musicality o f the movement. Steinberg notes the rich textures o f this

movement when stating, Its exquisite, beautifully heard sounds- heard by a composer

who in the literal, physical sense had heard nothing for ten years- are a feature that is

exceptionally lovely and almost unbearably moving (Winter 233). It is also clear

through these markings that the domineering aspects o f Beethovens personal life, such

as his dominant stance over Karl, are just as evidentiary in his professional life. The next

two movements, the Alla danza tedesca and the Cavatina: Adagio molto espressivo, are a

lively German dance movement and a slower, dramatic movement that provide lively

counterpoint. Both of these movements are bit more in the traditional vein, providing a

smooth musical precursor for the closing movement o f Op. 130, the famous Grosse


O f all o f Beethovens movements throughout the Late String Quartets, the Grosse

Fugue is arguably the one that has sparked the greatest deal o f scholarly interest. This

was the sweeping, controversial last movement o f Op. 130 that was later replaced by a

more straightforward cavatina and published independently as Op. 133. It is no wonder

that even Stravinsky himself called the Grosse Fugue an absolutely contemporary piece

o f music that will be contemporary forever (Kermin The Beethoven Quartets 253). The

structure o f Op. 133 is as complex and complicated as its history. The opening is a

twenty-four bar m otif o f striking musical variation. The first eight bars contain bold forte

and double forte whole notes that end in the tenth bar with a trilled note and a long, held

rest. This is followed by a duo o f two bar phrases that are again followed by rests marked

with fermatas. Beethoven then composes two short motifs that introduce themes that will

later be heard throughout the Fugue; these motifs are intriguingly different in that the first

utilizes all four string instruments, while the latter is played only by the first violin. These

phrases are also contrasted by tempi as well as key, alternating between allegro, then

moderato and a return to allegro markings, each in different keys. Rosen notes that

Classical music is often marked by strong dynamic changes, eight bar phrases and abrupt

key changes (Rosen 57, 68, 72). The Grosse Fugue is not so straightforward; a person

who only studies the score o f this piece might be easily fooled into thinking that it is a

text book Classical piece. The audible experience o f it, however, reveals something

quite different. The bold use o f rests seems to signal that this will be no ordinary

excursion into a typical Classical composition. A sense of foreboding is transmitted; the

opening is an invitation to test the boundaries of what is to come. The music literally

seems to ache, as if Beethoven is communicating to the listener his dismay o f being able

to hear the notes solely in his head, knowing he will never hear it as others will.

The overture is a mere musical tease o f what follows, the main theme that forms

the basis o f the Fugue. The next eighty measures are a whirlwind of virtuosity, with the

frenetic and often discordant sounds of the primary theme being traded between first and
second violin, viola and cello. Although Beethoven is surely displaying elements that

remain firmly rooted in the Classical structure o f a fugue in which a theme is alternated

amongst instruments, it is the complexity o f this theme that intrigues and inspires. Even

for one who reads music, it is a daunting experience to try and follow as one listens to it

bar for bar. A series of complex syncopated patterns follow next; although the pattern is

alternated in a structure indigenous to a fugue, the intense nature of the pattern borders on

the maniacal. The first movement concludes with a moderato motif o f expressive quarter

and sixteenth note patterns that give one the feeling that Beethoven is taking a breath

from the frenetic nature o f the preceding motif.

The second half o f the Grosse Fugue begins with an allegro motto e con brio

m otif that is markedly distinct from what has preceded it. Separated, staccato notes are

alternated with trilled patterns that skip hauntingly from instrument to instrument; these

motifs are interspersed with long, multi-bar forte notes that slowly descend up and down

the clefs. By the end o f the motif, the violin is in its very highest register, a plaintive

instrumental cry that emanates from Beethovens silent world. The piece continues,

alternating in similar pattern between moderato and allegro motifs that upon first hearing

summon emotions o f an anti-climactic, subdued end. It is only after repeated hearings

that the music seems to convey a sense o f futility. Could it be a reflection of the sense of

futility that Beethoven felt in multi-faceted ways? He certainly was frustrated with the

critical reaction to the masses at the piece upon hearing that no encore was asked for at its

initial performance. It is also possible that the frustration o f his personal fortunes were

reflected in the angst of this startling musical composition. In addition, it is the frenetic
energy within the Grosse Fugue that wallops the contemporary listener with the

undeniable fact that this was a man who composed deep within the recesses o f his

auditory sense.

The second to last o f the Late String Quartets to be composed was Op. 131, a bold

composition o f seven movements that Beethoven finished in August o f 1826, but did not

receive a public performance until 1835, eight years after his death. Beethoven begins

this quartet with a movement marked Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo, a slow

and lilting premier that was rare for him. It is in the form o f a more traditional, richly

serene fugue, humorously described by Steinberg as if Beethoven, after the inspired

audacities o f the Grosse Fugue, were rendering a peace offering to the fugue gods

(Winter 247). The next two movements are bright and vivacious Allegros, then a wildly

divergent movement alternating between Andante, Adagio, and Allegretto tempos. This is

followed by a quick Presto movement, a return to an Adagio movement, and then a final

Allegro movement. Even as this quartet moves so strikingly from one tempo marking to

the other, the sensation upon listening evokes a gentle return to Beethovens early string

quartets. The juxtaposition o f the four instruments is virtuoso composing at its finest,

with an intense focus on interplay between the parts. The first section, in particular, is

reminiscent o f the Moonlight Sonata. The timing o f the completion o f this quartet is

just weeks after Karls suicide attempt. Joseph Kermin, in his article Beethovens Opus

131 and the Uncanny for the periodical 19th Century Music, describes this work as

achieving a remarkable sense of consummation, an authentic return at the end of the

Quartet to the ethos of the great fugue that began it (163). Perhaps Beethoven is taking a
bit o f a respite from daring musical invention; although there is great experimentation

with the number o f movements in this work, stylistically it follows a transitional return to

the Classical style. Critics like Steinberg, and even the great composer him self saw this as

the finest o f the Late String Quartets when he writes, it was about this, the greatest o f his

quartets, that Beethoven wrote to a friend that he would find a new manner o f part-

writing and thank God, less lack o f imagination than before (Winter 264). It is this ode

to Classicism while still journeying into musical experimentation that finds itself in high

evidence in the last o f the Late String Quartets, Op. 135.

Beethoven began work on the final composition of his life, Op. 135, at the end of

August 1826 and completed it in October of that year. This composition marks a return to

a more traditional quartet format, being comprised o f four movements. The first is an

Allegretto, which is an enchanting mixture of the plain and the curious; a rather

straightforward interplay between viola and cello concluding in a whimsical coda of

triplet rhythms. The second movement, a Vivace, begins with a fiery scherzo, and then

concludes in a wild and innovative trio section. The third movement is Lento assai, a

very slow and peaceful section highlighting theme and variation, sadly Beethovens last

excursion into this technique. The final movement is marked Grave ma non troppo tratto-

Allegro, a slow, internal melody that gets turned upside down into the final, brisk section

that concludes the work. Many scholars such as Solomon see Op. 135 as a fitting end to

Beethovens career, declaring, Beethoven came home at last. This is not to say that it

is a conservative or anachronistic work- the hallmarks o f the late style are deeply

imprinted in it {Beethoven 424). Others, such as Knittel, see it as a trivial trinket of


Classical kitsch, the last o f the late quartets, Beethovens last work, a work that

follows on the heels o f his greatest works- yet a work that strikes no one as great (51). It

is oppositional opinions such as these that make Op. 135, as well as all o f the Late String

Quartets, as apt vehicles with which to analyze the forces that were at work when

Beethoven composed them.

The fact that the cornucopia o f musical magic that is the Late String Quartets was

created while Beethoven was completely deaf cannot be understated. There is little

scholarly debate that by 1820 Beethoven was beyond hearing even the most bombastic of

sounds. He undertook these compositions for an immense variety o f reasons. He knew

they were fashionable; therefore he would indeed be able to financially gain from them.

Surely the circumstances surrounding Karls suicide attempt weighed on him to the point

that he believed additional financial resources would serve him well. He had departed

from this genre for over twenty years; the time was ripe to return to this form. Most

certainly, he wrote in the string quartet format with obsessive and continual discipline for

the final fifteen months o f his life. Perhaps as his illnesss progressed, he utilized this

medium to also delve into his internal psyche. Merod writes that he was Wild in

nighttime ravings, walking Viennas dark streets near the end, humming to himself,

oblivious to his vocal force and unkempt disposition, Beethovens lasting image performs

a ritual o f obsessive self-engagement few imagine, seldom emulate ('65). It can only be

concluded that the combination o f worldly and psychological pressures that faced the

aging, ill composer provided the catalyst for the composition o f the Late String Quartets.

The revelations that these realities can bring to the contemporary artist are just as





Intense scholarly analysis o f the Late String Quartets began soon after Beethovens

death and continues to this day. Beethoven had no great expectations that these quartets

would be played at large concert halls. After the premiere o f Op. 130 and the public

reaction to the Grosse Fugue that weighed so heavily upon him, the quartets were largely

played at private affairs, with neither Op. 131 nor Op. 135 being played until after his

death (Solomon, Beethoven 417). The quartets were kept from musical extinction by

performances outside Austria in cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, and Paris, in particular.

During the early years o f the twentieth century, the quartets became subjects o f more in

depth scholarly analysis, certainly through Sullivan, who has been quoted extensively

here, but also through Theodore Adorno, a German scholar who specialized in the

philosophical ramifications of musicology. Adomo asserted that Beethovens late style

was a natural extension o f the musical progression o f the earlier periods o f his life;

Michael Spitzer describes it thus, In simple terms: middle Beethoven takes convention

(formula) and fills it with subjectivity; late Beethoven begins with subjectivity and

ossifies it into convention (57). The experimentations that marked the Late String

Quartets were inevitable according to Adomo. These were remarkable works that were to

be expected from an artist such as Beethoven, who lived very much in a time where the

conventions o f the Classical Style were surrendering to the sweeping nonconformity o f

Romanticism. This musical transition of style was to take just thirty years, a rather swift

period historically. Rosen sees Beethoven as the harbinger o f this change, We think o f

Beethoven, particularly the Beethoven of the final years, as a deeply unconventional

composer, and we generally assume that it was a deliberate flouting o f the contemporary

musical language and style that often made his work so difficult to understand and accept

by his contemporaries (449). As the sweeping change of the Industrial Age gave way to

the remarkably swift escalation of the technological advances of the late Twentieth

Century, it is quite possible for the modem artist to gain keen insights into Beethoven.

These insights can be gleaned through how one interprets his music and through the

personal emotions the music evokes, as well as through how one listens to it or how one

plays it.

Lewis Lockwoods Inside Beethovens Quartets, History, Performance,

Interpretation contains several revelatory interviews with members o f the Juilliard String

Quartet and their experiences o f playing Beethovens Late Quartets. Cellist Joel

Krosnick, describes his experience with the Grosse Fugue, I was listening to this piece

and I thought: My God, I have never heard anything so complex in my life... How can

anybody understand it? and I look at the audience, and people were transfixed. Everyone

was getting their own understanding (quoted in Lockwood 217). Krosnick later

continues, Because o f the deafness, because o f the abstract quality of the music, theres

something ideally expressed- in Platonic sense, as in the Republic... There is an ideal

expression and a picture o f life as we would like it to be lived and felt, as we wish that it

could be (quoted in Lockwood 221). Second Violinist Ronald Copes states, I dont
know how deeply young people, or any o f us for that matter, can relate to those

circumstances, but we all have at least an abstract appreciation of the fact that it was an

awful lot to be dealing with, so there is some kind o f empathetic potential there, at least

(quoted in Lockwood 223). Finally Violist Samuel Rhodes attempts to describe playing a

concert o f the Late String Quartets in this manner, Theres nothing that tires me out

more, in both the spiritual and the physical sense. My arm feels like I cant play another

note (quoted in Lockwood 229). These quotes from contemporary musicians embody

the notion that Beethovens music is transformational; it can be, both for the players and

the audience, a deeply moving experience. Beethovens music, his Late String Quartet

compositions in particular, came from a mind completely devoid of auditory experience.

The auditory experience as most humans know it was one that played out in the deepest

recesses o f Beethovens mind. As the auditory experiences manifested themselves into

Beethovens compositions, they were informed by the everyday trials and tribulations

that mark the human experience o f any individual. Perhaps the brilliance o f these pieces,

especially to the modem artist, can be appreciated more fully only through the

dichotomous nature o f their composition.

Merod posits upon a possible late style o f Mozart and also upon where Beethovens

style would have evolved by asking such questions as What would a Tate John Coltrane

have become? Or guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan? ... Had the ethereal Greek Composer

Yanni Christou avoided motorcycles, would his figure shine across the international

music scene? Idle speculation, amusing but futile (42). These are apt questions, one

supposes, that could be asked if Beethovens health had not taken such a significant turn
for the worse in 1826 and early 1827 prior to his death. But as Merod states, they are

indeed futile, especially in light of the rich insights that can be gained from the evidence

o f what did occur in these final months. Beethoven was a man whose compositional

career had achieved a Renaissance of sorts; his completion o f the Ninth Symphony, his

many smaller works and the Late String Quartets give credence to that fact. He was beset

by the ongoing issues with Karl that culminated in his nephews suicide attempt in the

summer o f 1825. His health was on a steady decline. He lacked all auditory senses and

utilized conversation books to communicate with those around him. Despite all o f the

inner psychological and environmental influences that beset the great composer, he

persevered in his artistry.

To a contemporary artist, this issue o f perseverance on Beethovens part cannot be

underestimated. Through the personal issues that Beethoven faced, most specifically his

relationship with Karl, it is quite possible to surmise that he needed his music and his

compositions as a means to escape from the unhappiness that such situations produce.

There are several accounts o f instances when Beethoven utilized his music as a method of

healing when a friend or family member who was suffering emotionally. He played for

Dorothea von Ertmann, a piano student o f his, after the death o f her child to comfort her.

Likewise, he played for Antonie Brentano as a means to reach into the core o f her

desolation; Solomon describes these acts as Beethovens efforts on countering the

effects o f depression, grief, and mourning in people whom he deeply cared about; and he

effectively provided them with consolation that words could not achieve {Late

Beethoven 233). Surely he used his music in isolation o f his own mind in a similar
manner. In addition, what contemporary artist does not use his or her artistry as a means

o f escape and camaraderie with their fellow humans? It is a double edged sword, the use

o f art as a transmutation for emotion. The transcendent experience o f an artist utilizing

the stimuli of the world that surrounds them to share their art with the rest o f the world is

both cutting and cathartic. Beethovens perseverance through what many might perceive

as his greatest obstacle, his hearing loss, may have proved to be a catalyst for making the

art even more enduring and profound. The concept o f perseverance through obstacle is a

point of inspiration for not only a contemporary artist, but also will continue to be for

artists for many ages to come.

Beyond the issues o f Beethovens staunch determination to persevere through his

deafness and his personal conflicts, the issue o f his deteriorated health cannot be ignored.

He garnered great success in the early years o f the nineteenth century during a very

prolific period in his life. He subsequently went through a very long period of

compositional stagnation, only to find the final years o f his life, even as his health

declined, a virtual plethora o f artistic pursuits. Could it be the fact that his personal life

was so chaotic combined with the knowledge that his death neared that ignited him to

become so active artistically? Thomas Nagel, in What Does It All Mean writes The fear

o f death is very puzzling, in a way that regret about the end o f life is not. Its easy to

understand that we might want to have more life, more of the things it contains, so that

we see death as a negative evil. But can the prospect o f your own nonexistence be

alarming in a positive way? (94). Beethoven was many things, but a person who ignored

fate he was not. As his health deteriorated, the desire for legacy could not have been far
from his mind; his daily habit o f composing did not cease until three months prior to his

death, a time when he was completely bedridden. Many an artist o f any age has a need to

be remembered, and Beethoven was certainly no exception. O f all o f lifes stages,

arguably death is the most cathartic, and this impending catharsis is one in which all

artists can find camaraderie.

There is no great secret to Beethovens artistry when one looks at his life from both

internal and external perspectives. He was bom a man o f bourgeois but not wealthy

means; he had to find a way to sustain himself in the world. He used his natural talents to

do so; a gifted pianist, he delved into the world of Viennese music society with fervor as

only a true entrepreneur could. He did well, became a celebrity of sorts and flourished

with artistic talents that came innately to him. He was beset by devastating health issues,

most notably his deafness, but also many others in his later years. He was embroiled in a

slew of familial issues and was unlucky in romantic pursuits. Yet he left behind a brilliant

body o f work that transcends and uplifts, confounds and confronts the scholarly world to

this day. The Late String Quartets are the capstone upon which this brilliant body of work

culminated. In many ways, this objective view o f his life demystifies the outcome o f his

pursuits; his success and his perseverance are an inspiration to many a contemporary

artist. In his article Beethovens Other Humanism for the Journal o f the American

Musicological Society, Daniel Chua writes o f this demystification, Beethovens

humanity issues precisely from such a definition: by emancipating music from the cultic

functions o f the past, the composer mirrors the human who dares to know (572). All

humans it is hoped, especially artists, spend their life in the pursuit of daring to know.
In Beethoven, the contemporary artist finds a man who was truly the embodiment o f

mind, art and the world that informed his being. In his Late String Quartets, the

culmination o f that art found its everlasting testament.


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