Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Verona Quartet & Daniel Hsu: A Piano Quintet by Cesar Franck, Recovering Composer

Who: The Verona Quartet and pianist Daniel Hsu
What: Beethoven (Piano Sonata in A-flat, Op.110; String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2) and Cesar Franck (Piano Quintet in F Minor)
When: Wednesday, May 3rd, 8pm
Where: Market Square Presbyterian Church
Why: With Beethoven on the first half of the program, there's a rarely heard work by Cesar Franck, his hyper-romantic Quintet, to conclude the 35th Anniversary Season of Market Square Concerts.

(You can read the earlier posts about Beethoven: The Piano Sonata, Op. 110  and The String Quartet, Op. 59/2, and also here)

There seem to be only a handful of Piano Quintets – the Usual Suspects, the ones most frequently heard, are the ones by Brahms and Schumann, Dvořák and Shostakovich. But on the periphery of audience awareness is the one by Cesar Franck, perhaps a distant fifth to that august group. You may have heard another even less familiar piano quintet – the one by Edward Elgar – at last summer's Market Square Concerts Summermusic.

So what is a “piano quintet”? Technically, it would be any group of five instruments of which one is a piano – as opposed to the rather cumbersome gathering of five pianists. Before 1800, both Mozart and Beethoven wrote quintets for piano and winds, but not one with strings.

And the most popular quintet with a piano in it is the one Franz Schubert wrote for some amateur musician-friends, the one known as the “Trout” Quintet. But technically we don't consider that a "piano quintet" as it's more of a "quintet for piano and strings" - not a string quartet but a violin, a viola, a cello and, rather out of the usual configuration, a double bass.

You see, sometime in the 1840s, Robert Schumann's recently published piano quintet solidified the definition as “a work for piano and string quartet.” Schumann's wasn't really the first, but let's say it was the first one to go on to win fame and fortune and to inspire Brahms and then Dvořák to compose their own.

A nephew of Prussian king Frederick the Great (himself a composer), Prince Louis Ferdinand was a soldier as well as a musician, a highly-acclaimed pianist and a composer who published a Piano Quintet in 1803, three years before his death on the battlefield during the Napoleonic Wars. However, one could claim it never became part of the repertoire (we assume, today) and never had a chance to inspire future generations.

On the other hand, one could point to Luigi Boccherini's six piano quintets, presumably composed in 1799 and, given Boccherini's role as a then-former court composer and cellist in Spain who counted King Friederich Wilhelm II (Frederick the Great's brother and successor, who also played the cello) as one of his patrons, it's possible Prince Louis was familiar with Boccherini's quintets despite their not having been officially published until 1820.

But Prince Louis was not unknown in musical circles: let it suffice to say Beethoven dedicated his 3rd Piano Concerto – the C Minor of 1803 – to Prince Louis Ferdinand, and Anton Reicha, a friend from Beethoven's youth in Bonn who himself went off to Paris to become a leading composer and teacher, wrote a massive set of piano variations specifically for Prince Louis.

And so, by circuitous connections, we come to Cesar Franck.

The great organist and composer we know of late-19th Century France was born in 1822 (Beethoven had just published his Piano Sonata Op. 110 in January of that year). He went to Paris as a child where he studied counterpoint with Anton Reicha.

Now, Kevin Bacon aside, I'm not sure how many degrees of separation that really is from Beethoven or Louis Ferdinand to Franck but other than a curious coincidence of the entanglements one frequently finds in music history, it has nothing to do with the F Minor Piano Quintet Cesar Franck completed in 1879.

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Franck's Piano Quintet is in three movement, omitting the scherzo of the standard four-movement format. But the number of movements isn't so much the point. It's more a question of balance and contrast and one of the key features of multi-movement instrumental forms, regardless of the medium it's written for – orchestra or chamber music – is how to achieve some kind of unity while creating sufficient variety to keep you interested.

Beethoven's solution to this in his 5th Symphony is to reintroduce that famous rhythmic pattern of the first movement's “fate-knocks-at-the-door” motive in the transition between the 3rd and 4th movements (the fact the two movements are connected without a break is no minor coincidence, either). In the Op.106 Sonata, the Hammerklavier, he begins the finale with improvisatory reminiscences of earlier themes from the other movements before deciding how to start the last movement, something he does more famously (and dramatically) at the start of the finale of his 9th Symphony, before ushering in the “Ode to Joy” Theme.

Franz Liszt's solution was to have every theme, no matter how much contrast there was between them, all based on a motive heard at the opening of the piece, something he used in some of his tone-poems like Les Preludes and in his Piano Sonata. This is known as “thematic transformation” and goes far beyond the idea of a composer developing a theme by tearing it apart and playing fragments against each other.

What Franck does is to take a particular and generally memorable theme and use it, often without changing it at all, in each movement, usually at some climactic point near the end of the movement. This gives the listener some sense of recognition – the perception of a work's form is, after all, based on memory – and a connection with something heard before. He does this not only in the Quintet, but also the Violin Sonata and the Symphony in D Minor.

If you don't think this works, go see a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Here are two complete performances of the Franck Quintet for you: the first is with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (if you like watching live performers); the second is the Schubert Society of London but with the score of the piece coordinated with the music (for those of you who enjoy following along).

Either way, listen for the Big Tune which first appears at 5:48 in the “live” version (4:42 in the “score” version); in the 2nd Movement at 22:33 (or 21:32); and, coming back like an old friend near the end of the last movement, at 35:41 (or 34:14).

While Franck's sense of tonality – still clear in Beethoven's Quartet and becoming a little ambiguous in the Sonata – is almost lost in a sea of “chromaticism,” that ability for almost any chord to shift ever so slightly and veer off into distant tonal realms, it is the harmonic tension he creates in his drive to resolve the tension and his use of the themes in this piece, in particular this recurring theme that breaks the boundaries of time and form, that gives the listener, frankly (no pun intended) something to hang on to.

Not that you need a third performance, but I highly recommend this 1986 video with the great Sviatoslav Richter and the Borodin Quartet, an amazing performance (even if the sound quality here is lacking a bit) with an edge that makes this sense of “tension and release” even more intense. Listen at least to the end of the 1st Movement and how that Big Tune helps drive the harmony home, beginning at 13:06. Notice how many times it begins to build, then falls back, until it finally collapses at 15:53 just before the end? You can't do that if you don't know what you're doing!

(Small world: Peter Sirotin tells me Richter's page-turner for this performance was a class-mate of his at the Moscow Conservatory, speaking of degrees of separation!)

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One of the first times I encountered the Franck Quintet live, the program notes said it was “an early piece.” Which made me attempt some mental math, always a risk sitting in a concert hall: Written in 1879, born in 1822 (okay, December of 1822), so how early could this be?

That would mean he was 56 when he composed it. How can that be “early”? Had he died at the age Beethoven died, it would've been his last piece – and we wouldn't know the tone-poem Le chausseur maudit (“The Accursed Hunstman”) (finished in 1882); the Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1885); the A Major Violin Sonata (1886), his most popular work; and his Symphony in D Minor (1887-1888), his most acclaimed work. Not long after completing a large-scale if rarely heard String Quartet and writing his “Three Chorales,” a staple of the organist's repertoire, he died in 1890, a month before his 68th birthday.

But “early” is semi-accurate, here, not really an alternative fact. Franck was never the most secure composer in the world of classical music, after a failed career in the prodigy market, both as concert pianist and composer. Despite some success with his first published pieces, a set of Piano Trios written when he was in his late-teens that garnered the praise of no less than Franz Liszt, and more set-backs with some attempted operas in his mid-20s (having outgrown his prodigyhood), he was not really sure what he might pursue as a career, so he decided to focus on becoming an organist.

In this role, he became known as a teacher and an expert improviser (his improvisations at the conclusion of a service often became a reason music-lovers started flocking to his church), plus a champion of a new model of the pipe organ. He wrote choral music for the services – not meant to be artistic but practical – and we have this to thank for one of his most famous chestnuts, the Panis Angelicus.

Working and teaching in relative obscurity, suddenly other musicians began taking note of him and, during the nationalistic concerns about French art during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III's empire, Franck's early Op. 1 Trio was performed again in Paris (ironically after having been performed across Germany by the great German conductor and Friend-of-Brahms, Hans von Bülow) and he found himself appointed professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire which once would not admit him initially because he was an immigrant (born in what is now Belgium).

In the early-1870s, then, he began composing again – more full-scale "professional" choral works and operas, primarily, as well as organ works. In 1874, he heard for the first time the prelude to Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde which influenced the evolution of his chromatic harmonic language. He spent years working on a “monumental oratorio,” The Beatitudes, which he didn't finish until July, 1879, and then he finished his Piano Quintet, his first piece of chamber music since 1844, 35 years earlier!

For the premiere, the presenter somehow engaged the composer, organist, and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns which, looking back on it from the 21st Century, would seem logical – two of the greatest names in French music at the time, right?

But as far as Saint-Saëns was concerned, and indeed most of the musical establishment, Franck was not only not an important composer, he was an avant-garde composer – horrors! – writing in a chromatic Wagnerian style antithetical to Saint-Saëns' love of Mozart and Beethoven (despite the bombastic nature of some of his “Organ” Symphony, Saint-Saëns was above all a classicist at heart). What could be further from what he considered the Artistic Truth than this dense, emotional, aimless chromatic floundering – he considered it “erotic” which wasn't helped by the scandal associated with Franck's having an affair with one of his students (Saint-Saëns' own lifestyle, aside) – but for some reason, he accepted the invitation to play the work.

And play it brilliantly. The composer was delighted even if the pianist apparently detested it. There are two stories associated with this premiere, and both of them can't be true. It was noted that at the end of the performance, Saint-Saëns left the stage (the implication was “in a hurry” as if not bowing), leaving the score open on the piano's music rack, a gesture usually associated with disdain for the piece. The other story was, after the concert, Franck wrote an effusive dedication “to my good friend, Camille Saint-Saëns” on the copy of the score the composer proudly handed him and which the pianist left behind in the Green Room before leaving the concert hall without a word.

But yet Saint-Saëns had the professionalism to give the piece a committed performance, and probably one of the best performances Franck ever had the opportunity to experience. More typical of his experience was a rehearsal of his tone-poem, Les Djinns in 1884, where the conductor turned to Franck at one point and asked “Does it please you?” to which the composer responded he was indeed very pleased. The conductor turned back to the orchestra and said “It's all frightful music, gentlemen, but we'll go on anyway.”

He had been awarded the Legion of Honor in 1885, a very distinguished award for an artist, but not because of his compositions: because he was an acclaimed teacher (and it would be his students who would have the most impact on French music, far more than his music had in his lifetime).

The premiere of the symphony in 1889 was a disaster (and a scandal). No less than Charles Gounod told people after the concert it was “the affirmation of incompetence pushed to dogmatic lengths.” Another critic told a friend dismissively, “Who is Professor Franck? An organ professor, I believe.”

His one true popular success – both in terms of the performance and the audience reaction – was the premiere of his String Quartet in D Major in April of 1890. The acclaim was so great, the National Society that presented it had to schedule an additional performance the following month. Finally, Franck's friends thought, he had “arrived.”

In July, just a few months later, he was riding in a horse-drawn cab to give a lesson at the home of one of his students when the cab was struck by what is usually described as “an autobus” but in the days before cars and buses roamed the streets of Paris, this was more likely a horse-drawn trolley. Regardless, the accident was unnerving but not life-threatening, even though, once he reached his student's home, he fainted, refusing any medical attention. Later, however, he found walking had become painful and he then had to take a kind of sick-leave from his lessons, spending the summer at a country town outside Paris where he completed his Three Chorales for organ. When he returned to teaching in Paris, he caught a cold in October which then, in his weakened condition, developed into pleurisy with further complications. Things deteriorated rapidly and he died on November 8th, as I said, a month before his 68th birthday.

Again, the usual story I have heard as a student and read as a concert-goer was that Franck was run-over by a bus shortly after the premiere of his Symphony. Not quite – but tragic enough in reality.

And still, one wonders where Franck's musical style might have led him if this Piano Quintet was his first major achievement in a long-delayed career, a late-bloomer at 56?

Dick Strawser

Monday, May 1, 2017

With Beethoven, from Verona: the 2nd Razumovsky

Beethoven in 1806
Who: The Verona Quartet and pianist Daniel Hsu
What: Beethoven (Piano Sonata in A-flat, Op.110; String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2) and Cesar Franck (Piano Quintet in F Minor)
When: Wednesday, May 3rd, 8pm
Where: Market Square Presbyterian Church
Why: Beethoven! and a great Late-Romantic Piano Quintet (and there aren't many of those around - and this one's not heard all that often) plus it's the final concert of Market Square Concerts' 35th Anniversary Season.

(This post is about the Beethoven Quartet on the program. You can read about Beethoven's next-to-last Piano Sonata, here. And if you're wondering just what a Razumovsky is, you can find out here. There's also a post about the Franck Quintet, here.)

In Mozart and Haydn's day, it was typical for composers to produce sets of quartets usually six or maybe only three in a group (not to mention other kinds of works: even earlier, Baroque composers like Vivaldi published concertos and sonatas by the dozen). Each one was designed to be a different “solution” to the question “how many different ways can one solve the problem of writing a string quartet?” In 1800, former Haydn-student and fan of Mozart Ludwig van Beethoven published his first quartets, a set of six, and the reaction to them was quite favorable among Viennese music-lovers.

Sometime in 1805, then, Beethoven was asked to provide one of the great arts patrons of his day, the Russian ambassador to Imperial Vienna, Count Razumovsky, with a set of three new quartets - hence the quartets' nickname.

We don't know exactly when this request was made or if, as Beethoven wrote to his publisher in July of 1806, he'd already finished one of the three by then, but Jan Swafford, in his recent (and excellent) biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, mentions specifically he began work on them the day after his brother Carl's wedding to Johanna Reiss, a prophetic event considering how much time would be spent during what we call his "Late Period" dealing with the guardianship of the only child of that marriage following his brother's death in 1815.

(In fact, the three piano sonatas, Op.109, 110 and 111, were all begun around the time the legal issues were finally being resolved in the composer's favor - so there's an interesting "common chord" between the two pieces on the first half of the program.)

That would mean Beethoven composed all three of the Op. 59 quartets between May 26th and September 6th, 1806, when he again wrote to his publishers and said they were done.

While three months might seem sufficient time to write three string quartets, remember Beethoven was also composing the 4th Symphony (Op.60), the 4th Piano Concerto (Op.58) and the Violin Concerto (Op.61) during that same summer, not to mention revisions on his opera Leonore (not yet re-named Fidelio) complete with two new overtures for it (the 2nd & 3rd Leonore Overtures) and several other works including having finished the greatest of his piano sonatas to date, the Appassionata (Op.57), that same year! Any composer would be delighted to have produced such masterpieces during a lifetime – but in one year?

Part of the “premise” for the quartets was Razumovsky's request to include in each of them “a Russian theme.” Some say Beethoven suggested this as a tribute to his patron but it doesn't seem typical of Beethoven to offer such a “musical device.”

In the 2nd, Beethoven made use of an old folksong called “Slava!” (“Glory” or “Rejoice”) which has become more famous to Western ears through Mussorgsky's later using the same theme in the Coronation Scene of his opera Boris Godunov, first composed in the late-1860s, where it doesn't stand out as a quotation. By that, I mean Mussorgsky's music is so authentically Russian, most Westerners wouldn't even realize this is an old folk-song.

After its famous opening bell sequence, the choral hymn "Slava" begins at 1:04 and concludes at 2:15. This excerpt is from a film of the opera with the National Symphony Orchestra & Chorus (of Washington DC) conducted by its then music director Mstislav Rostropovich whose nickname, by the way, was "Slava". (In this scene, Boris Godunov, here the only adult male without a beard, for some reason, is crowned Tsar of Russia following the death of Ivan the Terrible's son in 1598.)

With Beethoven, so authentically German, the sound of this Russian theme's incorporation within his style sticks out like a sore thumb and in fact the way he uses it, it almost sounds like he's deliberately having fun with it or even making fun of it, turning it into that most academic of formats and so antithetical to folk-song, the fugue – then especially, after forcing it into a canon, when the tonic/dominant cadence gets so carried away, it could almost sound like its beating up on this poor, defenseless tune and chasing it out the door before thinking better of it and relenting...

In this performance of the quartet's third movement by the Alban Berg Quartet, the "Slava" quotation - the scherzo's "trio" - begins at 1:51 until 3:15 when the opening section returns. "Slava" comes back for a second go-'round at 4:08 to 5:30.

Perhaps by the time he got to the 3rd Quartet, he'd thought, “enough.” There is no Russian folk-song quoted in the C Major Quartet.

There would be other Russian Themes however in his future, though correctly they are both Ukrainian in origin: there's the song known in Germany as Beautiful Minka (originally "The Cossack rode over the Danube") and a Ukrainian dance in the sets of "Variations on National Airs" originally for flute and piano which he worked on, believe it or not, simultaneously with the Hammerklavier, written for an English publisher interested in folk songs which appeared as Op. 107 in 1819. But of these, perhaps the less said the better: every composer needed to make some money.

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Here is a performance of the complete Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2 (known among friends as the "2nd Razumovsky") with the Dover Quartet - who performed Caroline Shaw, Smetana and Shostakovich for us at Temple Ohev Sholom just this past February - from their 2013 win at the Banff Competition:

There are the usual four standard movements, opening with a dramatic sonata-form movement which starts at 0:54.

The slow movement, which opens with a hymn-like theme, begins at 10:40. There is a story told by three separate friends of the composer's that the idea for this serene music came to him one night while gazing up at the stars, "contemplating the music of the spheres." True or not, it is certainly apt.

The contrasting scherzo begins at 23:55 (the "Slava" quote at 25:53); and the finale, then, at 31:07.

As one of the early reviews said, "Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets, dedicated to the Russian ambassador Count Razumovsky, are also attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended."

(For a more technical look at the quartet, see below.)

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Ignaz Schuppanzigh
These quartets were composed with specific players in mind: the members of a string quartet led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, perhaps the best or at least the best known violinist in Vienna at the time. And this is an important distinction.

Before, Mozart or Haydn – or any number of those other composers the typical American audience is unaware of who were their contemporaries – wrote for what is called “the amateur market.” In the days before ipods and CD-players turning us into passive listeners, people were actively involved in making their own music and it was typical to assume the intended audience for a new string quartet was essentially the four people who played it and maybe their friends and family who sat in the parlor listening to them. (Think Schubert growing up in a household where his older brother played 1st Violin, he would play 2nd Violin and then Viola when another brother became proficient enough to play 2nd, and their father played Cello.)

Even given the level of playing available at a time before “amateur” became a pejorative term, how Beethoven wrote these new string quartets was something new. Not only was the playing level above the average amateur string-player, it required dedicated practice and rehearsal time and also expected more of its listeners. These were, essentially, the first professional string quartets on a “symphonic” scale – and intended for public performance.

And the level of technical challenge for the players led Schuppanzigh, on at least one occasion, to complain about a particular passage: “how do you expect me to play that?!”

While Beethoven's response is famous (and translated variously), we don't know what specific passage, much less piece, it was Schuppanzigh was referring to.

“What do I care for you and your damned fiddle when the spirit moves me?”

No aristocratically employed composer in Haydn's time would have gotten away with that...

The idea of “chamber music concerts” was also something new at the time. Before, an aristocrat might have some “house musicians” who would perform for their guests. Some even had “house orchestras” though now an orchestra like the one Haydn conducted at Prince Esterhazy's was a rare luxury: given the early-19th Century economy, it was more likely the musicians would double as house-servants and staff.

(Imagine the downstairs world of Downton Abbey doubling as a small orchestra to entertain at the Granthams' dinner-parties – what instruments, exactly, do you think Carson, Mrs. Padmore or Thomas might play?)

But Schuppanzigh had created a professional quartet in 1804 (the cellist had once been Haydn's principal cellist back in the day of Prince Esterhazy's employment) and though their public concert-series only lasted through 1808 – it is assumed (and it's odd no one knows this for sure) Beethoven's Op. 59 Quartets where first heard during their 1807-1808 Season – it was an important ground-breaking event in the evolution of “modern music.”

These works were not conceived as amateur music-making but for professional musicians to play for a preferably paying audience. We have begun making the bridge between aristocratic patronage and the free-lance, professional musician.

Count Razumovsky hired Schuppanzigh to form a “house quartet” for him in 1808, intending it to be “the finest quartet in Europe.” It was then that the Count's new quartet played his new Quartets rather frequently at his palace, one imagines.

Speaking of amateur, the Count was a talented violinist himself – being an aristocrat, he was, technically, an amateur, no matter how well he played – and he enjoyed “sitting in” with his quartet to play 2nd Violin. On those occasions he preferred to sit back and listen (and one wonders if he was capable of playing the 2nd Violin parts in Beethoven's newest works), a fellow named Louis Sina played instead (talk about playing 2nd fiddle...). You might wonder if the Count could hold his own in “the finest quartet in Europe,” but then would his employees say, “excuse me, your lordship, but maybe you should sit this one out and let Mr. Sina play?”

It's quite possible if Ignatz Schuppanzigh hadn't existed, the quartets Beethoven wrote for the Count might have been very different. In a way, the violinist is almost as responsible as the patron was in bringing these three masterpieces about. Something to consider...

By the way, there were only two musicians in Vienna who played in the premiere of every Beethoven symphony between 1800 and 1825 – one was Ignaz Schuppanzigh.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the idea of writing a "set" of quartets was to see how one might write quartets differently, rather than churning out cookie-cutter imitations.

In the first of these three quartets, Beethoven opens with a long-arched theme that unwinds in the cello under a repeated F and A in the upper strings which implies an F Major chord but, lacking the root at any significant point in the cello, gives it an odd sense of never quite confirming F Major as the tonic chord until nineteen bars later with the first real cadence and the start of new thematic material! (You can watch a complete performance with the Alban Berg Quartet, here.)

The second quartet, however, opens quite differently, with a peremptory Tonic/Dominant cadence (reminding some of the hammer-like tonic chords that open the Eroica) and, in a few short measures presents several contrasting "cells" with a good of bit of "air," pauses between them that may sound fine to us (used to the cross-cutting of scenes in movies and TV) but which probably sounded wildly kaleidoscopic to Beethoven's first listeners, like one shiny object after another before finally settling down. The third of these cells, by the way, repeating the second, unexpectedly moves it up a half-step to F Major, not a related key to E Minor's tonic (more on this, later) - just another way Beethoven creates anticipation in the sense of both harmonic and structural tension (giving the listener doubts about what exactly is going on here).

These various elements play out through the rest of this fairly standard sonata-form movement. And while F Major shows up occasionally in passing, the second theme is in the standard G Major (the relative major of E Minor, both with one sharp in the key signature). However, when the development begins, we've slipped down a half-step, this time, to E-Flat Major, another unexpected twist. There's also a substantial coda (or closing section) before we finally conclude in the home tonic.

It's not that E Minor was an unusual key but it's one that Beethoven used rarely (the Op.90 Piano Sonata of 1814 is the only other major work in his catalog in this key). What is fairly unusual about it is, all four movements of this quartet are centered on E: the second movement is in E Major, and the other three are all in E Minor. Usually, composers look for some sort of tonal variety at least between the first and second movements before returning to the "home tonic" for the usually briefer last two.

Not only is the slow movement a contrast in tempo (very slow, and then Beethoven particularly marks it "to be played with much feeling," keeping in mind the emotional impact of what we call Romanticism was fairly new, then). As a hymn-tune played with "block chord" harmony, but harmonized differently each time it occurs, it ends "in beatific serenity," taking on a foreshadowing of another great hymn, the Heiliger Dankgesang or "Holy Song of Thanksgiving" at the soul of the Op.132 Quartet.

If the first movement seemed fragmented and disjointed, and the second, with its consistent, indeed persistent sense of rhythm, was flowing and connected, along comes the scherzo with its heavy-footed dance which curiously lacks a sense of down-beat in the melody. This is contrasted by the skitterish accompaniment to the Russian Theme's fugue. Beethoven also takes the unusual step of repeating the middle and final sections so rather than having a traditional A-B-A form, it's A-B-A-B-A.

The original sketches indicate Beethoven was planning a minuet in E Major as the third movement but perhaps chose this folksy-dance as being better suited to the Russian Theme he had found in a collection loaned to him by a friend.

So it might come as a surprise that the fourth movement seems to begin in the unrelated key of C Major. However, as the phrase continues to unfold, it actually does cadence where you'd expect it. This becomes a major feature of the finale, a light-hearted tribute, in a sense, proving he was, after all, a student of Poppa Haydn.

Remember that appearance of F Major in the opening E Minor movement I'd mentioned? This is what theorists call a "Neapolitan Relationship," though why this became associated with Naples, no one seems to remember. Basically, a "flat-II" compared to the tonic's I - in this case, F-natural Major rather than the F-sharp of the E Minor scale. (If your eyes have glazed over by this point, that's fine - just go to the concert and listen to the music and enjoy it; if you're a student of music and enjoy taking things apart the way some people like to talk about car engines or cake recipes, here's a little something for you.)

So this appearance of a strong C Major presence in the last E Minor movement is actually a "flat-II of V" (read that as "flat-2 of 5" - Roman numerals indicates chords in classical harmony)  - in other words, a Neapolitan on the Dominant of E Minor which is B (usually a B Major Chord, harmonically), and a C Major chord is only a half-step above that B.

But consider this: the first of these three quartets, each conceived and written at the same time, over a span of three months or so, is in F Major. The third of these quartets is in C Major.


Now, as a composer, I know how I'd think about that - creating a reference to the previous quartet in this one's first movement and a reference to the next quartet (coming attractions) in this one's last movement.

But of course no one can say how Beethoven thought: was this a coincidence? Was it the natural order of things, in his mind? Was this a pun he might actually expect a few well-versed listeners to notice and perhaps chuckle at? Or was it his way of consciously tying together all three quartets? (And does it?)

Since there's nothing written down to confirm this - assuming one could read it, given the state of Beethoven's sketches - it's mere conjecture. And yet these are the things that sometimes keep music theorists and composers awake at night... Sad, isn't it...?

- Dick Strawser