About this Recording
8.550559 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: String Quartets, Vol. 2 (Kodály Quartet) - Nos. 3, 4

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
String Quartets (Complete) Val. 2
String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No.3
String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No.4

In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seek his fortune in the imperial capital, Vienna. Five years earlier his patron, the Archbishop of Cologne, a scion of the imperial family, had sent him to Vienna where he had hoped to have lessons with Mozart. His plans were frustrated by the illness and subsequent death of his mother, which made it necessary for him to return to Bonn and before long to take charge of the welfare of his younger brothers. Beethoven's father, overshadowed by the eminence of his own father, Kapellmeister to a former Archbishop, had proved inadequate both as a musician and in the family, of which his eldest son now took control.

As a boy Beethoven had been trained to continue family tradition as a musician and had followed his father and grandfather as a member of the archiepiscopal musical establishment. In 1792 he arrived in Vienna with introductions to various members of the nobility and with the offer of lessons with Haydn, from whom he later claimed to have learned nothing. There were further lessons from the Court Composer, Antonio Salieri, and, perhaps more important, from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, an expert in counterpoint. He embarked at once on an initial career as a keyboard virtuoso, skilled both as an executant and in the necessary art of improvisation. He was to establish himself, in the course of time, as a figure of remarkable genius and originality and as a social eccentric, no respecter of persons, his eccentricity all the greater because of his increasing deafness. This last disability made public performance, whether as a keyboard-player or in the direction of his own music, more and more difficult, and must have served to encourage the development of one particular facet of his music, the use of counterpoint, stigmatized by hostile contemporary critics as "learned". He died in Vienna in 1827.

In his sixteen string quartets, the first set of six published in 1801 and the last completed in 1826 and published in the year of his death, Beethoven was as innovative as ever, developing and extending a form that seemed already to have reached a height of perfection in the later work of Haydn and Mozart. The earliest mention of a string quartet comes in the recorded request of Count Apponyi in 1795. This had no immediate result, but it has seemed possible that Beethoven in these years might have been inf1uenced by Emanuel Aloys Förster, a musician 22 years his senior, whose teaching of counterpoint he admired and recommended to others, while profiting, perhaps, from the example of Förster's own quartets. At the same time Beethoven must have known the later quartets of Mozart and the work of Haydn.

The first group of string quartets by Beethoven, published in 1801 as Opus 18 with a dedication to Prince Lobowitz, consisted of six quartets written between 1798 and 1800. The third of these was apparently the first in order of composition, followed by Nos. 1, 2 and 5 and Nos. 4 and 6, the last two not to be found in Beethoven's surviving sketch-books, which in general give a possible idea of chronology and an insight into his methods of composition.

The String Quartet in D >major, Opus 18, No.3, opens with the rising interval of a seventh from the first violin, an interval that is heard again when the viola echoes the first bars of the theme, followed immediately by the second violin, and later from the cello. The tripartite >sonata-allegro movement continues with subsidiary thematic material and a central development introduced by the same rising figure, which returns to start the recapitulation and has apart to play in the final coda. The B flat major slow movement starts with a phrase played on the G string of the second violin, taken up at once by the first violin and in this form or in inversion playing a significant part in what follows. The D major Allegro has a contrasting D minor section and leads to a finale with a lively principal theme and a lilting secondary melody.

The fourth quartet of the set, the String Quartet in C minor, has a strongly characterized first subject to its opening Allegro, with an E flat major second subject entrusted first to the second violin, then handed to first violin and viola an octave apart. The melody re-appears in the cello during the central development and in the key of C major in the first violin part in recapitulation. Beethoven experiments with the now traditional form by providing a second movement that is both slow movement and scherzo. The delicate C major subject announced by the second violin is imitated by the viola and then by the first violin, while the cello has to be content with the opening figure of the subject, only to introduce another element for contrapuntal imitation in a movement where counterpoint has an important role. The third movement is a Minuet, the opening of the principal theme motivically related to the opening of the quartet. The C minor Minuet frames an A flat major Trio and is followed by a final rondo in which the C minor principal theme returns to punctuate a series of contrasting episodes.

Kodály Quartet
The members of the Kodály Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the second violinist Tamás Szabó, viola-player Gábor Fias and cellist János Devich, were formerly in the Sebestyén Quartet, which was awarded the jury's special diploma at the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won first prize at the 1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinist Attila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodály Quartet, a title adopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education. The Kodály Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the then Soviet Union and in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert hall and on television and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings of string quartets by Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.

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