Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes The String Quartets of Beethoven

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post addressed two anniversaries: the 337th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach on March 21, 1685, and the 196th anniversary of the premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, on March 21, 1826.  That quartet, like so very much of Beethoven’s late music, demonstrates explicitly the influence of Bach’s music on Beethoven’s own in its sixth (and final) movement fugue.

That sixth movement fugue is the key to Beethoven’s conception of the piece, as the preceding five movements of the quartet are related not so much to each other as they are to the culminating fugue.  

 Sadly, Beethoven’s late-in-life infatuation (obsession would not be too strong a word) with both fugues and the High Baroque/Sebastian Bach-inspired aesthetic they represented, was not shared with most members of his contemporary musical community.

For all his cantankerous individuality, Ludwig (aka Louis/Luigi) van Beethoven (1770-1827) was still part of a musical community, and it was a community that had long before rejected the Baroque era musical style that had preceded it. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – one of the intellectual pillars of the Enlightenment – wrote apropos of fugues and the High Baroque musical style in 1753:

“With regard to fugues, double fugues, inverted fugues, and other difficult sillinesses that the ear cannot abide and which reason cannot justify, these are obviously remnants of barbarism and bad taste that only persist, like the portals of our Gothic cathedrals, to the shame of those who had the endurance to build them!”

“Sillinesses”. Really.…

Continue reading, only on Patreon

Become a Patron!

Courses On Sale Now