BEETHOVEN'S STRING QUARTETS
OF HIS MIDDLE STYLE PERIOD
OP. 74: THE "HARP"


 


Prince Lobkowitz

 

TRANSITION PERIOD

Although we, in our Creation History of Op. 59, with respect to the time after their completion (with respect to which Barry Cooper reports the following:

"Once back in Vienna, Beethoven resumed and rapidly completed the remaining string quartets, and by February, all three had been tried out in performance" (Cooper: 159)

also discussed Beethoven's life circumstances during the time of his negotiations with publishers, it can certainly not be of any harm to try to trace his life circumstances from February 1807 to the onset of his renewed interest in this compositional genre in the year 1809 by taking a look at his correspondence during this period:  

The first correspondence that might strike us as noteworthy might be his "innocent" invitation to  Marie Bigot, the wife of Paul Bigot de Morogues, Count Razumovsky's librarian, for a coach ride that he extended to her on March 4, 1807:  

" . . . ich schlage ihnen daher vor, sie gegen 12 Uhr heute Mittags zu einer Spazierfahrt abzuholen--da Bigot[2] vermutlich schon aus ist, so können wir ihn freylich nicht mitnehmen--aber deswegen es ganz zu unterlaßen, das fordert Bigot selbst gewiß nicht-- . . . --Es wäre <von> der so aufgeklärten und gebildeten Marie ganz entgegen, wenn sie bloßen Scrupeln zu gefallen, mir das gröste Vergnügen rauben wollte-- . . . Caroline[4] wickeln sie ein in Windeln von Kopf bis zu Füßen, damit ihr nichts geschehe -- . . . " [" . . . Therefore I suggest to you that I will pick you up for a coach ride today at noon, at 12 o'clock--since Bigot[2] will probably have left already, we can not take him with us--to forego it completely, however, is something that Bigot, himself, certainly does not demand-- . . . --It would be entirely contrary to the enlightened and educated Marie if she were to rob me of the greatest pleasure to merely succumb to scruples-- . . . Bundle up Caroline[4] from head to toe that nothing will happen to her -- . . . " [Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 1, Letter No. 271, p. 303-304; original: Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [2]: refers to Paul Bigot; to [4]: refers to the infant daughter of the Bigots; details taken from p. 304.]

Whether Mme. Bigot was 'enlightened' enough by Beethoven's standards or not can not be determined.  However, what can be seen from Beethoven's letter to Paul Bigot (Letter No. 272 of March 5, 1807, p. 304-305) and from his subsequent letter to the couple (Letter No. 273 of March 6, 1807, p. 305-307) is that Marie Bigot did not grant Beethoven's wish and that her husband must have admonished him for extending such an invitation to her.  In his correspondence, Beethoven insisted on his honest, innocent intentions and stated:  

"..--ohnedem ist es einer meiner ersten Grundsätze, nie in einem andern <ver> als Freundschaftlichen Verhältniß mit der Gattin eines andern zu stehn, noch möchte ich durch so ein Vernältniß meine Brust mit mißtrauen gegen diejenige, Welche Vieleicht mein Geschick einst mit mir theilen wird,[2] anfüllen . . . " ["..--in any event, it is one of my first and foremost principles to never find myself in any relationship other than that of friendship with the wife of another, nor do I wish to fill my heart with distrust against the one who, perhaps, some day, will share my life with me,[2] . . . "][GA Vol. 1, p. 304-306; original: Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale; to [2]: according to the GA, this might probably refer to Beethoven's relationship with Josephine v. Deym]." 

Beethoven's behavior in this instance can also be seen as a reflection of his general human loneliness; in the following passage, we can find traces of his "usual" manner of solving this problem with an affinity of this kind:  

". . . ihnen zu zeigen, wie sehr mich immer mehr alles bey ihnen anzieht, daß ich keinen größeren Wunsch habe, als immer bey ihnen leben zu können . . . " [" . . . to show you how much everything concerning you attracts me so that I have no greater wish than to always live with you . . . "][ditto, p. 306].

Perhaps, in this connection, with respect to Beethoven's contacts to socially somewhat compatible men, it does not come as a surprise that, from this point on, we find him in close contact with the (single man) Ignaz von Gleichenstein.

As we already know, this year (1807) also saw the (temporary?) end of his friendship with Josephine von Deym.  

As can be seen from Beethoven's letters No. 313 (to Franz Clement, written between January 25 and 30), and No. 317 (of January 30th), No. 318 (of February 1st) and No. 320 (written in February or March), all to Count Moritz von Dietrichstein), during the first three months of 1808, he was striving for qualitatively good performances of his works in the so-called Liebhaber concerts, the direction of which Clement had taken over on December 20, 1807.  From various notes to these letters, we learn that Beethoven's Piano Concerto, Op. 15 was performed badly in the concert of January 31, 1808, while Beethoven, for the concert of February 2, 1808, at which Archduke Rudolph was also present, allowed the performance of his works Op. 55 and Op. 62.  In his last letter, Beethoven advised Dietrichstein of his leaving the Liebhaber concert society and advised him that he should follow him in this step.    

Beethoven's letters Nr. 321, 322, 323 and 324 of March 1808 reflect his efforts at obtaining permission for an Academy Concert for his own benefit at the Theater-an-der-Wien.  As can bee seen from his correspondence, Joseph von Hartl, as of the beginning of 1808 Director of this theatre, had already extended an agreement-in-principle on the basis that Beethoven, in turn, would provide some of his works for the Academy Concert for the benefit of the "Theaterarmen" (the poor of the theatre).  The first three letters to Joseph von Collin show that Beethoven was still trying to obtain something in writing that would confirm Hartl's agreement, while from the  last letter, written by Hartl to him, it would appear that Beethoven had given up on his own concert plan and was now only providing the promised works to Hartl.     

Particularly relevant to us is the beginning of Beethoven's correspondence with the Leipzig music publishing firm Breitkopf & Härtel, on June 8, 1808, since it would lead to the publication of his works Op. 69 up to and including Op. 86 by this publishing house.  With respect to this, we offer you our link to our separate web page featuring these letters:  

Beethoven's Correspondence with Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig
during the years 1808 - 1812

(If you wish to continue reading letters from these pages without having to recall the page each time, we recommend that you put it down on the task bar of your computer.)  

As we can see from our Härtel Letter Page, this correspondence developed very lively during this summer.  From Letter No. 335 of September 14th, we can see that Gottfried Christoph Härtel was in Vienna during this time, so that Beethoven could negotiate with him in person.  

In mid-September, Beethoven was also able to welcome back to Vienna his friend, Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, so that he could continue his lively exchange with him and to ask for his help in private matters.  

Beethoven's lines to Gleichenstein from about the end of October show us that at that time, he already lived in the same building as Countess Erdödy, since he apologized to his friend for not being able to invite him on account of an illness of the Countess.  

Around November 1st, through two letters, namely one to Gleichenstein and one to Count Oppersdorff in Troppau, for the fist time, we learn of Beethoven's Cassel Offer.  The tone of his letter to Count Oppersdorff gives us a lively impression of Beethoven's frame of mind:  

" . . . Ich hoffe sie werden immer wohl gewesen seyn, wie auch ihre Frau gemahlin, der ich bitte, mich Bestens zu emphelen -- wohne Grade unter dem Fürsten Lichnowsky, im Falle sie einmal mir in Vien die Ehre ihres Besuches geben wollen, bei der gräfin Erdödy -- [3] Meine Umstände bessern sich -- ohne Leute[4] dazu nöthig zu haben, [5] welche ihre Freunde mit Flegeln [6] Traktiren wollen[7] -- auch bin ich als Kapellmeister zum König von Westphalen berufen, und es könnte wohl seyn, daß ich diesem Rufe folge -- leben sie wohl und denken sie zuweilen an ihren ergebensten Freund Beethowen" " . . . I hope that you have always been well, and also your wife, to whom I recommend myself most cordially--at the moment, I live under Prince Lichnowsky, in the event that you would give me the honor of your visit in Vienna, one of these days, with Countes Erdödy--[3] my circumstances are improving -- without needing people[4] who [5] maltreat their friends[6] with oafs[7]--I have also been appointed as Kapellmeister by the King of Westphalia, and it might very well be that I will follow this call--farewell and sometimes think of your most devoted friend Beethoven"][Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe Vol. 2, Letter No. 340, p. 26-27; original:  Harvard College Library; to [3]: refers to three dashes above each other; to [4]: refers to double underlining; to [5]: refers to double underlining; to [6]: refers to triple underlining; to [7]: according to the GA, this might refer to Beethoven's falling-out with Prince Karl Lichnowsky in the fall of 1806 at Grätz Castle, Troppau; details taken from p. 27.]  

The months of November and December show Beethoven's lively exchange with von Collin whom he first asked for patience until after his Academy Concert (of December 22, 1808), but with whom he then also discussed the former's opera text and asked to prefer him as composer over Reichardt who was visiting from Kassel.  We also find two letters to Gleichenstein, namely a dinner invitation to the Countess and one with further details to the Kassel offer.  

Shortly before the Academy Concert we see Beethoven occupied with sending notes to K J. August Röckel regarding the female singers who were supposed to perform at the Academy Concert.   

The impression that we can gain of Beethoven's life circumstances during 1807 and 1808 confirms that he was able to "enjoy" the consequences of his falling-out with Prince Lichnowsky (part of which might also have been the end of his annual pension of 600 florins that he had received from this patron) and that he was even still 'smarting' from this when he wrote his above lines to Count Oppersdorff.  

 

PRE-HISTORY TO THE CREATION OF OP. 74

Let us now turn to Beethoven's renewed interest in chamber music in general and in string quartets in particular. 

 With respect to this, Lewis Lockwood writes: 

"Beethoven spent some time in private chamber music sessions in 1809 and 1810, often held at Zmeskall's house with Schuppanzigh and Anton Kraft performing.  A sketchbook from 1809 contains the annotation "quartets every week" (Lockwood: 324-326).

Let us try to gain a lively impression of this situation by taking a look at Beethoven's correspondence with Nikolaus Zmeskall:  

 Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall[1]

                                 [Wien, möglicherweise kurz vor oder am 19. Februar 1809][2]

    hier die Antwort von S.[3] -- Es tut mir leid um Kraft[4] -- ich schlage vor, daß die Ertman[5] mit ihm die Violonschell Sonate aus A[6] spiele, welche ohnedem vor einem großen publikum noch nicht gut gehört worden -- übrigens wird um dem Bösen Leumund meiner Freunde nicht zu steuren, das terzett noch vor Krafts Akademie gemacht werden.[7]

                                                                                   ganz ihr Beethoven

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall[1]

                                 [Vienna, possibly shortly before or on February 19, 1809][2]

    here the reply by S.[3] -- I am sorry with respect to Kraft[4]--I suggest that Ertman[5] play the Violoncello Sonata in A[6] with him, which, in any event, has not been heard by a large public, yet--by the way, in order not to incur my friend's bad reputation, the Trio will still be done before Kraft's Academy.[7] 

                                                                                   entirely yours, Beethoven

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 358, p. 43-45]

[Original:  Vienna, Österreichische Nationabibliothek; to [1]: refers to the fact that traditionally, this note is considered to be part of a group of Beethoven letters that have been addressed to Nikolaus Zmeskall; to [2]: refers to the fact that this letter discusses one of the chamber music concerts that, from February 2, to at least April 30, 1809, have been held on a regular weekly basis in the apartment of Nikolaus Zmeskall in the so-called "Bürgerspital" building and that this series of concerts might possibly have ended due to the war events of May, 1809 and that the concert in question here might have been that of February 19, 1809; to [3]: refers to the fact that, according to the GA, Thayer (TDR III, p. 133) and Anderson (Nr. 197), Ignaz Schuppanzigh was assumed to be by "S" but that, as far as can be determined, Schuppanzigh did not perform in Zmeskall's concerts; compared to this the GA assumes that perhaps, the "S" stands for Karl August Seidler (1778-1840) who had already taken part in the second concert; with respect to this, the GA relies on  Johann Friedrich Reichardt's Vertraute Briefe geschrieben auf einer Reise nach Wien, Amsterdam 1810, Vol. 1, p. 428; to [4]: probably refers to Nikolaus Kraft since, according to the GA, only for him, an Academy Concert can be proven for the time in question; in this, the GA relies on AMZ 11 [1809], column 650; to [5]: refers to  Catharina Dorothea Freiin von Ertmann, née Graumann (1781 - 1849], wife of Captain Stephan Leopold Freiherr von Ertmann [1769 - 1835), an amateur pianist who had come to Vienna in about 1803;  the GA also refers to Beethoven's dedication to her of his Piano Sonata Op. 101; to  [6]: refers to Op. 69; to [7]: refers to the fact that, according to the GA, on the following Sunday, February 26, 1809, an opportunity presented itself; details taken from p. 43-45.]                                                                                           

Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                                [Wien, 28. März 1809][1]

    Mein lieber <g>Schmeskall -- ich bin strafbar daß ich noch nicht bey der Baronin E.[rtman][2] war -- Es soll aber geschehen -- den Bassethornisten[3] habe ich nicht mehr seit der Zeit gewesen[4], ich glaube, er hat den Durchfall vor lauter Furcht bey unß allen durchzufallen bekommen.  ich werde kommen, würde aber noch lieber bekommen seyn, wenn man die neue Violonschell Sonate gewählt hätte --

                                                                                                 ihr Freund Beethowen

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                               [Vienna, shortly before March 28, 1809][1]

    My dear <g>Schmeskall--I am guilty of not having visited Baroness Ertmann, yet[2]--However, this shall be done--the basset hornist[3] I have not seen since that time, anymore, I believe that he has diarrhea out of fear to fall through here among all of us.  I will come, but I would have come even more eagerly if one would have chosen the new Violoncello Sonata-- 

                                                                                                 your friend Beethowen

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 371, p. 55]

[Original: Vienna, Stadt- und Landesbibliothek; to [1]: refers to dating according to the note at the time of the reception of the letter; to [2]: refers to Zmeskall's handwritten note at the side: "Ertmann"; to [3]: probably refers to the Russian basset horn virtuoso, Iwan Müller [1786 - 1854] who stayed in Vienna during this time and who gave a public concert on April 11, 1809; to [4]: GA-correction: "gesehen"; details taken from p. 55.]

Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                      [Wien, möglicherweise Frühjahr 1809][1]

    Mein bester Z. Kraft[2] hat sich zufälliger Weise angebothen heute mit zu spielen, es wäre unschicklich gewesen dieses nicht anzunehmen, und selbst laügne es nicht so wie sie es gewiß ebenfalls, daß sein spiel unß alle<n> doch am meisten Vergnügen macht -- bitten sie Michalowitsch[3], daß er zu ihnen diesen Abend komme, indem wir ihn wohl brauchen können, ich werde ihn gegen halb 7 uhr abholen, so wie auch sie, wenn es sie freut mitzugehen -- um ihre Pulte und Bratsche bitte ich sie auch. --

                                                                                                        ihr Bthwn

Versichern Sie sich des Mialcovitz auf allen Fall, wir brauchen ihn, ich bitte Sie auch zu kommen, ich werde Sie abholen.

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                             [Vienna, possibly from the spring of 1809][1]

    My best Z. Kraft[2] incidentally has offered to play today, so that it would have been impolite not to accept it, and I, myself, do not deny that, as you will also admit, his playing brings all of us the most joy--ask Michalowitsch[3], that he will come to you this evening, since we can well make use of him, I will pick him up towards six thirty, as also you, I you would be delighted to come alone--I also ask you for your music stands and for your viola.-- 

                                                                                                        your Bthwn

Please reassure yourself of Mialcovitz in any case, we need him, I also ask you to come, I will pick you up.  

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 373, p. 56-57]

[Original:  in private hands; to [1]: refers to the fact that, according to the GA, this letter originates from Beethoven's close contact with Zmeskall after the departure of his friend Gleichenstein in the spring of 1809, when Beethoven often made music with the cellist Anton Kraft; to [2]: probably, as in Letter No. 376, this refers to Anton Kraft and not to his son Nikolaus; according to the GA, both were cellists, as was Zmeskall;  [3]: refers to the fact that it can not be ascertained who of the bearers of this Croatian family name might be meant here; details taken from p. 56-57.]

Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                         [Wien, 14. April 1809][1]

    Liebe<r>s altes Musikgräferl! ich glaube Es würde doch gut seyn, wenn sie den eben auch alten Kraft[2] spielen ließen, da es doch das erstemal ist, daß die Terzetten gehört werden [vor mehrern][3] -- nachher werden sie Sie ja doch spielen können -- ich stelle es ihnen aber Frey, wie sie es hierin halten wollen, finden sie Schwierigkeiten hierbey, wovon vieleicht die auch dabey seyn könnte, daß Kraft und S.[uppanzigh] nicht gut harmoniren, so mag nur immer hin der Hr. v. Z jedoch nicht als MusikGraf sondern als Tüchtiger Musiker sich dabey auszeichnen --

                                                                                          ihr Freund Beethoven

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                           [Vienna, April  14, 1809][1]

    Dear old little music count! I believe that it would be good, after all, if you were to let the also old Kraft[2] play, since it is, after all, the first time that the Trio would be heard [by an audience of several people][3]--subsequently, you can still play it--however, I leave it up to you how you want to handle this, if you find difficulties with it, perhaps also in the fact that Kraft and  S.[uppanzigh] do not harmonize, very well, then Herr v. Z may not only excel as music count but also as a brave musician-- 

                                                                                               your friend Beethoven

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 376, p. 59-60]

[Original:  Vienna, Österreichiche Nationalbibliothek; to [1]: refers to dating according to note at the reception of the letter; to [2]: refers to the cellist Anton Kraft; to [3]: probably refers to the concert on the next Sunday, April 16, at Zmeskall's; detail taken from p. 59-60.]

Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                             [Wien, 16. April 1809][1]

   Wenn ich nicht komme mein lieber Z. welches leicht geschehen kann, bitten sie die Baronin Ertmann daß sie ihnen die Klawierstimme von dem Terzett[2] da läßt, und haben sie hernach die Gefälligkeit mir solche mit den übrigen Stimmen noch heute zu schicken --

                                                                                        in Eil Beethowen

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                           [Vienna, April 16, 1809][1]

   In the event that I, my dear Z., will not come, which might very well happen, ask Baroness Ertmann that she leaves you the piano part of the Trio[2], and be so kind to send me the same along with the other parts, still today-- 

                                                                                                       in haste Beethowen

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 377, p. 60]

[Original:  Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; to [1]: refers to the dating according to the note at the time of the reception of the letter; to [2]: refers to one of the yet unprinted Piano Trios Op. 70 and to the fact that April 16 was a Sunday, on which a concert was held at Zmeskall's at noon, where, according to the GA, the Trio was performed; details taken from p. 60.]

Nikolaus Zmeskall an Beethoven

                                                                                          [Wien, 25. April 1809][1]

Lieber Beethoven,

    Ich habe Sie in zwey Wohnungen gesucht und nicht gefunden. . . . 

    Wegen des nächsten<s> Sontags[5] wünschte ich zu wissen, ob Sie etwas etwas[6] bestimmt haben; ob die Violoncell-Sonate[7], oder Ihr zweytes Trio[8], ob die Ertmann oder Sie -- oder ob vielleicht gar nichts von allem!  Lassen Siemich's, wenn es seyn kann, noch heute wissen.

                                                                                    Ihr Zmeskall

. . .

Nikolaus Zmeskall to Beethoven

                                                                                      [Vienna, April 25, 1809][1]

Dear Beethoven,

    I was looking for you in two apartments and did not find you.  . . . 

    With respect to the next Sunday[5] I wish to know if you have selected something[6]; if it is the Cello Sonata, or your second Trio[8], if Ertmann or you--or perhaps nothing of any of it! Let me know, if possible, still today.  

                                                                                    Your Zmeskall

. . .

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 381, p. 64]

[Original: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; to [1]: refers to the fact that Letter No. 382 of April 25, 1809, is the answer to this letter and that both letters have been written on the same day; to [5]: refers to April 30, 1809 and to the fact that the the following details refer to the program of the concert that was to take place on Sunday at Zmeskall's; to [6]: refers to repetition of the word on changing the pages; to  [7]: refers to Op. 69; to [8]: refers to Op. 70, No. 2; details taken from p.  64.]

Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                                [Wien, 25. April 1809][1]

    Ich spiele gern -- recht gern[2] - hier die ViolonschellStimme[3] -- fühlen sie sich dazu -- so spielen sie, sonst laßen sie die alte Kraft[4] spielen -- . . . 

                                                                                           ihr Freund Beethowen

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                                   [Vienna, April  25, April 1809][1]

    I will gladly pay--very gladly[2]--here the Violoncello Sonata[3]--if you feel up to it, play, otherwise, let the old Kraft[4] play--  . . . 

                                                                                                your friend Beethowen

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 382, p. 65]

[Original: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; to [1]: refers to dating according to the note at the time of the reception of the letter; to [2]: probably refers to the concert on Sunday noon, on April 30, 1809, in Zmeskall's apartment at the  Bürgerspital; to [3]: probably refers to Op. 69; to [4]: probably refers to the cellist Anton Kraft; details taken from p. 65.]

 

After this lively impression of Zmeskall's musical events we can return to the year 1809, Beethoven's life circumstances in it and to the beginning of his work on Op. 74.  

 

ON THE CREATION OF OP. 74

With respect to Beethoven's life circumstances of the year 1809 we can report that, until the spring of that year, he still lived at Krügerstraße, Innere Stadt 1074 (in the same building as Countess Erdödy) and that, during the first months of this year, the contract for his annuity of 4000 florins was worked out.  

Our look at Beethoven's correspondence with Nikolaus Zmeskall provided us with a lively impression of his "musical" socializing and, in the GA notes, also refers to the pending threat by the French army.  

As we know from our Biographical Pages and from some of our Creation Histories (i.e. from that to the Piano Sonata Op. 81a, Das Lebewohl that was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph), Vienna's high nobility left the city at the beginning of May.  With respect to this Thayer (p. 464) reports that Archduke Rudolph left Vienna with the Imperial family on May 4th, 1809.  

Beethoven's own correspondence, particularly also that with the Leipzig publisher  Breitkopf & Härtel reports of the difficulties and troubles of the French occupation.  With respect to this, we refer you again to our separate page:  

Beethoven's Correpondence with Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig
during the years 1808 - 1812

 

When did Beethoven, however, find enough time and calm to return to the composition of a new work?  With respect to this, Barry Cooper reports:  

"Beethoven's former level of productivity returned about August, and he rapidly completed a new string quartet--the 'Harp' (Op. 74), . . . " Cooper: 186).

Klaus Kropfinger (p. 32) reports that during this year, Beethoven used the following sketchbooks:  Grasnick 3; Landsberg 5 and Landsberg 11.  As we already know from Lewis Lockwood's report, in one of these sketchbooks, Beethoven was to have left his note "jede Woche Quartette" [quartets every week].   

Relying on Nottebohm [II Beeth., p. 91], Thayer (p. 477) reports that "the four movements of the Quartet were begun and finished in the order in which they appeared in print."

Beethoven's progress with his work on this string quartet can also be seen from his letter to Breitkopf & Härtel of September 19, 1809  (Letter No. 400).

This might at least mean that during the second half of September, 1809, Beethoven had already made some headway with this composition.  We can also report that Thayer-Forbes (p. 477) refers to this letter and comes to similar conclusions.  Also, in his listing of the compositions of the year 1809, Thayer-Forbes lists Op. 74 as follows:  

"The compositions of 1809 were:

. . .

Quartetto per due Violini, Viola e Violoncello, da Luigi van Beethoven, 1809 Op. 74" (Thayer: 474-475).

Under what circumstance Beethoven might have finished this composition can be seen from his letter of November 22, 1809, to Breitkopf & Härtel (Letter No. 408).  In note no. 2 to this letter, the GA refers to the detonation of the Vienna city walls that began two days after the signing of the Peace Treaty of October 14, 1809.  (In this context, Jos van der Zanden's reference, in his  Beethoven Journal article on  Ferdinand Ries'Arrival in Vienna, to the possibility that it might have been more likely that Beethoven sought refuge in his brother Kaspar Karl's house and covered his sensitive ears with pillows, at this time than at any other during this year, is very interesting.)

 

REHEARSAL AT PRINCE LOBKOWITZ' PALAIS

 


The Palais Lobkowitz in Vienna

 

Beethoven's following lines to Nikolaus Zmeskall that the Henle-Gesamtausgabe attributes to November 1809 leaves room for the possibility that the Quartet Op. 74 might already have been completed in a first version by this time:  

 Beethoven an Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                              [Wien, November 1809][1]

Verfluchter Geladener Domanowetz--nicht Musik-graf sondern Freßgraf- DineenGraf soupeen Graf etc --

heute um half Eilf oder 10 uhr wird das Quartett bey Lobkowitz p[r]obiert, S.[eine] D.[urchlaucht], die zwar meistens mit ihrem Verstande abwesend, sind noch nicht da -- kommen sie also wenn sie der Kanzley Gefängnis Wärter entwischen läßt -- heute kommt der Herzog, der bey mir bedienter werden will zu ihnen[2] -- auf 30 fl mit seiner frau obligat können sie sich einlaßen -- 
Holz licht kleine Liwree -- Zum Kochen muß ich jemand haben, so lange die schlechtigkeit der LebensMittel so fortdauert, werde ich immer krank -- ich eße heute zu Hause, des beßern Weins halber; wenn sie sich bestellen was sie wollen, so wär mir's lieb, wenn sie auch zu mir kommen wollten, den Wein bekommen sie gratis und zwar Beßer wie in dem Hundsföttischen schwanen --

                                                                            ihr kleinster [Bee]thowen[5]

Beethoven to Nikolaus Zmeskall

                                                                              [Vienna, November 1809][1]

Cursed Invited Domanowetz--not Music Count but rather Dining Count Supper Count etc-- 

today at half past ten or ten o'clock, the Quartet will be rehearsed at Lobkowitz's, H.[is] E.[xcellency], who, with his brain, is mostly absent, is not here, yet--therefore, come when your office prison warden will let you escape--today, Herzog will come to you, who wants to become my servant,[2] -- you can settle at 30 fl with his wife, obligatory--wood light small Livree--I must have someone for cooking, as long as food is still continuing to be so bad, I am always getting sick--today, I am eating at home, on account of the better wine; if you order what you want, I would be obliged if you could come for dinner to me, you will receive the wine for free, and better at that than at the cursed schwanen--  

                                                                            your smallest [Bee]thowen[5]

[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 2, Letter No. 411, p. 93]

[Original: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; to [1]: according to the GA, this refers to the fact that the dating of the letter is based on the watermark of the autograph "Martin Würz" that can also be found in three other Beethoven letters, two from November 1809 and one from February, 1810; to [2]: with respect to this, the GA refers to the note that has probably been written on the same day, Letter No. 312, and to Letter No. 313; to [3]: according to the GA, this refers to the fact that the first syllable is covered up by an ink stain; details taken from p. 93.]

However, Klaus Kropfinger also refers to a rehearsal of the work at Prince Lobkowitz's in February, 1810: 

"(Privat)Konzerte und Akademien ... 1810 ... op. 74 (Probe bei Lobkowitz) . . . " (Kropfinger: 35; --

-- Kropfinger, on p. 35, under private concerts and academy concerts, for the year 1810, lists a rehearsal of Op. 74 at Prince Lobkowitz's).

 

ON THE PUBLICATION OF OP. 74

Whether rehearsals to Op. 74 have taken place in November or also in February 1810, can not be ascertained.  However, it can be ascertained that, in his February 4, 1810, letter, Beethoven offered the work to Breitkopf & Härtel.  With respect to the negotiations between him and this publisher, we can offer you our listing of the relevant letters and also our link to our separate page featuring them:  

 Crrespondence of Beethoven with Breitkopf & Härtel regarding his Works
Op. 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81a and Op. 82

Letter No. GA Vol. 2 Page(s)  Date Sender/Recipient Content
 400  81-82 Sept. 19,  1809 Beethoven / Härtel

First mention of the work

 423  104-107 Feb.  4,   1810 Beethoven / Härtel

Offer of the work to the publisher, with other works, for 1400 florins

 427  110 Feb. 21,   1810  Härtel / Beethoven

Rejection of the officer.  Request for a lower price for the offered works. 

 446  126-127  June  6,   1810  Beethoven / Härtel Repetition of the Offer.  Addition of the music to Egmont, for 1400 florins.
 447  127-129 June 20,  1810  Härtel / Beethoven Härtel upset on account of the tone of Beethoven's last letter; counter-offer: 200 gold ducats, with additional conditions. 
 451  132-134  Jul.  2, 1810  Beethoven / Härtel Counter-offer: 250 ducats in gold
 452  134-135 Jul.  3,  1810  Beethoven / Kunz & Co. Dispatch of the first group of works, including Op. 74 
456  139-140 Jul. 11, 1810  Härtel / Beethoven Insists on 200 gold ducats, discusses deadlines, rights, publication in England. 
 463  146 Aug. 1, 1810  Härtel / Beethoven The firm tells Beethoven that Härtel himself is not present. 
 464  146-148  Beginning of Aug.   Beethoven / Härtel Counterarguments, insists on 250 ducats, mentions 'Privilegium' for Austria.
 465  148-152  Aug. 21,   1810  Beethoven / Härtel Further arguments, discussion, insists on 250 gold ducats.
 468  154-155 Sept. 23,   1810  Beethoven / Härtel Reminds of the "large letter" (No. 464-465)
 469  155-160 Sept. 24,  1810  Härtel / Beethoven Repetition of his arguments, insists on   200 gold ducats, dispatch to Traeg in Vienna for musical items of a value of 50#; Op. 74 reported as having been printed, in part. 
 471  160 Oct.  6, 1810  Härtel / Beethoven Content not known.  
 472  151 Oct.  6, 1810  Beethoven / Härtel Regarding corrections to Op. 74
 474  162-165 Oct. 15, 1810  Beethoven / Härtel Regarding corrections to Op. 74; 50 # to Traeg.
 475  166 Oct. 27,1810  Härtel / Beethoven Content not known. 
 477  166-168 Nov. 11, 1810  Härtel / Beethoven  GA-Note: Op. 74 completed in November, however, it is not certain if it was completed before Nov. 11 or not.  

Link to our Separate Page on Härtel-Correspondence

Thayer-Forbes (p. 503) mentions Op. 74 in his list of works that were published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1810 and reports that the work was dedicated to Prince  Lobkowitz.

From Beethoven's and Christoph Gottfried Härtel's discussion we learn that the works that were offered to this publisher, with the exception of the music to Egmont (of which the Overture was published as Op. 84) were also to be published in England.  From this correspondence and notes thereto we also know that Muzio Clementi had stayed in Vienna from 1809 on.  With respect to this, Solomon reports:  

"In England, half a dozen of Beethoven's works were published prior to 1810; in that year, Clementi published thirteen works, including to two concertos; the String Quartet, op. 74; . . . " (Solomon: 128).

Compared to this, Cooper writes:  

" . . . the concerto, the string quartet, the Choral Fantasia, the piano variations, the piano fantasia and the three piano sonatas.  All these works were also promised to Clementi, apparently through verbal agreement while Clementi was still in Vienna, so that both firms could publish the works simultaneously--thus enhancing the deal for Beethoven without loss to the firms.  With minor modifications, these plans materialized during the course of 1810-11, and the works appears as Opp. 73-82" (Cooper: 188-189;).

 

ON THE RECEPTION OF OP. 74 DURING BEETHOVEN'S LIFE TIME

With respect to the early reception of this quartet, we can offer your our translation of the review from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig from the year 1811:

"AMZ No. 21, May 22, 1811, Columns 348 - 351:

R E V I E W .

-----

Quator pour 2 Violons, Viola et Violoncelle comp. -- par L. v. Beethoven.  Propriete des Editeurs.  Oeuvr. 74. a Leipsic, chez Breitkopf et Härtel. (Price 1 Thlr. 8 Gr.)

    One cannot describe the work of a composer of genius better than by comparing it with similar works of the same master.  In his first six quartets, Hr. van Beethoven has proven the wealth of his imagination and the richness of his artistic means that this genre of instrumental music demands.  In them, the loveliest melodies address every feeling, and the unity, the high simplicity, the specific and determined character of each piece, elevate them to the rank of masterworks and add B.s name to the revered names of our Haydn and Mozart.  We believe that we speak from the bottom of the heart of each real friend of music and of quartet music in particular when we express the wish that our B. should have continued in this way and that he should have given us a great deal [of works] like them!  The great quartets of his that have been published well over a year ago breathe quite a different spirit!  Here, the author, without any regard, has surrendered himself to the most wonderful and strange ideas of his original fantasy, he has fantastically combined the most diverging elements, and he has treated almost everything with such a profound and difficult art, that, in its overall somber spirit, even that which is light and pleasing, has been drowned by it.  The present, new quartet of the author, in E-flat major and A-flat major, is more like these latter quartets than like his earlier ones. More serious than serene, more profoundly artistic than pleasing and accessible, it holds, as every work of genius, a certain power over the listener; however, not in order to--lovingly embrace him. The first movement begins with a very serious, almost sinister, poco adagio that, reaching deeply into [the work], would be an excellent introduction to the subsequent Allegro, if only it would not, towards the end, lose itself in an unnecessary confusion of dissonances.  The following Allegro, overall serious, is such an original piece, comprised of the most varying thoughts and ideas, equally difficult to executed, as it is to follow all of its miraculous twists and turns--so that it is hardly possible to characterize it.  The seriousness with which it begins, is soon interrupted by a capricious pizzicato passage.  The low degree of melodic cohesion and the humoristic jumping from one idea to the next lend it more of the character of a free fantasy than that of a cohesive whole.  The subsequent Adagio, which is very long and written in 3/4 time--a dark, nocturnal piece--breathes more than dark melancholy and, in its sinister confusion, in which it loses itself, particularly in the last half, appears to us to reach the boundaries of beautiful art that is supposed to move [us] but not to torture [us].  We believe that it would be beneficial to young artists to study this Adagio in its harmonic turns and progressions, but not necessarily for the purpose of imitating it.  A sharp contrast to it is provided by the following Presto in 3/4 time that begins with a somewhat wild unisono, and that maintains this spirit of a rough, wild courage, throughout.  One knows the bold, decisive, sharp individuality with which B. is used to writing the fast movements of his quartets.  The present one appears to suddenly transport the listener into the midst of the war-like dances of a wild nation.  The Andante con Variazioni that forms the finale of this original work is quite different from what one usually gets to hear of this kind.  Also here, instead of the pleasing and well-known, the author has rendered something profound and original, with which it compliments the entire work.     

    Beethoven's genius does not need our praise, and it will hardly pay any heed to our wishes.  However, when an artist--be he a poet or a composer--believes that he is allowed to only surrender to the subjective play of his fantasy, without any regard for the unity and purity of effect, in order to create beauty:  then, the art-loving recipient is allowed to solely refer to the objective unity and beauty of the product, and to point out what disturbed his pure, full enjoyment.  With the honesty that has become second nature to him and that is our duty, in art and in life, the writer of this review admits that the friends of congenial art think like him:  he could not wish that instrumental music would lose itself in this way.  Moreover, he would least wish it for the quartet--a genre that, while it is capable of expressing soft earnestness and wailing melancholy, it cannot be its purpose to celebrate the dead or to describe feelings of despair; rather, it should cheer our minds with its soft, pleasing play of fantasy.   

    That this quartet would be difficult to play need hardly be mentioned."

 

 

ON THE MUSICAL CONTENT

With respect to the description of the musical content we can refer to the recording of Beethoven's Quartets by the Alban Berg Quartet and to Jacobson's notes to the works:  

"From time to time geniuses too have to worry at any rate about earning a living.  There may well have been reasons of policy behind the much "easier", more accessible character of the work he produced when next he turned to the string quartet medium.  Written in 1809 (the year of the Fifth Piano Concerto, of the D major Variations, the Fantasy, and a number of small sonatas for piano and of about a dozen songs), this was the Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74, and it was dedicated to another Russian nobleman and assiduous Beethoven patron, Prince Lobkowitz.  Nicknamed the "Harp" on account of the novel exploitation of arpeggio and pizzicato in its first movement, it is as gracious and friendly a quartet as Beethoven had ever written, and as full of "luxury" sound.  

"But the nature of this smiling music is as surely motivated from within as from any thought of public appeal.  By definition, after all, a ne plus ultra is something you cannot go beyond.  Viewed against the background of the 'Rasumovsky' set's high-intensity sonata thinking, it is Op. 74's distinct turn away from sonata principles that serves to create its patent sense of detente and thus to mark it out as a vital new phase in Beethoven's quartet style, pointing forward to the final masterpieces of the 1820s.  Only one movement, the first, is in sonata form, and even here the development section eschews the multifarious modulatory action of its predecessors to fulfill a quite different, essentially static function.  The C minor Presto is a normal enough, if exceptionally dashing, exercise in the scherzo manner, and variation form is chosen for the subtly inflected finale, which foreshadows in style--and almost exactly in its marking--the Poco allegretto con variazioni finale of Brahms's B-flat major Quartet, Op. 67.  Perhaps the most significant change is the adoption of a purely lyric form for the A flat major slow movement, which is built on three increasingly opulent statements of a cantabile theme in 3/8 time, each set an octave lower than the one before and separated from it by an episode.  The initial stratospheric presentation of the tune in the first violin looks forward in its own way to the new interest in extreme sonorities that will recur in the Allegro con brio O. 95, in the F major Quartet, Op. 135, and in such movements as the Arietta of the C minor Piano Sonata Op. 111" (Jacobson: 21-22).

 

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC CRITICISM

Let us begin with a look at Maynard Solomon's comment:

"The first, the E-flat Quartet, op. 74, called Harp because of the striking pizzicato arpeggios in the opening Allegro, is a lyrical, contemplative, and expressive work which--despite its unusual and climactic Scherzo-retreats from the innovative thrust of the Razumovsky Quartets and returns to the central vocabulary of the Viennese high-Classic style.  Here, as in most of the other chamber and sonata works of this period, one senses that Beethoven was attempting to reestablish contact with styles from which he had largely held aloof after 1802" (Solomon: 210;).  

William Kinderman briefly comments on parts of the first movement:  

"Another example from the period in question is the first movement development of the Quartet in E-flat op. 74, which gradually fades into pianissimo before the use of pizzicato brings an even softer dynamic level; only in the last three bars does Beethoven prescribe a crescendo leading to the reprise in forte" (Kinderman: 135).

Lewis Lockwood offers a more extensive comment:  

"The idea that Opus 74 is a light and genial diversion from the more serious Beethoven is a cliché that could not be more mistaken.  This impression arises from the smooth and seemingly placid character of the first movement, along with the extended plucked-string passages that inspired its nickname and the quiet Allegretto variations finale.  But it can hardly be sustained in the face of the passionate Adagio or the rough and dynamic Scherzo.  These inner movements stand at extreme poles of Beethoven's middle-period universe, while the first and last surround them with high imagination and subtlety.  The work prompts memories of two earlier quartets in the same key: Mozart's path-finding K. 428 of 1785 and Haydn's Opus 76 No. 6 of 1797.  Haydn's E-flat masterpiece opens with a variation first movement that Beethoven could well have had in mind when he wrote the finale of Opus 74 (just as Haydn's B-major Fantasia, as a slow movement, could have influenced Beethoven's Fantasy Opus 77 a year earlier).  In this quartet Beethoven's contrapuntal treatment of the Trio of the Scherzo--again, as in Opus 59 No. 2--may also reflect his interest in theoretical studies at this time, as the 1809 sketchbook indeed suggests.

The tonal plan of Opus 74 is unusual in that the two middle movements are both in keys other than the tonic, E-flat major.  The slow movement is a moving and expressive Adagio in A-flat major, and the Scherzo is in C minor, with a C-major Trio.  Beethoven used this kind of tonal plan for a four-movement work in only one other piece from this time, the Piano Trio Opus 70 No. 2, in which the E-flat major first and last movements frame a second movement in C major and an Allegretto in A-flat.  In Opus 74, key relationships by thirds abound at the broadest structural levels, and we are not surprised to find that in the first movement there is much exploration of C major in the development section.

The first movement, in which the introduction prepared the Allegro in a richly imaginative way, is notable for its "harp" passages, strategically placed within the movement.  Here Beethoven exploits the potential of pizzicato as a special string sonority.  He had begun to use it extensively and in far-flung registers in the Opus 59 Quartets--above all in the cello in the slow movements of No. 1 and No. 3--and would later do so gain in the "Archduke" Trio, but in Opus 74 it gains unprecedented importance.  In Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven quartets, plucked strings were saved for incidental contrasts, ether in final cadences of slow movements or in special movements in which plucked accompaniment figures were wanted; here it becomes an essential tone color.  Appearing directly after the first thematic paragraph has run its course in the exposition, the pizzicato forms a special pocket of sonority with alternating plucked quarter notes against running bowed eighth notes.  In the development the passage reappears to form the transition back to the recapitulation, now with alternating plucked quarters against sustained chords.  IN the recapitulation the original version returns in a slightly new guise.

The coda caps the climax when the alternating pizzicato quarter notes now fill four beats at a time while the first violins suddenly tears loose with the longest and most elaborate cadenza anywhere in Beethoven's quartets.  At first the lower strings, as if struggling to bring the first violinist back into the ensemble, turn to the first phrase of the first theme in Violin 2 and Viola while the cello continues to pluck away; then the cello joins in the insistent appeal, which grows in volume to a fortissimo cadence that finally closes the segment in the tonic and shows the way to the final tonic chords, by now all arco (bowed)" (Lockwood: 326-327).

TO OUR SECTION ON OP. 95