Despite its opus number, this quartet came after the Fifteenth (1825), one of three composed to meet a commission from Prince Nikolai Golitzin. The others were Nos. 12 and 13. Like the Thirteenth and Fifteenth, this C sharp minor Quartet consists of more than the usual three or four movements. There are, in fact, seven movements to this massive work, and its form, as one might suspect, is also most unusual.
The quartet begins with a fugue, marked Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo. The mood throughout is somber, but with a religiosity and tenderness that seem to suggest the composer's sense of his own mortality (Beethoven died in March 1827). Near the end of this movement the music fades, then leads directly into the second movement, marked Allegro molto vivace, which seems as if it could be a more typical first movement. It begins at a pianissimo level with a theme that might seem more suited to a Rondo finale. A transitional theme appears next, and eventually we arrive at a second subject. The material is reprised but afterward there follows no actual development section. Instead, an expanded coda develops the transitional theme. At this juncture, the traditional sonata-allegro form seems obscured.
The third movement begins without pause, and actually serves as a brief interlude to the long slow movement, which is marked Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile. It consists of a theme and six variations, most of which involve harmony rather than the essence of the melody itself. This movement is one of the most profound and complex Beethoven ever fashioned in the chamber genre. Each variation is played in a different tempo, thus creating a true "variety" that, to some ears, may seem at first to impart a disjointed quality. Yet, Beethoven's invention and cleverness are present everywhere. The fifth variation, for instance, with its deftly-wrought syncopation, is wonderfully mysterious and the coda slyly starts off as if it will become yet another variation, but it subtly returns to the main themes, then brings the movement to a close with a gentle fade.
The Presto fifth movement is brimming with energy and charm. It is an attractive, humorous Scherzo with a trio section and may be, despite a few innovative touches by Beethoven, the most traditional of the movements comprising this quartet. Its rather abrupt and harsh ending leads to a brief interlude-like Adagio quasi un poco andante. The sixth movement, like the third, is very brief.
The finale begins with a gruff theme, that is immediately followed by a less fierce but darker theme. A third melody is introduced shortly afterward, closer in character to the last, but expressing sadness and melancholy. The themes reappear, with the form thus far seeming to suggest the movement could be a Rondo. But Beethoven veers toward thematic development, as if to say he has finally found his way to the sonata-allegro form. There follows a recapitulation but with many highly imaginative changes in the previous material. A powerful and tragic coda closes what many consider Beethoven's greatest quartet. It was first published in Mainz in 1827 and was dedicated to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim.
- Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
- Allegro molto vivace
- Allegro moderato
- Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile — Più mosso — Andante moderato e lusinghiero — Adagio — Allegretto — Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice — Allegretto
- Adagio quasi un poco andante
Summary of Movements1. Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo An intense, poignant fugue, based on the following subject:
Richard Wagner said of this movement: "the very slow introductory Adagio reveals the most melancholy sentiment ever expressed in music".
2. Allegro molto vivace A delicate dance in 6/8 time in the key of D Major, in compact sonata form based on the following folklike theme:
3. Allegro moderato In the spirit of recitativo obbligato following the key of B minor; the modulation from B minor to E Major functions as a short introduction to:
4. Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile — Più mosso — Andante moderato e lusinghiero — Adagio — Allegretto — Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice — Allegretto This, the central movement of the quartet, is a set of 7 variations (6 Complete & 1 Incomplete with Coda) on the following simple theme in A Major:
This movement is the apotheosis of the 'Grand Variation' form from Beethoven's late period.
5. Presto In E Major, this is a brilliant Scherzo (though in duple rather than triple time), is based on the following simple idea:
6. Adagio quasi un poco andante In G# minor, 28 Measures in the form ABB with a Coda; this is a slow, somber introduction to:
7. Allegro The finale is in sonata form and returns to the home key of C# minor. The first subject has two main ideas:
The violent rhythm in this subject is contrasted with the soaring, lyrical second theme:
Robert Winter, who has since co-edited the Beethoven Quartet Companion