I’ve always thought that if Beethoven had written an alternative 4th movement to complete the op.74 quartet – one that was more in the style of the epic conclusions to the op.59 set for example – it would then have ended up being one of the most loved and performed of his fifteen.
It is true to say that the last movement theme and variations is somewhat of an anti-climax when compared to the preceding three movements but it has an undeniable charm and grace and it ends the piece on a question mark rather than a firm statement.
I think Beethoven has written one of the great scherzo movements in op.74 – I enjoy the unrelenting forward energy of it which abates only in the attacca link into the last movement. I am yet to encounter a slow movement of a Beethoven quartet which I do not love but this one in particular tugs on my heart strings because of the achingly beautiful thematic material.
The main reason I pick this quartet as my favourite among the fifteen of Beethoven (and therefore it logically follows that perhaps this is my favourite quartet of any composer) is the extraordinary conclusion to the first movement. I can honestly say that no music has ever moved me more as a performer or listener. The sudden explosion of semiquavers from the first violin is brutal and confronting accompanied by abrasive pizzicato in the other voices. Then, like a phoenix rising from the the destruction wrought by this visceral onslaught, the second violin and viola erupt in the most exquisitely joyous melodic celebration coaxing first the cello to abandon the harshness of pizzicato and turn to the warmth of the bow and then finally the first violin semiquavers themselves to turn to triumph. It is unprecedented, epic and unfailingly goose-bump inducing and I don’t believe Beethoven ever quite scaled the heights he achieved here in anything he wrote before or after.
See Tinalley perform the Opus 74 Quartet:
Melbourne – March 14 @ the MRC 1pm & 3pm