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From the pen of the fifteen-year-old Beethoven, these three piano quartets are among the earliest examples of a chamber music genre that would not reach full maturity until the time of Brahms. Beethoven' path-breaking essays stand beside those of Mozar
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In approaching these rarely-heard gems, it would be well to suppress any subtle prejudice against "juvenilia," and simply appreciate the works for what they are: early blossoms of incipient genius.
There is some very fine music here which stands on its own merit: for here we have neither Haydn nor Mozart, but Beethoven himself--albeit youthful.
This is one of the points J.W.N. Sullivan draws in his fine little tome of Beethoven's Spiritual Development: that Beethoven's organic growth of nous and psyche continued unabated throughout his life in tandem with the evolution of his art.
(In a naturalistic simile, we may consider the nautilus' shell which begins in a tight spiral and continuously unfolds following the lines of its design.)
Beethoven: His Spiritual Development
The Piano Quartets WoO 36 date from 1785, and were found amongst Beethoven's papers after his death.
The works already feature Beethoven's tendency towards expansive breath of expression, vigourous manner, and innate good taste.
This nice recording displays the Quartets in their original compositional sequence, beginning with No. 3 in C-major which opens with a lively Allegro vivace, moving to an echt-Beethovenian characteristically dreamy Adagio con espressione, and concluding with a rustic Rondo.
No. 1 begins with a lovely Adagio which segues into an impassioned Allegro con spirito, concluding with a Cantabile theme and VI variations.
In examination of the text, Barry Cooper discerns from the orthography, "One cannot help suspecting that, even at the age of fourteen, Beethoven was technically a more advanced pianist than Mozart."
Cooper further notes characteristics of Beethoven in the dramatic dynamic range (pp to ff ) and the gravitas engendered by the use of the bizarre key of eb-minor in the Allegro--(a key Beethoven would have encountered from his study of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier).
Here we have Beethoven already breaking out of the Classical mould in seeking his Romantic inner-vision.
No. 2 begins with an affirmative Allegro which quietly peters out, giving way to a pathetic Andante and a concluding spirited Rondo--by turns both graceful and humorous.
Complete Beethoven Edition, Vol. 14: Misc. Chamber Works
The Glenn Gould Edition - Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
If you enjoy music in the classical style, you will certainly enjoy this. Regardless of Mr. Dubin's comments on intonation, I thank the New Zealand Piano Quartet for bringing us these gems.