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Beethoven's Middle Period (1802-1812)

Toward a Musical Landscape

RealAudio 3.0 28.8

Bill McGlaughlin's Narrative
Beethoven's Middle Period
Middle Quartets

Music to Browse by: Middle Quartets
Played by the Emerson String Quartet
Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 "Razumovsky"
Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74 "Harp"
Quartet in f minor, Op. 95 "Serioso"


THE NOTION WE CAN DIVIDE up Beethoven's life into three discrete periods, early, middle and late, has been with us for a long time. In fact, the first publication suggesting this appeared in 1828, just one year after Beethoven's death. Whatever problems this theory may pose for scholars, it does seem particularly apt in considering the string quartets, which are very conveniently grouped in three periods with distinctive musical characteristics.

 

RealAudio 3.0 28.8
Listen to an anecdote about Op. 59, No.1
By Quartet member Eugene Drucker and Bill McGlaughlin

The middle period begins about 1802 and runs through about 1812. Beethoven entered the nineteenth century as a very successful classical composer. He had a couple of symphonies under his belt, the string quartets of Opus 18, piano and violin sonatas, a couple of piano concerti, chamber music. He also had a disability which was growing more serious by the day. In the fall of 1802 he took himself to a little country town outside Vienna, Heilegenstadt, where he wrote the most pitiful letter to his brother, confessing that his hearing was almost completely gone - his deafness had become profound. Beethoven sounds as if he can barely go on living. His enemies, he writes, are already convinced that he is mad; if they knew that he was deaf, there would be no more performances of his music. Years later, he recalled, "I could have ended my life there; I was only held back by my art."

 

RealAudio 3.0 28.8
Listen to an anecdote about the intro to the Adagio of Op. 74
By Quartet members Philip Drucker and Philip Setzer

From that desperate point, it is only one year to the creation of the great Third Symphony, an enormous and revolutionary work dedicated first to Napoleon, whom Beethoven first saw as the liberator of Europe. He changed the title to "Eroica," the memory of a hero, after Napoleon betrayed his principles and crowned himself Emperor.

 

RealAudio 3.0 28.8
Listen to an anecdote about Op. 74
By Quartet member Philip Setzer and Bill McGlaughlin

In the next years follow the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas, many orchestral works (the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies premiered on the SAME program), the opera Fidelio, the Fourth Concerto, the Emperor Concerto, the Violin Concerto, Egmont. A heroic amount of work on heroic subjects. It's astonishing to look at the volume of music which Beethoven composed during the years 1802-1812. The middle quartets date from this period - Beethoven's heroic period.

- Bill McGlaughlin


RealAudio 3.0 28.8
Listen to an anecdote about the "Serioso" Quartet
By Quartet member Philip Setzer and Bill McGlaughlin


Beethoven's Upbringing and Early Life
Beethoven's Early Period
Beethoven's Late Period

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