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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2013 Beethoven’s last quartets: genius brings order to chaos (II)
Beethoven’s last quartets: genius brings order to chaos (II) PDF Print E-mail

From many viewpoints Beethoven’s last string quartets mark the peak of his creativity. Almost all were commissioned by the Russian Prince Nikolay Borisovich Golitsyn, who in 1824 dedicated these prophetic words of admiration to the composer: “Your genius survives centuries, and no listeners are sufficiently illuminated to appreciate the full beauty of this music; but posterity will pay homage to you and bless your memory, more than your contemporaries”. And so it was to be. Originally his String Quartet No.13, op. 130, ended with a weighty Grande Fugue, and from the very outset it was considered incomprehensible, virtually “unplayable”. In fact Beethoven convinced himself to replace the fugue with a shorter, lighter final Allegro which, in autumn 1826, was the last piece of music he wrote.
In the constant battle between language and meaning, pushing the possibilities of expression to their limits, formal certainty is soon lost in the brusque changes of tempo and passions. Quartet No. 13 becomes more than any other the ideal of Schiller’s Sublime, the aspiration to freedom of the spirit, through absolute melodic grace and total luminous expressiveness.
Although its “lightness” gives the feeling of a divertimento – with the classical structural balance in six movements – in the highest sense that term had acquired through Mozart’s chamber music masterpieces, this quartet is still one of the most enigmatic, subtly disturbing and modern pieces Beethoven ever composed. It anticipates the construction of a new order that rebels against form.
In fact his last substantial work (which he did not live long enough to hear played), the String Quartet No. 16, op. 135, is configured on a smaller scale in four “standard” modules, up-ended, regressing, then overturning the regression. He headed the last movement of this quartet Der Schwer gefasste Entschluss (The difficult decision), and the note underneath asks: Muss es Sein? Es muss Sein! Es muss Sein! (Must it be ? It must be!) – a sort of philosophic statement that is still an enigma, but the dialogue between invention and rationality obeys a timeless logic. Probably it is the proud assertion of an esprit de géometrie according to which every subjective element is inevitably surpassed against absolute values that are almost abstract – the product of superior wisdom that overcomes all conflict, past and future.

Federico Scoponi