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

When we talk about the “expressionism” of Beethoven’s last quartets, meaning how their expressive values dominate the formal ones, we are referring to the formation of a highly developed concept of music in which the dual themes of the sonata gradually lose their logic. Already in Quartet No. 12, op. 127 – the first that was completed and despatched early in 1825 to Prince Golitsyn, who had commissioned it – the musical lexicon uncoils inside, reshaping into its own structures and confuting the dynamic relations and conflicts that Beethoven himself had so splendidly consolidated in his earlier creative stages.
The quartet still follows the classical division in four movements but the motifs are broader and more original, too many to sketch out simply a first or second theme; they are “thematic clusters”, animated by audacious logic which must have seemed wild and obscure to his contemporaries. They were, however, opening the gates to Mahler’s symphonic style, almost a century later, with its abundance of themes.
At the same time this extraordinarily delicate and introspective quartet breathes an air of serene acceptance that can only come from some tranquil inner strength. The touching calm and humanity of the Adagio offers one of the most outstanding example of variations on a theme in the story of music. It competes only with the other sublime variations from the composer’s later years, Quartet no. 14, op. 131. Completed in summer 1826, it is one of the longest quartets ever written. The last traces of the sonata-form are totally abandoned and the seven movements flow on without interruption. Beethoven’s genius thrusts ahead, where no-one else dared to tread, abandoning pre-constituted systems and recognizable traces, pushing towards a new formal order.
These events are their own rational justification, the tools becoming steadily more independent, the fabric more elaborate and complex, the dynamic shading richer; the themes are transfigured, some becoming denser, some rarefied, creating vast dramatic imagery. Apparently musically “absurd”, this impossible masterpiece left the public of his time agape. It was only decades later that its grandiose expressive capacity imposed itself on history, with unrestrainable strength.

Federico Scoponi