Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

In 1805, Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets. At the time, chamber music was often conceived for the entertainment of aristocratic amateurs. In contrast, Razumovsky’s commission would be premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet, a group of highly skilled musicians who formed what was likely the first professional string quartet. The result was groundbreaking music which moved the string quartet decisively into the concert hall. …

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Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony: A Communion With Nature

Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were completed in the same year of 1808, and were premiered at the same under-rehearsed, four-hour-long concert. Yet, the two works stand as diametric opposites. The Fifth Symphony takes a dynamic journey towards transcendence. It is filled with ferocious, crackling energy and a sense of heroic struggle. Set in the bucolic key of F major, the quieter Sixth Symphony inhabits the stable, enduring world of nature. Beethoven gave it the subtitle, …

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Beethoven’s “The Ruins of Athens”: Politics and the Triumph of the Muses

In 1811, Beethoven received a commission to compose incidental music for two Hungarian-themed plays by August von Kotzebue, King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens. The plays were written to commemorate the opening of a magnificent new theater in the Hungarian city of Pest on the banks of the Danube (now the eastern part of unified Budapest). The theater’s construction was funded by Franz I, the last Holy Roman Emperor and the first …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

The revolutionary nature of Beethoven’s three Op. 59 “Razumovsky” String Quartets is documented in this excerpt from an 1807 review: Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets…are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the Op. 59 String Quartets elevated the genre to a cosmic …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1

Beethoven’s three Op. 59 String Quartets were revolutionary. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the so-called “Razumovsky” Quartets were more complex, expansive in scale, and emotionally dramatic than anything previously conceived in the genre. Earlier chamber works were written for the entertainment of aristocratic amateur musicians. With this music, the string quartet moved decisively into the concert hall. Commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: An Exhilarating Motivic Journey

“Short, short, short, long…” The four notes which open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony outline what is perhaps music history’s most iconic motif. It’s a motif which has been subjected to pop culture cliches and dubious superimposed poetic associations, such as “fate knocking at the door.” This motivic kernel, perhaps derived from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Panthéon, is the seed out of which the entire Fifth Symphony develops. Preceded by a …

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Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto: Youthful Charm

Of Beethoven’s five piano concertos, No. 2 in B-flat major is the least well known. Written primarily between 1787 and 1789, it is some of the composer’s most youthful and vibrant music. In terms of scoring and structure, it follows the model of Mozart. As with Mozart’s concertos, the solo piano and orchestral lines blend together into a sublime musical conversation. The premiere took place in March of 1795 at a charity …

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