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Reviewed by:
  • The String Quartets of Beethoven
  • Robert Follet
The String Quartets of Beethoven. Edited by William Kinderman. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. [360 p. ISBN 0-252-03036-2. $75.] Music examples, index, bibliography.

"No group of compositions occupies a more central position in chamber music than Beethoven's string quartets, yet the meaning of these works continues to stimulate debate." (p. [1]). Thus begins William Kinderman's introduction to this remarkable group of essays. Covering the entire range of Beethoven's quartet canon, this book includes eleven essays written by ten recognized scholars in the fields of musicology and music theory. Many of the papers [End Page 353] were originally read at the conference "Beethoven's String Quartets: A Classic or Modernistic Legacy?" held at the University of Victoria, British Columbia in March 2000. The paper by Lewis Lockwood was originally presented at a symposium "Beethoven and the Creative Process" held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, May 2003. The conference papers have been revised for publication.

Using a variety of research methodologies, these essays present a microcosm of the current state of research not only on the quartets, but all of Beethoven's works. Moving chronologically through the quartets, these essays reveal a wide variety of critical approaches and means of musical analysis. This is not, however, a volume for the reader unfamiliar with the quartets. The title may suggest an introduction and survey similar to the monographs by Daniel Gregory Mason or Joseph Kerman, but this is, rather, a scholarly conversation on various aspects of these compositions. Prior familiarity with the quartets is a definite prerequisite.

Kinderman's introduction not only opens the volume, setting the stage for the following essays, but also presents an eloquent reception history of the quartets. This introduction gives brief background information on each opus, and also discusses how the reception and understanding of these works has evolved and changed through time. Kinderman also contributed both the opening and closing essays. In the first, "Transformational Processes in Beethoven's Op. 18 Quartets," Kinderman examines how Beethoven devised transformational passages in some movements of the quartets "wherein the strongest contrasts coexist with a high degree of integration" (p. 14). This study is closely allied with Kinderman's previous examination of the same phenomenon in Beethoven's Sonata, op. 110 (Beethoven Forum 1 [1992]: 111–45). The concluding essay, "Beethoven's Last Quartets: Threshold to a Fourth Creative Period?" addresses the coexistence in Beethoven's late quartets music of both linear and nonlinear time. Discussing each of the quartets individually from both historical and analytical perspectives, Kinderman reaches the conclusion that the "priority Beethoven granted to the imagination here comes to fulfillment in a manner that twists our expectations of the genre even more than earlier works while advancing his art toward new creative perspectives" (p. 317).

The only essay to examine all of the quartets is Harald Krebs' "Metrical Dissonance and Metrical Revision in Beethoven's Quartets." Krebs examines various sketches of the quartets to demonstrate that Beethoven consciously developed metrical dissonances or conflicts within the quartets and rightfully suggests that this conscious effort should be examined in additional completed works and sketches.

The remaining essays each focus on one aspect of an opus. Malcolm Miller examines the relation between registerial structure and Beethoven's unique use of the sonata principle in the op. 59 quartets. Lewis Lockwood studies the sketches for the "Harp quartet" op. 74 to demonstrate that knowledge of the compositional process can provide insight into puzzling aspects of a work while possibly raising additional new questions that might not occur in only studying the finished composition. Nicholas Marston explores the possibilities of a relationship between Beethoven's opus 74 and Haydn's string quartet op. 76, no. 6, and Beethoven's fascination with the fantasia and the relationship between this quartet and the piano sonata op. 81a. Seow-Chin Ong examines the sketches of the quartet op. 95, discussing their chronology and content, the draft of the first movement, and finally, the date of the autograph manuscript. Ong concludes by suggesting that the date for the autograph should be 1810 rather than 1814 generally attributed heretofore...


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