String Quartet No.12 in E flat major, Op.127
1. Maestoso - Allegro
2. Adaigo ma non troppo e molto cantabile
3. Scherzando: vivace
4. Finale: Allegro - Allegro comodo
5. Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op.133
Jiri Novak: Lubomir Kostecky, Milan Skampa, Antonin Kohout
The String Quartet in E flat major may well be the most mild-mannered and conventional of Beethoven's late quartets. It is ironic that he originally had more grandiose ideas for it, intending it to contain six movements, including one subtitled "La gaieté" and an Adagio apparently of darker character. In any event, Beethoven settled on this less ambitious, but still effective scheme of four movements, with an Adagio theme and variations second movement, followed by a scherzo and a jovial finale.
The Grosse Fuge was never meant to stand on its own, but rather was conceived as the finale of Beethoven's String Quartet in B-flat, Op.130. The audience as well as the players had in fact had great difficulties with the movement, finding it nearly incomprehensible. It was suggested to the composer that he replace the last movement of the quartet with one which would be more accessible. Certainly Beethoven himself never doubted that the fugue was a masterpiece of great potency. One of the great mysteries of musical history is what could have convinced Beethoven, a quintessentially headstrong man, to agree to remove the fugue from Op.130 and publish it separately (as Op.133), writing an alternate finale for the quartet. The writing is jagged and austere, then, following the Overtura which opens the movement, there is a brief evocation of the wispy, halting breaths of the Cavatina in eerie double notes for the first violin alone. The fugue proper then defiantly announces itself with disjunctive, painful and completely nonvocal leaps, all elbows and knees. Shouting, on the brink of whirling into chaos, the argument of the fugue is actually tightly ordered; of the dual description Beethoven gives for the movement — partly free, partly studied — this is the studied side. It will be the task of the Grosse Fuge to make sense of this ever-present possibility of complete collapse, to bring resolve and purpose to the human condition in the midst of uncertainty.