Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante con moto
Movement 3: Allegro
Movement 4: Presto
The easeful B flat Andante is a rondo. As Basil Lam points out in the BBC Music Guide to the Beethoven quartets, the twelve-bar theme 'is constructed with great subtlety; the melody, begun by the second violin, is taken over and repeated by the first before the statement has been completed'. The smoothly flowing figuration of the theme is prominent in most of the movement, and Beethoven's use of contrasting harmonic areas prevents this fact from pre-empting the always welcome returns of the theme itself. At the centre is a rich development.
Quietly flexing strong muscles, the Scherzo is unaggressive and its D minor Trio decorates a four-note descending bass. Sustained brilliance in this Quartet is reserved for the finale, in a fast six-eight time. Its key and rhythms create the temptation to compare it (of course unfavourably!) with the finale of Mozart's D major Quintet — but in this case it must be Beethoven who wins the palm for sheer mastery of movement. Mozart's theme sits down with dangerous regularity, while Beethoven's flies at once into the sky, alighting when and where it wishes, and the length and size of Beethoven's paragraphs and the energy with which they are infused can be found only rarely in other composers. Here it also generates rieh and vigorous polyphony in the overwhelmingly energetic development.
from notes by Robert Simpson © 1990