Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Adagio ma non troppo
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro
Movement 4: La Malinconia: Adagio – Allegretto quasi allegro
But the work as whole cannot lose its fascination. Nothing could be more exhilarating than the powerfully sprang first movement with its spare textures and the abrupt and economical nature of its harmonic movement. As in the A major Quartet, both halves have to be repeated if the dancelike character is to be properly stressed. This exuberant piece is followed by a soberly ornate slow movement in E fiat, with touches of mystery here and there, serving to relieve the general tone rather than to search depths.
One of Beethoven's most astonishing scherzos follows. Its remarkable rhythmic disruptions could have occurred at any time in his life, and if this piece had cropped up in one of the late quartets nobody would have questioned it. The Trio displays a wild and difficult violin solo, a phenomenon we find also in the trios of Opp 130 and 135.
A slow introduction, 'La Malinconia', full of daring shifts of harmony and texture, begins the last movement. It is justly one of the most celebrated passages in early Beethoven — he asks for it to be played with the greatest delicacy. It recurs later in the course of the following cheerful major movement, which may possibly have its origin in one of Haydn's weaker finales, the one in the 'Sunrise' Quartet, Op 76 No 4, of which the surprising and (for Haydn) rare helplessness is not improved upon by Beethoven. Maybe Beethoven's cheerfulness should not be thought of as a cure for the melancholy — perhaps it is part of it, with its sense of helpless circling. But we must avoid special pleading. Whatever we may feel about the conclusion of the B flat Quartet, the whole is a work of genius.
from notes by Robert Simpson © 1990