Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 18 No 5 & Op. 59 No 1
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Menuetto
Movement 3: Andante cantabile
Movement 4: Allegro
The Minuet (not a scherzo) comes second. It is still in A major and the elegance is continued, though with an abrupt excursion into a blunt C sharp minor in the second part, from which the gentle music reacts as if nothing has happened. The Trio consists of a beautiful tune enlivened by off-beat accents.
Any suspicion of casualness provoked by the first movement was already assuaged by the Minuet, and is now laid fully to rest in one of the finest of his early variation movements. Beethoven shows what can be done with a simple falling and rising fragment of diatonic scale. The D major theme is simplicity itself, but of striking beauty, and the first three variations animate it with growingly active figuration, the third strongly anticipated Schubert. The fourth variation is of exquisite calm and depth — the theme is intact but harmonised with surpassing sensitivity. Variation 5 returns to vigorous, even rough, activity and leads directly to a long and felicitous coda in which the scales are given in diminution (i.e. in shorter notes) producing an altogether new development, beginning in the magically remote key of B flat, from which the return to the tonic is delightful.
In the Finale we find much contrapuntal invention and a highly original quartet texture, with what by now we must expect in Beethoven, a magnificent sense of movement. The quicksilver motion is offset by a splendidly broad second theme that is carried with consummate ease by the general current.
from notes by Robert Simpson © 1990