Exploring Beethoven's string quartet no 1 opus 18

I've had a lot of free time over the years - quite a lot where all I can do was listen to music. Now, if you listen to a lot of music you begin to realise that, by in large, there's not a lot going on in modern music that will keep you interested for long. So you begin to explore all kinds of music and you find that Beethoven has produced some particularly interesting works of art. If you take the time to combine Beethoven with meditation, you then begin to realise that his music is a profound expression of mood and/or mental states the likes of which you never thought possible - it's like he has written his mind into music.

Anyway, let's start at the beginning with his first string quartet. I know very little about Beethoven or his life or why he wrote the music he wrote - I just listen to the music and see what comes up. I also dislike sleeve notes that get too technical. So what you're getting here is just raw interpretation of the music through my rather stubby eyes.

I've chosen this quartet to start with because it's easy and I want to show how to recognise the amazing stuff when it happens later on.

First movement

It starts off bright and breezy. I imagine a room of polite people doing polite things with each other as this plays in the background. Nice with a cup of tea. Digging a bit deeper we find a well worked piece that establishes a jolly phrase and then floats along in pleasantness before fooling around with some more assertive and frenetic textures - nothing too serious though, just a taste. Nothing to put us off our cup of tea and cake.

Second movement

Sublime and ripe with melancholy, as you would expect from a slow movement. Apparently inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but let's not let that get in the way. There is some drama injected near the end just to keep us on our toes. A good outing for a slow string piece. Feels polite. Cools the mind and makes us feel poignant.

Third movement

A lighthearted and jolly contrast after the second movement. Back to our tea party, after the sombre telling of grief laden tales. We find some angular excitement here but without the muscle. Just enough to pique our interest.

Fourth movement

Here we find a sort of remix earlier phrases with a bit more of a pacey edge to it. There is some nice interplay between the instruments which is kind of thrilling and we are left with a pleasant, intellectually satisfying finish. Nice one.

Overall

A decent string quartet composition that lays the ground work for some of his later compositions that have real meat in them. Good with friends and rewards the interested listener, especially in the fourth movement. No peak experiences. Just sublime satisfaction after repeated listens.


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