Exploring Beethoven string quartet no.7 Opus 59 no.1


I like listening to Beethoven's string quartets - it took me a while to appreciate them but I think I'm getting there now. Here's the one they call number 7.

First movement - the days of afternoon tea are behind us. It starts off quite nicely - there is a strong promenading feeling of enjoyment, a jolly man walking down an Edwardian street. We are soon lost in moments of introspection that take us on a little voyage into somewhere more thoughtful. These moments of inward reflection continue but they are slowly injected with a sense of anxiety - the pleasant beginning is being eroded. Our afternoon stroll gradually transforms into a psychological, paranoid, edgy episode. We are left realising that life is not a basket of flowers. Bad things happen to good people. Beethoven has broken down the good mood.

Second movement - the sense of disquiet continues as we are plagued by sharp, stabbing notes and a feeling of not being quite right. Beethoven takes us to the brink of a glorious total meltdown on several occasions but he backs off at the point of total destruction by introducing soothing notes and an escape into a pleasant and almost dainty realm. As the movement progresses, we find the anxiety mutating and it seems as if the tension is finally manageable by the end. It's out of his system.

Third movement - finally we find relief in the slow movement. The roles are reversed now and we find our peace ruffled by moments of returning tension that are somehow pleasant. These are short lived and we can relax in our cathartic, mellow string things.

Fourth movement - here the tension has gone and the instruments sweep up and down the scales with a sense of freedom and triumph. Whatever was bothering us in the first two movements has been resolved and we are now free to explore the relief this final movement offers. We have been on a journey and now the welcome home band is letting off some steam.

We have moved away from the string quartet as wedding background music into something more psychological and emotional. The days of Mozart and Haydn are receding into the distance - the mind is being born.

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