Beethoven – String Quartet No.5 in A major, Op.18 – Végh Quartet – 1952
II. Adagio cantabile — Allegro — Tempo I
III. Scherzo. Allegro
IV. Allegro molto, quasi presto
Sándor Végh, 1st violin
Sándor Zöldy, 2nd violin
Georges Janzer, viola
Paul Szabo, violoncello
The 1952 Haydn Society Recordings
Of the Op. 18 string quartets, this one is the most grounded in 18th-century musical tradition. According to Steinberg, “In German-speaking countries, the graceful curve of the first violin’s opening phrase has earned the work the nickname of Komplimentier-Quartett, which might be translated as ‘quartet of bows and curtseys’.”
The nickname may have originated from one of Haydn’s last string quartets written about the same time (Op. 77, No. 1; 1799), which was also known as the Komplimentier-Quartett. Haydn was Beethoven’s teacher at the time, and there are similarities in style between the two quartets. They are also both in the key of G major.
After he finished the quartet, Beethoven was not satisfied with the second movement and wrote a replacement. Sketches of the original slow movement survive and a complete version has been reconstructed by musicologist Barry Cooper. It was performed publicly, possibly for the first time, by the Quatuor Danel in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall at the Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, on 30 September 2011.
“Three early Mozart pieces, K. 137, 137 and 138, are labeled divertimentos on the manuscripts and are so listed in Grove. However, few Mozart scholars accept that tag as an accurate description of the works, and most doubt that the title came from Mozart. For one thing, a divertimento should have two minuets, and these three have none. At first glance they seem to be straightforward string quartets–yet many experts contend that they don’t sound at all like string quartets.
So what are they? Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein fancies them as small symphonies for strings, to which the composer was prepared to add extra parts for winds; they are sometimes known as the ‘Salzburg symphonies.’ Musicologist Hans Keller has given them the curious designation of ‘orchestral quartets.’ Others insist that they are indeed string quartets even if they lack the serious temper of that rarefied form. Yet (to complete the confusion) they are universally referred to as divertimentos–the one thing everyone agrees they are not.
Whatever they’re called, they are fine examples of Mozart’s early essays in chamber music…Mozart composed them in 1772, when he was 16, not long before leaving Salzburg on his third (and, as it turned out, his last) trip to Italy. He was going to Milan to produce the opera ‘Lucio Silla‘ on a commission from Count Firmian, governor-general of that city. He probably expected, from previous experience, to need music to entertain the count’s court while he was at work on the opera. So it seems likely that these three works were composed to meet that need. Mozart may have planned to present them with a small orchestra, as Einstein surmises, but here they are played by the four instruments of a string quartet.
The Divertimento in B flat, K. 137…differs from [K. 136 & K. 138] by starting with a slow movement. This affecting ‘Andante’ is led by the first violin and is punctuated by dramatic responses from the accompanying strings. A spirited ‘Allegro di molto’ movement follows, leading to a delicate finale marked ‘Allegro assai’. This section, while not actually a minuet, has a courtly air that suggests a roomful of dancers bowing and curtsying under brilliant chandeliers.” – Harvey B. Loomis
Painting: Still Life (Morning Glories, Toad, & Insects), Otto Marseus van Schrieck