Beethoven String Quartets

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Beethoven's string quartets have been perennially popular from his time to our own. They fall into four groups. The early quartets (Op. 18) leave give distinct evidence of the composer's promise and already show his originality. The "Rasoumovsky" quartets Op. 59 (nicknamed for their dedicatee) come from one of Beethoven's most fertile and productive periods. Each is a classic in its own right. Collectively they show enormous strides in Beethoven's development and imagination. Opp. 74 and 95 continue in the same directions.

What is surprising is that Beethoven composed so few quartets between 1806 and 1825. He was of course busy composing many other works during the first part of that period. Chamber music was usually written to fulfill a specific commission, and in Beethoven's time typically written to order. The political vicissitudes of Austria, particularly in its battles with Napoleonic France, were periodically inhibiting. Beethoven's personal battle with his progressive hearing difficulties is usually considered the likely explanation for many otherwise inexplicable behaviors.

 Opus  Title  Key  Nickname  Date CCARH score
(PDF)
B&H score
(PDF)
Op. 18, No. 1    String Quartet No. 1 F  Major 1798-1800     full [1]
Op. 18, No. 2 String Quartet No. 2 G  Major 1798-1800 full [2]
Op. 18, No. 3 String Quartet No. 3 D  Major 1798-1800 full [3]
Op. 18, No. 4 String Quartet No. 4 C  Minor 1798-1800 full [4]
Op. 18, No. 5 String Quartet No. 5 A  Major 1798-1800 full [5]
Op. 18, No. 6 String Quartet No. 6 B Major 1798-1800  full [6]
Op. 59, No. 1 String Quartet No. 7 F  Major "Razumovsky" 1805-6 full [7]
Op. 59, No. 2 String Quartet No. 8 E  Minor "Razumovsky" 1805-6 full [8]
Op. 59, No. 3 String Quartet No. 9 C  Major "Razumovsky" 1805-6 full [9]
Op. 74 String Quartet in E Major ("The Harp") 1809 full [10]
Op. 95 String Quartet in F  Minor 1816 full [11]
Op. 127   String Quartet No. 12 in E Major 1825 full [12]
Op. 130 String Quartet in B Major 1827 [ ] [13]
Op. 131 String Quartet in C Minor 1827 full [14]
Op. 132 String Quartet in A  Minor 1827 [ ] [15]
Op. 133 Grosse Fuge (to follow No. 130) in B Major 1827 [ ] [16]
Op. 135 String Quartet in F  Major 1827 [ ] [17]

Audio examples from each movement of the three Op. 59 quartets are provided by the Digital Archive of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, the city of Beethoven's birth.[18]