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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: September 2011

9 - Manner, tone, and tendency in Beethoven's chamber music for strings

from Part III - Genres

In his chamber music for strings, Beethoven made incredibly rich contributions to an entire family of genres: trio, quartet, and quintet. This music comprises the sort of metagenre that Walter Benjamin had in mind when, writing about Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, he maintained that all great works of art either “found a genre or dissolve one.” One could make that claim for Beethoven's string chamber music in general and of his quartets in particular, even if it is not easy to pinpoint the precise means through which the composer either founded or dissolved a genre.

On at least one point there can be no doubt: Beethoven viewed his chamber music for strings as a privileged repertory. Consider his attitude toward the common practice of arranging chamber works for other media. One special case aside, Beethoven did not recast his string chamber music for other instruments, though there are several examples of the reverse procedure in arrangements either made by Beethoven himself or completed under his supervision, for instance, the reincarnation of the Wind Octet op. 103 as a string quintet (op. 4), or the arrangement of the Piano Trio op. 1 no. 3 for string quintet (op. 104). Furthermore, his recasting of the E major Piano Sonata op. 14 no. 1 for string quartet – a task that Beethoven felt only he could have accomplished satisfactorily – amounts to a wholesale transformation of the original.

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The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven
  • Online ISBN: 9781139002202
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