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Beethoven Quartet in C-sharp minor for Strings, Op. 131

April 26, 2019

On this week's lecture, resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Beethoven's Quartet in C-sharp minor for Strings, Op. 131. Featuring a performance by Arnaud Sussmann, Sean Lee, violin; Matthew Lipman, viola; David Finckel, cello.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, ResidentLecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992 and in 2011 we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever growing archive of videos made available live and on demand at ChamberMusicSociety.org

We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus we explore historical context and with live musicians in the studio during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's lecture is about Beethoven's String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131. Originally recorded January 31, 2019. As Derek mentioned. Opus 131, I hope you like the name of the piece.

It goes with the other late quartets which all have similar names. Opus 127, Opus 131, 132, 133, 135. The actual order is not that so pay attention. I know it's on your phone, but if you want the actual order, it's one... Well, 127 and then 132 and then 130 and then 131. Got that? Okay. Now the late quartets have been debated as being either the greatest or the most wonderful or the most sublime music by most professional musicians.

And there’s a period of time where they were unacceptable to a lot of people. We now know that this is really Beethoven's crowning achievement, and he himself felt that 131 was possibly his best composition. What does it mean to write in a late style? I just want to throw that out for a moment. I was asked a few years ago to write an essay about late style, and it's such a complicated thought that I had to go back and look up what I wrote to say it to you.

Exactly to, one sentence. This is what I think it means when a composer, or perhaps an author of any kind of writing is in the late style at its best, to say exactly what one means without complication, but also without compromise. And that's what Beethoven does here. And in order to do that, he had to separate tradition from convention because tradition is what's valuable in the things of the past, and convention is what is unnecessary.

And complication is bad. Complexity is good. So complication, you hear people say we're suffering from complications or there are complications or we've run into complications. You never hear someone say, I'm sorry, but we've run into complexity because complexity is good and it's a richness of ideas and a richness of thought, which is what complex means. So first I'm going to give you a very simple and very clear and important idea of what's different about this piece.

And then we're going to start and go through it. For one thing, the structure of the piece is unique in all of Beethoven's work, unique in the classical period, so forward looking and so imaginative that it really is, more than anything he wrote, an opening into another world, opening into romanticism, but even into modernity. Like Bartok's, Quartet structures are related to Opus 131 more than they are to any other Beethoven quartet.

The structure of the late quartets is where Beethoven starts to open up and pull away from certain classical norms. So, for example, if you think of any Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven work, the chances are you will be thinking of a piece that starts with sonata form and then the second movement is a slow movement, and then the third movement is either a minuet or a scherzo.

And the last movement is a Rondo finale. That's so pervasive. Now, why are they all doing that all the time? Isn't it predictable? Yes, that's the reason. Because music is abstract and complex. And if you want to build an audience and bring them together to go to concerts and experience the music at its best, then it helps to have some predictable frameworks and they're very open.

Sonata form is a very open process, but here in the late quartets, it changes. In Opus 132, we have five movements. In Opus 130- now, this is the correct order. Opus 130 there are six movements and in Opus 131, this one, there are seven movements. And the movements in this one do not reflect at all the norms. And so you're already in a different place.

More than that. Here, this is the order of the seven movements. One is a fugue. Beethoven wrote quite a few fugues in his life, but he usually builds to the fugues and they end, they’re the culmination. This is the only one that starts with a fugue. The second movement is a dance. The third movement is very short and it's a recitative right out of opera.

The fourth movement is a huge theme in variations, which is a structure that he's used many times, but not in what we would normally find in a sonata group of movements. And then the fifth movement is a scherzo. The sixth one is an aria like from an opera, and the seventh is finally the sonata that you expected to have at the beginning, the sonata movement.

Another way to think of this is if you think of places, the first movement, the fugue is like church, and I mean that with a capital C, So no particular church, you know, it's so in other words, it's theological, it's spiritual, it's philosophical. The second movement is like a town plaza where a big dance might take place. The third movement is on an opera stage.

Brief, though it is. It's like a glimpse of a moment in an opera. The fourth movement. The theme in Variations is almost like you're at a college seminar in a discussion of theme and variations. He does everything you can do on theme and variations. He even makes fun of some of the variations, some concepts, and it's very much like a seminar.

So, so far we've been at a church, town plaza, opera stage, college seminar. The next movement is a playground. It's a scherzo, which is the funniest, the most charming and the most playful of all his scherzo. So we go to a playground, then we go back to the opera stage. It's the same scene, perhaps we don't know. But finally we get an aria that may not relate to that recitative.

But, you know, we came in late and then the last movement is the big sonata. Now, another way to think of this is that the first movement, the fugue and the last movement, the sonata, are the two biggest and most significant forms, from the Renaissance up to Beethoven's time, the fugue and the sonata. The fugue isn't exactly a form, it's a process.

Sonata is not- it's closer to being a form, but it's also a kind of procedural template. So that gets, you already see just from knowing that little bit that he, both in terms of structure and emotion, has a huge range here, more than you would normally expect in even a string quartet of Beethoven. It's just extraordinary.

So before I get into the fugue and what it's about, I think you need to hear a little bit of the opening of the fugue, which is, I just want to say that right before this, when he wrote the Grosse Fugue, which this is not, that piece, Opus 130, builds to a finale and you have this giant fugue.

This one starts with a fugue and goes in the complete opposite direction. And this fugue, even though it's not as dramatic and as complex and as challenging to listen to and to understand as the Grosse Fugue, may be the most extraordinary counterpoint of not only his time, but since Bach. Okay, here we go. (music) Okay. Okay. Thank you.

We're going to hear more of that. There’s another philosophical quote... I should say, not say another, because I was quoting myself earlier. There's a quote of Wittgenstein that I think it's very well known that I'd like to apply to what I'm about to discuss. The quote is how small a thing it takes to fill a whole life.

You may know the piece by Steve Reich called Proverb, which uses that over and over in a cannon. And a cannon was a great idea because a cannon is one thing which overlaps itself and explores itself. How small a thing it takes to fill a whole life. Well, Beethoven had some obsessions of notes and themes, but he wasn't alone with these obsessions.

A little thing can be a lot in music, and I'm not necessarily speaking of a life, but if a piece is like a life. Sonata structure, especially with Beethoven, takes a small idea and explodes it. As you know, you can think of almost any piece of Beethoven and very often and don't just think of Beethoven's Fifth, but you can and now you have to.

But anyway, but it takes a small idea and projects it, explodes it into a much larger idea, which is a form of a piece. A fugue does the same thing. A fugue takes a, what we call a subject, a very small musical gesture and explores it and nothing else happens but that. There may be some episodes in some fugue that, where you don't hear it for a moment.

But the point of the piece is the deep exploration of this one small thought that lasts for the whole thing. Now, Beethoven, it's impossible to talk about this piece without talking about the fact that the opening of theme.. (music) And then there's the second part. These four notes, which are the last four notes or the first four notes descending of a harmonic scale, harmonic minor.

For some reason, because of this interval, which you may think of as Jewish or Hungarian, but to Beethoven and many composers, it's the harmonic minor descending interval. It's full of pain and everybody always feels it and thinks of it that way. And Beethoven wrote many pieces obsessed with this one motif. His, the Quartet Opus 132 that I mentioned starts this way.

David, you know how it starts? It's okay. (music) Those are the same notes. (singing) E, G sharp, A, F. Only you hear them G Sharp, A, F, E. Okay? Now, the Grosse Fugue has these notes, (music) and even the A (music) embedded in it. So it's there. His String Trio, Opus Nine, that goes way back to the young Beethoven, just has them in the order descending order.

Nothing special. (music) Now, people don't usually mention the next one. But the Kreutzer Sonata that we did earlier, same thing. (music) Same notes. And it starts with (music) when he does (music) And then they are again now Bach also, before Beethoven, Bach was frequently using those four notes. I mean, they are just four notes of the scale, but they're often used in an extraordinary way.

And here's a, not an extraordinary, here's a very simple fugue which uses (music) like this. (music) You probably know that one (music) etc.. So that uses it. People often refer, when talking about this, I don't know how many people you've talked about this piece with, but they refer often to the box C-sharp Minor Fugue, because this is in C-sharp minor. The C-sharp Minor Fugue from Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier doesn't use those notes, but it is related to it. (music)

It has the same feeling. It has this half step and it has a major third here, another half step. Now, this, from the Beethoven, has, it’s not really a major third, but it's, on the piano. it is. Then a half step and then it does have a major third. So it has two half steps and a major third here, which, so it sounds similar to this C-sharp Minor Fugue of Bach. (music) So that really does relate to this piece and mood and texture in the same key.

But now the good one. Actually, I have more than one more but the B Minor Fugue at the end of Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier is much more dissonant than anything Beethoven ever wrote, except maybe the Grosse Fugue. Even the theme is extraordinary because the theme changes key while it is stated, which is not normal in the Baroque period.

And it's, but for Bach, occasionally this does happen. Bach was not what we would call normal anyway, because if he was normal, then what do we do? But anyway, (music) Now, I'll stop there, but I played up to there because these notes occur many times up to that moment that I want to point out. Here, we have, if you take the theme from the Beethoven, (music) we have this (music) and then instead of (music) we have (music) and instead of this (music) we have (music) and they’re one right after the other. (music)

And the same thing happens later. (music) But even here, (music) that's the same (music) the same notes over and over. So this obsession, really, the idea of how small the thing it takes to fill a whole life, it actually fills a huge amount of counterpoint through the ages, because in this major and minor scales, the various permutations of minor especially, that interval has obsessed composers as one of the saddest things.

Now, in fact, Wagner said of this piece of the fugue, “The lengthy opening adagio is surely the saddest thing ever said in notes.” Now, I quote Wagner only when he's talking about music, because he knew a lot about music. Everything else, I wouldn't trust him on that. Okay, so now, speaking of which, this is the thing I warned you about.

I think, you know, since Wagner was obsessed with the opening fugue, he wrote pages and pages about this piece and commented on this fugue in depth. I mean, for example, he also said, “What had early-” this is about the piece 131, “What had earlier been held apart in single, close hedged forms, each leading a life of its own.”

Like, each movement. “Here is brought together in the most opposed forms, embraced in their totality, and evolved from their reciprocal reaction. What he's referring to is the fact that all those movements I described, they go one into the other and no breaks. It's just like a theatrical piece. And he numbers them with Roman, sorry, Arabic numbers. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

That's what, the way you would see an opera scene's number. So he was thinking theatrically. So Wagner, did Wagner in any of his operas make a reference to this? And I think so. So listen carefully. You have, this is the Beethoven. (music) Now, let's take those notes as Bach did and put them like this. (music) But put the G sharp up here and the rhythm is the same. (music)

I’m not kidding you, am I? No. I think Tristan relates to that fugue. And yes, the inner voice goes like this, (music) but the upper voice comes in at that moment on the right note and takes you away from it. I'm done. No. I really think it's true. And I don't want you to tell anybody, especially you at home, about that discovery.

Okay. So now let's hear the opening fugue, not the whole thing. Some of it. Let's go up to around 27 or so and then we'll talk about it a little bit and then go on to the other movements. (music) Okay, thank you. Thank you. Okay, we have to stop there. If you had studied fugue in school or you were a young composer and listening to this piece when it first came out, you would be shocked by the opening because it is completely different than what you expect from any fugue.

And that bares on the entire piece. And I need to explain that to you, because these days, especially in America. No, I'm kidding. These days I won't even finish that sentence. These days, it's not like everyone knows what the second voice is supposed to do in a fugue. But a very sophisticated audience of Beethoven's time would know because these pieces were, he didn't even have a public performance of this in his lifetime.

Only private performances. The music was so complex. So the audience that would have heard it would definitely have known what was supposed to happen. And that's not what he did. Actually, I wrote out what would be a typical version of this fugue. You have to listen carefully to see if you catch any, it's extremely different. This is not what Beethoven wrote.

This is the conventional approach to the same subject. (music) Alright, great. Thank you. That's all I did of it. And the difference between these two things is enormous. If that were the opening fugue, we wouldn't be listening to it today because it's perfectly fine and lovely and you could get lost in it. But it doesn't do any of the things that the Beethoven does.

First of all, what Beethoven does is the answer. First, we have a subject. That's the first violin. The answer to that is in the subdominant. It's in the wrong key. It goes down and the whole quartet goes through, the whole first movement fugue goes through a series of keys and a series of modulations of key changes that are unlike anything ever done before.

Even Bach never went through so many keys in one piece. He goes through everything, all kinds of unrelated keys, but they're all, and they all go as smooth as can be. But for example, the very opening, I'll speed it up a little, just do it at the keyboard. (music) This is, I put this in because the answer should be this. (music)

If it starts in C-sharp minor, (music) the answer should be in G Sharp minor. (music) That's just the way it is. If you study fugue, that's it. Now, but instead of going for this key and answering it in this or in this area, it doesn't have to be a key. But from C-sharp minor to G sharp, Beethoven does this. (music) He goes down and by going down the the second violin comes in (music) that D natural is not in the key of C-sharp minor.

This is where it starts to happen. In other words, by changing the key relationships immediately, new notes that are not part of the key merge and we are immediately submerged in an Bruce Adolphe area. The more someone knew about fugue, the more confused they were. So if you weren't confused, fine. No, but in other words, it is so different from what's expected.

And what it does is it introduces key areas immediately and new notes immediately. And it keeps getting more and more complex. He visits tonalities that are just very far removed from what is expected. So this second voice (music) by bringing in this D natural, see here's the C-sharp minor scale. If this is really complicated, just relax. You'll get it. Okay. This, you have C-sharp minor. Starts like that.

And this fugue subject, this note that note’s not in this scale, it's a flatted two. So instead of C-sharp to D sharp, it's C-sharp to D. Now that, the D is called a Neapolitan, it's not an important, but it has a name. It's harmonically got some history, and the whole structure of this entire seven movements has to do with the keys in the first movement of the fugue being projected out into the entire piece.

And do you know the story of Sleeping Beauty? There's an evil fairy who's not invited, right? And evil fairy then shows up and does something terrible. Just puts Sleeping Beauty to sleep. Well, F sharp Minor is the evil fairy. I'm still thinking about this, but okay. I'm not sure. This is probably the only thing that I'll get quoted on.

Did you hear his lecture on Beethoven? He said F sharp minor is the evil fairy. Oh, great. Okay. But what I mean is, first of all, in the fugue, it was supposed to go from C-sharp minor to G sharp minor and it went from C-sharp minor to F sharp minor because F sharp minor, who's not supposed to be there, shows up. Okay? Then, this is not going to be tricky at all.

There are seven movements. The keys are C-sharp minor, D major, D minor, A major, E major, G sharp minor, C-sharp minor. That is every note of the scale except F sharp minor. It comes when it's not supposed to. And then it's the only one left out of all the keys. Normally, a structure in four movements, for example, would be in two keys perhaps.

It would be in C-sharp, if it were in C-sharp minor, C-sharp minor, maybe E major and then back to C-sharp minor for everything else. Here, every movement's in a different key. And as I say, C-sharp, B, A, D, E, G sharp. That wasn't the right order, but it's every note better F sharp. So, he does it like this. (music) First movement, second movement, third movement, fourth movement, fifth movement, sixth movement.

And this one? No. So what does it do? The story's not over because this is very deliberate music. Everything Beethoven does is deliberate. That F sharp minor which barged into the first movement and then is left out, comes back in the last movement, and it takes over the entire movement practically. And not only do we go from C-sharp minor in the last move it down to F sharp minor, but we go down further to its subdominant.

It goes all the way down to B minor. In other words, he's really pulling it down with the F sharp minor. And, I'll forewarn you about this, but we'll come back to it. The final, the ending of this piece is in C-sharp major chords. (music) You know, and many, many people I would even say most people say the ending is weird.

How did you get to C-sharp minor- C-sharp major, so quickly? I feel uncomfortable. It feels artificial. Now, you're going to hear this here first, because I'm not kidding. I've never found this but I know this is correct. Beethoven, if somebody writes Beethoven, the ending didn't feel right. Either you should think, not that that's a comment on Beethoven. And not that it's a comment on the listener, but the listener doesn't quite understand what Beethoven is doing.

Have to ask, “Why doesn't it feel right?” It doesn't feel right because Beethoven is doing this incredible storytelling where that f sharp minor that was missing in the opening, I mean, comes in when it's not supposed to in the opening and then is missing in all the keys, comes back very strongly in the last movement such that instead of hearing a piece, it ends on C-sharp major the way you want to. (music)

That is not the tonic, not the key. He ends up in F sharp minor and that, he insists on ending. But that actually sounds like the dominant of F sharp minor. It sounds wrong, but it also feels right because of the rhythm and the shape. So in other words, that F sharp- I keep saying in other words, but I'm saying the same thing. That F sharp minor appears when it's not supposed to is not included in all the keys and every other key is there.

All, every other key in the scale. And then it comes back, especially at the very end of the last movement, and takes over to the point where it forces the actual key to sound like a dominant. Okay, got it? I have to do it. Did you get that? Okay, then we can go on. Okay. I won't get fired.

Okay. Okay. You don't know who I'm talking about over there? Okay. Alright. He's been demoted. He's now in this quartet. So, no. Right? Okay. So let's hear the end of this fugue. Just the very end of this fugue. And the reason I want to do that are two reasons. But primarily, it's important to hear that he uses every technique that a fugue can have.

And one are the most important ones metaphorically, is a very old technique from the Renaissance, which is augmentation, where you hear a theme in slow motion while it's happening in regular tempo. This is a metaphor for everything in life. In Bach’s time, it was augmentation probably had a spiritual and theological connotation that things move- it's, actually for us, it's relativity, but things move in different speeds.

There is no exact time for something to unfold, so something can unfold slowly and something can unfold quickly simultaneously. And it depends how you listen, but you can take them both in. And in counterpoint, this is a very powerful philosophical statement. If you think in the Baroque period you have chorale cantatas where you might have, in many pieces, like Christ lag in Todes Banden of Bach, you might have the instruments playing rather quickly. (singing)

And then in slow motion. (singing) Like that. They're singing a melody which is also maybe happening down here. (singing) And here it's in slow motion that in that period was definitely eternity and life on earth, no question, right? But now that is retained, eternity and life on Earth, as perhaps just the way like when someone says, “She's already a junior in college?

How did the time go by so quickly?” That's what I'm talking about. Okay. Let's hear the end of the fugue here. (music) Thank you. Now, I hope you heard the slow motion in the cello. Now, leaving that alone for a moment, the idea that the very ending has this topsy turvy relationship between F sharp minor and the key, it’s here too.

And you don't necessarily notice it, but I can show you how you would notice it. It ends, what we just heard ended with this chord (music) and then this. And we also had (music) and (music) and then (music) We don't have this. (music) We don't get the key. Never. Instead, we have this chord. (music0 And guess what key that's in. F sharp minor. It should resolve to F sharp minor, but he resolves it here pretending it's Teutonic.

So in other words, this, if this sounds complicated, it's not. It's complex. I told you. Okay, so what I mean is it's not, it's a very simple thing. And of course, if you haven't studied music, it sounds really complicated, but I'm trying to, I'm just going to keep saying it until you give up. But basically, all the chords, even at the end of the fugue, you don't get five one.

And by five one, I mean (music) That doesn't happen. Instead you get (music) and (music) and (music) Overall, you just don't get, you're not in the right key already. You're still in F sharp minor. So F sharp minor has usurped the key of C minor and at the end, the same thing happens. And if people paid a lot of attention to the opening fugue and could get through all seven movements at the end, then they would know why that C-sharp minor, C-sharp major at the end sounds strange. Because it's still the wrong key.

Okay, so now let's go from the, all the movements connect. So let's let's go through all the the ends and beginnings of some of the movements so you get the feeling this is very unusual. Let's hear the very end of the fugue again, going into the dance. (music) So, that's the beginning of the second movement, which is in D major. Now, by the way, you saw the connection was he simply went up a half step. (music) And one of the reasons that works and is so elegant is that note. (music)

The new note is this one. (music) The one we wouldn't have had it wouldn't have been there if he didn't go into F sharp minor. And if you think, “Wow, did Beethoven think of that?” Of course. If I can think of it, he thought of it. But also his sketchbooks. We don't have a lot of material on this, but they're always full of amazing transformations.

But there's no question that every single thing you can discover was his plan. This piece is just unbelievably, manifestation of the most profound musical thinking. Now, the end of the dance, we don't have time to do every movement, but we will really get into six and seven. So on the way, the end of the dance into the tiny recitative is interesting because I'll say something about it and then you can listen for this.

At the end of the dance, we get this (music) and then we get (music) That could be an ending. But if you're listening carefully, we're missing the third note of the chord. (music) We're missing this. (music) So we just get two notes. That means that he could put in a note below instead (music) and go into another key. That's why he does it. In other words, these two notes imply that, but he doesn't give it to you.

So the next chord of the beginning of the third movement, he puts the note you're not expecting in there. Everything that I'm talking about points to the incredible level of detailed thinking that is exploited and used at every single turn. If you randomly picked four measures from this piece, we could find things like this. It's everywhere. The detail is extraordinary.

Okay, so let's hear the end of this movement and go into the next one. (music) And then we go into the fourth movement. Let's hear the beginning of the fourth movement. That was the entire third movement. (music) Okay, great. Great. So the end, the recitative was that little tiny movement. It's the only tiny movement. But what's wonderful is there's also a short movement, number six, not tiny and the tiny movement is a recitative.

And the short movement is an aria. So those are the two operatic moments and they're separated by a lot of music. They don't actually fit together, but they fit together conceptually as a recitative and Aria. An interesting thing about this too is how deliberately he wants you to know that it is a recitative when the violin goes, (music) you know, he harmonizes it differently than in the Baroque.

But that's your typical Handelian cadence. Alright, now moving swiftly so we can get to the incredible ending I mentioned the playground. The fourth movement, which we're not going to do now, is really incredibly, hilariously fun and delightful. The ending of it is amazing and we're going to hear the ending of it. It's like a children's tune, the entire thing.

And it keeps going in cycles and it's full of surprises. And it's the biggest scherzo I think there is. I mean, until Mahler. And at the end, they suddenly do this hilarious pizzicato and then they're going to sul ponticello. Arnaud, do you want to demonstrate a phrase without ponticello and then with ponticello? (music) Okay. (music) And maybe a little more exaggerated. (music)

Yeah. Sul ponticello is Italian for on the bridge and it means you play, maybe just do, just not from the Beethoven, but just a tremolo E and then go into, you know. (music) That sound. Yeah. So it's vaguely electronic. You hear some overtones. So he goes into sul ponticello and the ending is delightful then again, like in from the first to the second movement, you get octaves and then you go into the next movement.

So let's hear the end of the scherzo going into the aria. (music) Okay, now before we hear this little aria, which we will, the contrasts are unbelievable, especially since there's no pause, there's no coughing, there's no candy wrappers, there's no accidental applause. Well, maybe. Schubert was the master of getting accidental applause, even from a New York audience.

He was a genius at that. So what you get, though, is the funniest, craziest, lightest piece, followed immediately by the most of this set, the darkest, saddest, except perhaps the opening fugue. But this is the little song. So we go from the simple light scherzo to the dark, sad song. They fit together beautifully, even though they're completely opposite.

But what I want to point out here is that the fugue bears a relationship to this in an interesting way. Just like this D natural (singing) that that note, which the whole second movement is in that key, comes from (music) the whole idea of the key existing in a C-sharp minor piece comes from this theme. Go back to the original statement. (music) That A had a whole movement to itself also and here that A intrudes over and over again into G sharp minor where it doesn't belong.

See, that's part of the piece that, when I say it doesn't belong, it does have a name, It's the lowered second degree, it's called the Neopolitan. But in other words, it is a chromatic intruder and it causes all the interest and trouble. Trouble is good because without trouble, without conflict, the music is not as interesting.

But if we took all the A sharps out of this, I mean the A naturals out of this, it would still be quite lovely, although we'd have to shift some of the harmony. But for example, before we hear the whole thing, could you guys just, let me just hear the viola play the opening tune. (music) Okay, now let's hear the violin play the same things, next phrase.

(music) Okay, Now it's tricky to hear because the first time it goes, (music) the second time it goes. (music) That's that A natural. That's important, though, because it starts to infect the entire piece. That's its first entrance. But it's, this little movement is full of it. And the most dramatic chord, it takes over. The most dramatic chord in the piece is built on that. Let's when we have this chord and a little bit later (music) there's the A.

If I dropped it to a G sharp, it would just be (music) You see? But that A, it keeps coming back until that moment. And what Beethoven does is when he brings this incredibly dissonant chord, it's a chord that has a great history. It's not, he didn't invent it. It’s not like a new chord, but the context is extraordinary.

And when he brings that chord in here, it's piano. It's quiet because it intensifies. It's like you're listening and then, oh, it’s so dissonant. It draws you in just the way my daughter's kindergarten teacher did. She never yelled. She went, “Oh, really?” And everybody... Like this. Okay. So, let's do that phrase if we could. Let's see, where should we start? Can we start with the violins?

C sharp with (music) Yeah. That bar would be good. (music) And here comes another A. Okay, good, good. Stop. Stop right before the last movement. So we get that A in the chord (music) and then also the A here. (music) And what's amazing, this harmony (music) where the A triumphs, it's loud, it's on the highest instrument and it's pretty powerful. That chord (music) is the same, transposed, going all the way back to the fugue when we had that incredible dissonant chord that was in the wrong key.

This is the same thing transposed. So it comes back in the same shape. It's haunting the whole piece. Then we finally get to the last movement. So let's, I think what we need to do is go through a few things in the last movement before we play or they play the sixth and seventh movement. So let's hear the opening of the last movement.

Let's say up until I stop you. (music) Okay, let's stop here. Okay. So what you have is, and this whole sonata movement is related to the fugue almost continually. And gets very obvious. At the beginning, it's a little bit less obvious. But remember (music) and here's this. (music) So you have (music) it's the same notes and it becomes stronger and stronger. Let's continue right where I stopped you and you will hear, (music) which is exactly (music) just in their normal order.

Let's go through the spots where we hear a lot of that. So 17, the middle of it, 17 second half of 17. Oh, down beat. Okay. (music) Okay. So you're hearing that the fugue is infecting this all the way. So there are several things that happen here in this last movement. The fugue subject appears in various disguises.

Now, that fits my fairy tale theory. You know, it appears as a scale. It appears with the notes in the wrong order. It appears in a violent gesture. And it also appears almost exactly as the fugue a little bit later on. And it also appears over and over increasingly extensively, more and more in F sharp minor, which is the evil key. That’s not right.

It's the uninvited key. Oh, that's a good title. The Uninvited Key. And then you get this long, you get little bits of fugues. You get new fugues, little of what we call fugottos. And it doesn't mean you didn't do something you've meant to do. Little fugottos are like small fugues that appear here and there, and some of them sound like the fugue subject.

But you also get this. (music) By now, just going up the scale, that, it should have been this, right? (music) But he starts here (music) and he says, “You know what I'm talking about.” Because it's not there- it starts on the, one of the notes, you get two out of the four and then you get two new ones. So at this point, you're so inundated with it that he can refer to it obliquely, which is, you might have to do at a cocktail party.

So then they all spend a lot of time on that. And we get soon after that something that Beethoven I think invented and Rossini picked up on in a completely different way, which is a written out, a cello rondo. Meaning things get faster but they're not actually getting faster. It's written so the notes get faster. It's not like the conductor has to go faster.

The music, the pulse remains the same, but the music is faster. So can we start just to hear that, let's say right at 140 at the key change? This will be very obvious. So what happens is if you listen to, the cello especially, the cello remains behind at a slower tempo and then speeds up and catches up to them. (music) Okay, great. Great, great.

And then, that, by the way, is the recapitulation. We're in the sonata form. Did you forget about Sonata form? This sonata form is well, I was going to say, unlike all other sonata forms, but that's the thing. They are all unlike each other. The idea, that's the problem with the words sonata form. And as I've told you, I like to say so not a form because it is not a form.

So, but I couldn't say that until recently when we had the so put in front of everything. So, but basically, what’s different about it is it's injected with all of these transformations of the first movement, not just of itself. So that's an extraordinary thing. But the other is that it's full of little fugues, little contrapuntal sections. That's another reference to the first.

So not only do we have seven movements that go flowing from one to the other without a break, and do we have a harmonic scheme where every key gets its due except the one that intruded at the beginning and it comes back at the end, but we also have this sonata form that is a culmination of everything that came before it or as many things as possible, especially the fugue.

There hasn't been one like that. This is the first. So in other words, there were fugues as culmination, but to have a fugue at the beginning and the sonata form as a culmination is different. And what's interesting about that is that reflects history because the fugue is much more ancient than the Sonata, which is, at Beethoven's time, was still a fairly modern idea, which he transformed utterly.

And so the sonata is a drama. So again, The fugue is a church, The sonata is a battlefield, basically. And especially here. I mean, obviously some sonatas are more like comedies, but this is not. So, let's hear a little bit of one of the fugottos. If we start at 177, you will hear this in the second violin.

Well, actually, we should go back and start a tiny bit earlier. Let's start with the cello. 169. You hear this, (music) a new fugue subject. (music) But it's the same notes. (music) And the note that was very long (singing) is short. And the answer to that (music) is this. And then they pass this around. So you have a new fugue subject based on the same notes, and that goes on for a while.

Let's hear that starting at like, I guess, 169, 68. Okay. (music) Now. Okay, great. Great place to start. So that's one of quite a few fugues. Now, one of the other things that happens besides all these fugues, it's a long movement with many codas, little codettas all running into each other. And it has something in it that I think for Beethoven was a reference to Opus 95, his Seriouso Quartet. Where suddenly this particular passage of scales appears and ushers you out of the movement in a way that Mendelssohn picked up on a few things that Beethoven did and made them his own, and talk about how small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.

Lots of composers lived off phrases of Beethoven. They made their whole lives on it. And Mendelssohn is one of those composers who developed the whole style based on some things that Beethoven was left dangling. People used to actually literally do that with Rossini because, it's a famous story, that he would write by the window and throw things he didn't like out the window where all the other composers were waiting.

So with Beethoven, let's, if we could start at 320. What? Yeah, fine. 321. And what you're going to hear suddenly is a very quiet, fast scale and the key of the scale is D. We're in C-sharp minor. That D is that same D that would never have appeared if it weren't for F sharp minor barging into the party at the beginning.

Okay. (music) Okay, great. That is a reference to I should have asked you to play Opus 95, that passage, but forget it. You know, in Hollywood, they can just turn to a whole orchestra and say, “You know the song? Sure. What key?” And there's a whole orchestration. They're all playing. You can't even do that in real life with a string quartet.

Okay. Do you guys know Moon River? Okay, anyway, so then we get to the end, and at the end go here (music) and (music) and (music) and, but (music) what key is that in? It’s (music) Is it in- we're supposed to end in C-sharp major, but actually, this is F sharp minor. He is in F sharp minor. The evil uninvited key, the one that is left out, the one that came in the first movement instead of the way it's supposed to be for almost the entire end of the piece, which is why the ending is weird.

But if you understand what he's doing, the ending is not weird. It's great. Okay, so let's, maybe what we should do is, now, because of time and because I can only, if I start now, I'm going to go another hour. So let's hear the sixth movement in its entirety going into the seventh movement. So this is the aria. He doesn't call it that, but it is. The aria into the Sonata Allegro movement. (music)

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