BEETHOVEN: FIRST PERIOD
MUCH HAS BEEN SAID of the division of Beethoven's creative career into three periods, which was first suggested by Fétis, then worked out by Wilhelm von Lenz, and has since been adopted by practically every writer on music. For the major works it is a well-proved classification. Beethoven's masterpieces do indicate three distinct styles or modes of expression, which Vincent d'Indy has defined as periods of imitation, of externalization, and of reflection. The first is that in which the young artist continues the art-production of his time after the manner of his predecessors or of his favourites among his contemporaries. The second is that in which he begins to walk alone and to reach self-expression. The third is that in which he retires within himself to create in pure joy and sorrow, without external preoccupation. Obviously that is also the period in which from the ripeness of his experience he enlarges the confines of his art. But if this classification can safely be followed, for instance, with Beethoven's string quartets, it is unwise to trust it implicitly. Such phases of a composer's work are not sharply marked off one from another. There is no ascertainable date at which they move forward from one to the next. If, therefore, we adopt this classification here, it is with the reservation that it is to be regarded simply as a matter of convenience and not as dogma.
Beethoven's earliest chamber music consists of three piano quartets composed in 1785, when he was fifteen, but not published until 1832, five years after his death, a sure guide to his opinion of them. His practice with the works of his youth appears to have been to revise such as he thought to have been of any value and to ignore the others. His next chamber work, a piano trio in E flat, composed in