Haydn, Mozart, & Beethoven: Studies in the Music of the Classical Period

By Sieghard Brandenburg | Go to book overview

13
Beethoven as Colourist: Another Look at his String Quartet Arrangement of the Piano Sonata, Op. 14 No. 1

LEWIS LOCKWOOD

Most earlier commentary on Beethoven's arrangement of Op. 14 No. 1 as a string quartet has focused on whether it could originally have been conceived for piano or for strings.1 In this paper, on the other hand, I propose to review certain aspects of the finished work in its two guises, and to suggest some of the ways in which Beethoven's version of the work for string quartet reveals his first mature grasp of idiomatic quartet writing in the period just following his completion and publication of the Op. 18 quartets. The underlying topic is that of Beethoven's approach to the medium of the quartet at this time; to what degree its specific properties of sonority, blending, and timbre opened up to him a range of possibilities that differed sharply from those of the pianoforte, and enabled him to employ quartet tone- colour effectively as an indispensable compositional element.

That Beethoven's arrangement was far from mechanical is clear from his celebrated letter to Breitkopf & Härtel of 13 July 1802:

____________________
1
The most important recent studies of the work are these: Myron Schwager, "'Nottebohm Revisited: Beethoven's Opus 14 No. 1 in Perspective'", Studi Musicali, 16 ( 1987), 157-69, along with Schwager equally important earlier article, "'A Fresh Look at Beethoven's Arrangements'", Music and Letters, 54 ( 1973), 142-60; Michael Broyles, "'Beethoven's Sonata Op. 14 No. 1--Originally for Strings?'", Journal of the American Musicological Society, 23( 1970), 405-19; and Ludwig Finscher, "'Das macht mir nicht so leicht ein anderer nach'", in M. Staehelin (ed.), Divertimento für Hermann J. Abs (Bonn, 1981), 11-24. Broyles takes the view that the work probably did not originate as a composition for strings, while Schwager finds evidence that it might have done so. The issue comes down to an interpretation of certain properties of the piano version along with the sketches and the context in which Beethoven made the arrangement. Another important contribution from a different viewpoint is that of Carl Schachter, "'Beethoven's Sketches for the First Movement of Op. 14 No. 1'", Journal of Music Theory, 26 ( 1982), 1-22.

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