This effort is among Beethoven's final works and is the last of the three quartets composed to meet the commission of Prince Nikolai Golitzin. No. 12, Op. 127, was written in the period 1823-1824 and was followed by the Fifteenth, Op. 132, in 1825. This Thirteenth Quartet was completed in early January 1826, but its original finale was replaced by a new one finished in late November 1826. This second finale is said to be Beethoven's last completed compositon. The composer agreed to replace the original, the so-called Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, at the behest of his publisher. It is a rather self-contained composition anyway, and proved quite difficult for the performers and audience who heard the work at its premiere on March 21, 1826. But Beethoven probably also recognized that the Grosse Fuge was a rather outsized piece, too grand to serve as the finale for the B flat Thirteenth, a great piece in its own right, but a work whose character in the preceding five movements is less epic-sounding.
This work obtained the nickname "Lieb" (dear) from Beethoven himself, who referred to it that way in some of his writings. It consists of six movements and may be looked upon as similar to a divertimento or suite, in the older sense of those forms. The first movement alternates slow and fast music throughout, bearing the markings Adagio ma non troppo and Allegro. It moves from the somber to the playful, from the contemplative to the joyous. Beethoven's treatment of the thematic material and his handling of the sonata-allegro form is quite innovative here.
There follows a short Scherzo, one of the composer's best in any genre. The writing in this Presto movement is brilliant and full of color; the mood is light and witty. The ensuing Andante con moto ma non troppo is bright and quite lively, despite its marking; indeed, Beethoven also included the direction here of poco scherzando.
The next movement is marked Alla danza Tedesca (dance in the German style). The music here is again light but also a bit dry. The following passage, marked Cavatina, Adagio molto esspressivo, is somber and melancholy, and also quite profound. The composer himself spoke of the effect this music had on his emotional state, of its ability to draw an occasional tear. The main theme, as its marking suggests, is songlike and quite lovely.
As mentioned above, the finale is the last completed piece Beethoven wrote. Its happy mood does not betray the composer's health problems and emotional state. Although he had just recovered from a serious illness, he was still not well and would live only a few months more. Moreover, Beethoven wrote this finale during a reluctant stay at his brother Johann's residence in Gneixendorff (in the Danube Valley) where he had traveled with his troubled nephew, Karl. The composer did not get along with his sister-in-law, and one can only imagine that the uncomfortable circumstances under which he wrote this music were hardly conducive to composition, especially composition of a happy cast. In any event, this finale provides a brilliant close to the work, quite a different one than that of the original rather complex fugue. This Quartet was first published in Vienna in 1827, carrying a dedication to Prince Golitzin. The premiere of the final version took place on April 22, 1827, a month after the composer's death.