Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet No. 9 in C major ("Rasumovsky No. 3"), Op. 59/3

    Description by John Palmer

    Beethoven's second set of quartets, Opus 59, inhabit a very different universe from that of his first set, Opus 18. Although only six years had passed since the publication of the Opus 18 quartets, Beethoven's style changed immensely. The Opus 59 quartets were composed in the wake of the "Eroica" Symphony, and the vastness of the individual movements, the symphonic, orchestral character of the string writing and the stretched formal boundaries led some critics to dub the first of the set an "Eroica" for string quartet.

    The Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie in Vienna published the three "Rasumovsky" quartets in 1808, with a dedication to the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Kirillovich Rasumovsky (1752-1836), who had commissioned them. The Russian Ambassador was one of Beethoven's principal supporters until a fire destroyed much of his wealth in December 1814. More important to Beethoven than his wealth was Rasumovsky's maintenance of a permanent string quartet from 1808 to 1816, led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (1776-1830), in which Rasumovsky occasionally played second violin. Schuppanzigh was involved in the premières of numerous works by Beethoven, including the quartets.

    Beethoven began drafting the score of the first of the Opus 59 quartets on May 26, 1806, although there is evidence that he started to sketch them in the fall of 1804; by November 1806, all three were complete. Because Rasumovsky was to have exclusive rights to the pieces for a year, their publication was delayed until January 1808. As a tribute to Rasumovsky's heritage, Beethoven planned to use Russian folk themes in each of the three quartets, but did so only in the finale of the first and the slow movement of the second. All three are in four movements, the third augmented by a slow introduction to the first movement.

    The C major quartet opens with a strange introduction -- its first harmony is a diminished chord built on F sharp. After a suspenseful decrescendo, the chord moves to the dominant of B flat. This does not lead where we expect it, and the ensuing measures seem directionless until we hear the dominant of C major. However, the tonic is not confirmed until after the exposition has begun. In the development, Beethoven takes the harmony as far afield as the Neapolitan, D flat, creating a similar relationship to the one found in the first movement of the E minor quartet. Although the sonata-form second movement is not marked Thème russe, its melancholy melody does sound eastern European in origin, and the pizzicato playing on the cello lends the movement a folk-music quality. The third movement is a minuet, Beethoven's first since the Piano Sonata, Op. 31/3, of 1802. The Trio's tonality of F major looks back both to the key of the first quartet and to that harmony's presence in the second. Beethoven directs that the coda is to move without break into the finale. The blistering finale, in 2/2 meter, is one of Beethoven's most important fugal movements. Until the fourth voice enters (the first violin), it seems that Beethoven intends to compose an actual fugue. Beethoven embarks on a wide exploration of harmonies in this combination of sonata-form and fugue.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduction. Andante con moto - Allegro vivace
    2. Andante con moto quasi allegretto
    3. Menuetto. Grazioso
    4. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Harmonia Mundi HMM 90240305
    2018 Audite AUD 21454
    2018 Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE 0092D
    2018 Wigmore Hall / Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE 0092
    2018 BMC Records BMCCD 262
    2017 Audite AUD 92689
    2017 Centaur Records CRC 3544/3545/3546
    2017 Genuin GEN 17478
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 262
    2016 ABC / ABC Classics
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795982
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646019311
    2015 ATMA Classique ACD 22492
    2015 Thorofon CTH 2614
    2015 Alto 2027
    2014 Thorofon ZBL D6950895
    2014 Thorofon CTH 26112
    2014 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 344
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMU 80764148
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Longhorn Music LHM 2012004
    2013 Naxos 8501064
    2013 Audite AUDITE 21424
    2012 Atoll ACD 402
    2012 Warner Classics 694515
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 Zig Zag Territoires ZIG 315
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 Virgin Classics
    2011 Testament SBT 21461
    2011 Dorian Sono Luminus DSL 92142
    2010 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099960710
    2010 Warner Classics
    2010 Nimbus Alliance 6109
    2010 Decca
    2010 Camerata Records 28169
    2010 Foghorn / Foghorn Classics 2005
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Foghorn 1999
    2010 Sony Classical 7776782
    2009 PentaTone Classics 5186176
    2008 Warner Classics 2564694713
    2008 Challenge Classics 72181
    2008 Corona Classics 0002742CCC
    2008 Vox 3012
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Koch 7681
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93323
    2007 EMI Classics 87739
    2007 EMI Classics 3777672
    2007 Philips 475803
    2007 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH06062
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 807423/24
    2006 Arte Nova 636370
    2006 Globe Records 5054
    2006 Brodsky Records 3502
    2006 Teldec
    2006 ASV / Sanctuary 801
    2006 Teldec
    2006 Claves 2509/10
    2006 NCA 60139
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 907423/24
    2005 EMI Classics 73798/8
    2005 Virgin Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 54592
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 67236
    2005 Praga 350013
    2005 Music & Arts CD1181
    2005 Music & Arts CD1154
    2005 Music & Arts CD-1154
    2004 Quadromania Klassik 222111
    2004 Delos 3320
    2004 Chandos 10178
    2004 Brilliant 92387
    2003 Virgin 62258
    2003 Telarc Distribution 80268
    2003 Nimbus 5382
    2003 Parnassus Records 96034/5
    2002 Sony Music Distribution 87889
    2002 Hungaroton 41004
    2002 ASV 1114
    2002 Decca 470847
    2001 Naïve 4871
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 905252
    2001 Music & Arts 1084
    2000 Ars Musici 1245
    2000 Ars Musici 1281
    2000 Naxos 550563
    2000 Calliope 3633/9
    2000 Bridge 9099
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 463143
    2000 Stradivarius 78002
    2000 Praga 240145/46
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 65308
    1999 MDG 3070852
    1999 Arte Nova 63637
    1999 Praga 256014
    1999 Philips 432980
    1999 Brilliant 99093
    1999 Hyperion 55021/8
    1999 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243573606
    1999 Calliope 9633/9
    1999 Omega Music Poland 9053
    1998 Arbiter ARBITER112
    1998 Virgin 61406
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459063
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459071
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453764
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 62870
    1997 Arte Nova 7432146491
    1997 Telarc Distribution 80475
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66408
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon
    1996 Philips 454 062-2PB10
    1996 Berlin Classics 0091622
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 62706
    1995 Calliope 9638
    1995 Preiser Records 90172
    1994 Delos 3039
    1993 Praga 254009
    1993 ASV 554
    1993 ASV 207
    1993 Teldec 76457
    1993 Teldec 91495
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47665
    1991 Hyperion 66404
    1991 RCA Victor 60462
    1990 CBS Records 37869
    1990 RCA 60457
    1989 Philips 420797
    1987 Valois 4404
    1987 Delos 3035
    Chandos 10553
    Cascade Records 2254
    Image Recordings
    Bartok 1009
    Platz 585
    Teldec
    Fono Enterprise 99373
    Brilliant Classics 93323/7
    Brilliant 93525/41
    Brilliant 92387/30
    White Label 153
    Teldec 46016
    Nimbus 5225
    Brilliant 99123
    RCA Victor 902661621
    ABC Classics 4763541
    Musical Heritage Society 10903
    ABC Classics 4763542
    Arianna String Quartet 000
    Fry Street Quartet
    EMI Music Distribution 47130
    Deutsche Grammophon 469112
    Dutton Vocalion 9773
    Deutsche Grammophon 415342