Beethoven’s String Quartet #10 Opus 74 in Eb Major
Beethoven’s String Quartet No.10 Opus 74 in E-flat Major has always been one of my favorites. By now you all know how important this key is to Beethoven. Piano trios, sonatas, the “Emperor” concerto, the “Eroica” symphony! Masterpieces all. The Opus 74 measures up. It begins with a fairly short slow introduction gentle in character. After roaming through a few strange harmonies, the main body of the first movement begins Allegro. After a short while the violins alternate pizzicato (plucking the strings) for four bars, an idea that is expanded in the development section. Here the pizzicatos are passed through all the instruments starting with the cello. The rhythm accelerates giving a harp like quality, thus the nickname “the Harp” quartet. Near the end of this movement is one of the most thrilling passages in all of chamber music. The first violin plays an extended passage of bariolage, the rapid crossing of the strings back and forth, either 2, 3, or all 4 of them. Underneath, the other instruments first replay the harp idea and then the second violin and viola engage in a canon. They play the same notes an octave apart but the viola copies the violin exactly one bar later. They sing! Amazing result. Absolutely joyous!
A wonderfully serene and sensitive Adagio second movement is followed by and absolutely furious third movement scherzo. The contrast of these inner moments is remarkable.
Some critics, I like to call them the “Great Unwashed”, say that the finale is weak compared to the rest of the quartet. How wrong they are. I adore this set of variations. They are consistent with the other three movements; they maintain the overall calm and inner looking aspects of the others (excluding the wild third). They come to an exuberant close. Please enjoy this wonderful quartet. I’m attaching links to two performances. The first by the legendary Budapest String Quartet. This group first established the high standard of quartet playing that has carried forward to this day. The second is by the Alban Berg Quartet, an excellent modern-day group.
Budapest String Quartet
The Alban Berg Quartet
Robert Swan serves as the Artistic Director of the White Lake Chamber Music Festival.
Bob was raised in Norwalk, CT. and attended Indiana University’s world renowned music school where he received his Bachelor’s, Master’s with Highest Distinction, ABD in Music History and Literature, and Performer’s Certificate. Swan studied with David Dawson, Josef Gingold, Janos Starker, William Primrose, Georgy Sebok, and Menahem Pressler.
Appointed to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's viola section by Sir Georg Solti in 1972, Robert Swan was also Professor of Viola at Northwestern University from 1972-1980. He was principal violist of Chicago's Music of the Baroque, Ars Viva! Orchestra, a founding member of the Evanston Chamber Ensemble, a member of the Eckstein String Quartet, and has been a guest artist with the Fine Arts Quartet, the Vermeer Quartet, and the Chicago Chamber Musicians. He also worked many hours in the recording studios in Chicago playing music as diverse as Pizza Hut and McDonalds commercials to the Mannheim Steamroller and the Smashing Pumpkins albums.
Bob loves fly fishing, bird hunting over pointing dogs, golf, chess and red wine which is why his chess is only adequate to mediocre. He recently retired from the CSO.