Beethoven String Quartet in B flat, Op.130
V: Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
At the risk of causing roitous debate, we will go ahead and say that this Cavatina is perhaps the greatest movement of chamber music ever written. "Few movements," writes musical scholar Joseph de Marliave, "defy analysis and comment so completely, but its unity of inspiration and incomparable emotional vitality make it within the grasp of every listener from the first hearing." It has made its way to the top of every professional quartet's repertoire. There is even a recording of it onboard the Voyager spacecraft, which has now passed out of our solar system. Beethoven himself singled it out as the crowning acheivement of his chamber output and of his entire late period (this includes the Missa Solemnis, the 9th Symphony, and all the late quartets).
So what makes it so great? That is hard to put a finger on, but its emotional impact is unmistakable. The deep pain heard within the music seems to stand out even more when heard in contrast against the other movements of this "happy" quartet. It is an agonized cry for relief, for happiness and peace that would not come.
There really is no melody here; the movement is a continuous
stream of unbroken song. Each phrase is seamlessly woven into the
next, creating an endless melody (several decades before Richard Wagner used the technique in
his music dramas). The already sorrowful and bitter music is broken
by the entrance of the second principal theme, where
Beethoven has written the expression mark Beklemmt, meaning
"anguished". In the words of Marliave, "the music here reaches an
intensity of feeling that transcends all the agony of grief, all
the depths of anguish that human grief could experience." The first
theme returns, bringing with it almost a sense of relief, as the
music dies away in silence.
Hear this Movement
Recorded: in the TJHSST Auditorium on August 5, 1999
Violins: Justin Chen, 1st; Emily Schelstrate, 2nd;
Viola: Sean Hardesty;
Cello: Sarah Poulsen;
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