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Exercise 5.5

This exercise is about making a piano arrangement of the first 30 bars of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1. The brief specified to include some basic background information regarding the piece, which I will commence this post with.

Beethoven’s Op. 18 is consisted of six string quartets, commissioned for Prince Joseph Lobkowitz and published in 1801. In composing the quartets, Beethoven drew from the legacy of Haydn and Mozart, even copying Haydn’s Op. 20 and Mozart’s 1785 quartets, in order to understand how to write for the medium (11). I found this especially interesting – although he had studied violin in his apprentice years and had played viola in the Bonn orchestra, Beethoven was primarily a pianist who improvised and composed at the keyboard (10), and as such he had to study the genre. Along these lines, it is not surprising that he had heavily revised quartet No. 1, writing to his friend Karl Amenda: “I have greatly changed it, having just learned how to write quartets properly.” In this sense, the quartet is an important evidence of Beethoven’s growth as a musician and composer, showing his mastery over the quartet texture he had recently started exploring.

The first movement, Allegro con brio is in F major in 3/4 follows, opening with a two-bar motif that is boldy stated in unison. The motif permeates the whole movement, overlaid into Beethoven’s rather complex contrapuntal writing. The motif also introduces the organization of two-bar segments in terms of the metrical beat, with the first being strong and the second weak.

My arrangement of the first 30 bars for piano is below:

In my opinion, the first half of this segment was quite easy to arrange. I didn’t have to alter anything in terms of pitches. The articulation also remained mostly the same, except for two instances of dynamic reconsideration at bar 14 and 16 in which I could only retain diminuendo, but not the initial crescendo due to the differing nature of the instruments. While the violin could easily achieve the rising and falling dynamics of a long note in a single sustained bow by altering pressure, this is impossible on the piano due to the percussive nature of keys.

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Posted in Project 2: String Quartets, Uncategorized

Exercise 5.4

The task of this exercise is to analyse the different textures in the second movement of Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 No. 3, known as the ‘Emperor’.

To begin, the movement is structured as theme with four variations. The theme is Haydn’s own hymn God Save Emperor Franz, harmonized in four parts of the string quartet. The texture here is homophonic, with the hymn being played in the first violin.

In the first variation, the theme is situated in the second violin, accompanied by fast arpeggiated first violin with semiquaver notes that contrast the slow notes of the hymn. Personally, the texture here reminds me of the floral organum – the hymn notes are like cantus firmus on top of which the other part provides elaborate floral passages.

Next, the theme is played by the cello in the second variation, on top of which the other three parts add free contrapuntal layers in long notes. This texture is very Renaissance-like, reminding of motets of Palestrina and other composers we looked at in the first part of the unit.

In the third variation, viola plays the hymn, with the other parts entering separately, creating moments of two-part, three-part and finally, four-part contrapuntal texture that often contains canonic echoes. The treatment is again in free counterpoint.

In the final variation, all the voices start at the same time, with the theme brought back to the first violin, this time in the higher register. There is an interesting blend between homophonic and contrapuntal textures, with the distinction almost blurred. What I find especially exhilarating is how approaching the end, the whole melodic structure becomes increasingly chromatic, introducing a new tension before softly resolving into the final cadence.

Overall, I really enjoyed listening to this movement of Haydn’s quartet, which was like a journey to me. I think it’s really special in its construction of textures that honor the previous polyphonic traditions – such as the organum-like first variation and the free Renaissance-like counterpoint found in the other variations. Approaching the final notes, these are blurred into the modern homophony and the chromaticism by which Haydn brings his hymn back into the musical reality of his contemporary era of classicism.