String Quartet No.2

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet No.2 in G major

Op. 18/2 • “Compliments”

About this work

Beethoven wrote his Op. 18, No. 2 string quartet in G major between the years of 1798-1800. Although this piece is numbered as second in the Op. 18 set, it is generally believed to be the third in Beethoven's chronological order of composition. He put off writing in the quartet form for a long time in his compositional life, and numerous sketches and revisions show that it was not an easy task for the young composer.

The second quartet, like all the others in the Op. 18 set, is comprised of four movements. It has earned the nickname "Compliments" because it is so polite and graceful in nature. The first movement is an Allegro that opens with a charming violin melody that leads to a quick cadence. Overall, this movement is pleasant, has many points of resolution (predictable cadences), and simple phrase structures. The melody, usually in the violin, is a combination of sweet lyric phrases and bright, playful fragments. During the lyrical parts the accompaniment is light and playful. It is easy to hear the influence of Haydn in the way Beethoven reuses and builds upon the opening melodic material throughout the movement. Even while heavily influenced by Haydn's compositional methods, however, Beethoven adds his own delightful musical invention.

Adagio cantabile marks the character of the second movement, which begins with a melody that is sweet but also formal, almost courtly in nature. What makes this movement highly unusual is the subsequent Allegro section that boisterously interrupts halfway through. The allegro is as brief as it is unexpected, and the movement ends with the same adagio feel in which it began.

The third movement is, predictably, a light and playful Scherzo that dances along with the good nature of any Scherzo. Unlike many of Beethoven's other Scherzos, however, this one does not contain any of the musical surprises that often bring a humorous or boisterous feel to the movement. It is, instead, lively but very polite in character.

The final movement is an Allegro with a Quasi Presto marking. It is quite energetic and quick from the start and, similarly to the first movement, the opening motif returns and is developed in many inventive ways. Most of the melodic motion is scalar, though it is combined with short lyrical melodies. The close of the movement is exuberant and in keeping with the good nature of the piece.