About this work
Composed in late 1810, this work from the end of Beethoven's middle period is unique in his output and indeed in the entire repertoire of chamber music. Within its compact and extraordinarily violent course, it includes harmonic experiments that look far forward into the Romantic era -- its third movement, for example, progresses from the home key of F minor through B minor, the most distant key relationship of all. Yet in the stark conciseness of its angry gestures it is anything but Romantic. The first movement, the shortest one in the entire corpus of the Beethoven quartets, exceeds even the parallel movement of the composer's familiar Symphony No. 5 in concentration. Its main thematic area contains three distinct elements: an abrupt five-note gesture, an ominous silence, and a lurching octave figure. The contemplative second movement, features dense contrapuntal passages that travel through mysterious harmonic shifts. The third movement, which follows the second without pause, returns to the unsettled mood of the opening with thematic material drawn from it, and its middle section is an odd and extremely melancholy march that probably gave the work its title (which is Beethoven's own). Only at the very end of the jittery finale does the mood brighten, and even that brightening seems merely to occur for convention's sake.
Curated by Suzanne van Duuren, Primephonic Curator