NPR Online

Beethoven's String Quartets
with the Orion String Quaret

On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium, PT host Bonnie Grice and the Orion String Quartet take us two centuries back to the monumental collection of Beethoven's sixteen string quartets. The backbone of the quartet repertoire, and arguably Beethoven's most intensely personal contribution, these pieces strike deeply in the hearts of players and listeners alike: their uncompromising difficulty and heart-on-the-sleeve nature drive them to a limitless number of human connections.

The Orion - made of Daniel and Todd Phillips, violins, Steve Tenenbom, viola, and Timothy Eddy, cello - start our exploration with the Op. 18, No.4, in C minor. This is perhaps Beethoven's most emotional choice of keys - the Fifth Symphony, as well as the Violin Sonata No. 7, both turbulent works, are written in it as well. It is an excellent introduction to the oeuvre, specifically because it is an early and, simultaneously, an experimental one, full of the angst one expects from a young composer but also polished in a masterful manner.

Performed next is the slow movement from the Quartet Op. 74 in E Flat: an introspective journey into dark emotions Beethoven might never have chosen to articulate in the spoken form - a hint of the alienation a great composer must have felt as he lost his hearing, his window to the world. This piece runs the gamut of textural harmony on the threshold of Romanticism: instrumental combinations (and, mind you, there are only four voices) combine with feelings that blow open the sonic palette.

An example of Beethoven's late period, and one of his truly last personal statements, the Op. 130 is played to demonstrate the dissonance, rhythmic departures, and inward direction with which he struggled. The Cavatina movement is the crux of this; Beethoven said of it himself that, "When I think of the Cavatina, it still brings a tear to my eye." These sound utterances come off almost otherworldly and bring listeners directly into the heart of one of music's most substantive persons and composers.

Listen to the Quartet play and discuss the nature of these treasured works with PT host Bonnie Grice.

In conjunction with Performance Today's Milestones of the Millennium series, a companion CD series is available from Sony Classical™.

back to PT Home Page

This page and all contents are Copyright © 1999 by National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.