Beethoven's treatments of the Russian folksongs in the “Razumovsky” String Quartets, Op. 59, nos. 1 and 2, have long elicited sharp criticism. A closer look at these treatments allows for a reappraisal of the quartets and the circumstances of their commission. Beethoven's setting of “Ah, Whether It's My Luck, Such Luck” (Opus 59, no. 1/fourth mvt.) juxtaposes folk and learned styles in ways that complicate the traditional relationship between “nature” and “artifice.” His quasi-fugal treatment of the famous “Slava” tune (Opus 59, no. 2/third mvt.) engages this relationship from the perspective of self-conscious critique. Both settings recall the “synthetic” approach to art championed by Herder; they also evince a cosmopolitan aesthetic with wider cultural and political implications. The settings seem especially designed to appeal to the quartets' dedicatee, Count Andrey Razumovsky, a European Russian whose intense interest in serious music has been understated. These conclusions are brought to bear on Opus 59, no. 3, the only quartet in the opus lacking a labeled thème russe. Rather than returning to the Lvov-Pratsch Collection (1790/1806) for material, Beethoven appears to have incorporated a Russian folksong from a German source in the Andante's main theme. The movement fulfills in an unexpected way his pledge to weave Russian melodies into all three quartets.
Beethoven à la moujik:Russianness and Learned Style in the “Razumovsky” String Quartets
Mark Ferraguto is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Pennsylvania State University. A specialist in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century music, he received his PhD in musicology (with a concentration in early keyboard performance) from Cornell University in 2012. He is currently coediting a volume on music and diplomacy from the early modern era to the present.
Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Cornell University Musicology Colloquium Series (December 2010), the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society in San Francisco (November 2011), the Winter Meeting of the AMS New England Chapter in Cambridge, MA (February 2012), and the College of the Holy Cross Music Department Colloquium Series (February 2012). Special thanks go to Lewis Lockwood, Stuart Paul Duncan, Damien Mahiet, and the anonymous readers of this Journal for their helpful input. I am also grateful to Laura Brown, Markus Chmielus, Aleksander Kirillov, Richard Taruskin, and Vladimir Volpert for their advice with translations.
Mark Ferraguto; Beethoven à la moujik:Russianness and Learned Style in the “Razumovsky” String Quartets. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2014; 67 (1): 77–124. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2014.67.1.77
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