The history of Beethoven’s late quartets has usually been told by separating (and redeeming) the composer’s aesthetic priorities from the difficulties encountered by the works’ early performers, publishers, and listeners. This article weaves together Beethoven’s interests with those of his publisher Maurice Schlesinger and the violinist Pierre Baillot, whose ensemble first performed the late quartets in Paris between 1827 and 1829. I navigate the traffic among these parties to reassess what was difficult about this music and, on this basis, test new routes to explore early nineteenth-century string quartet culture. One issue these different agents faced—whether in presenting the quartets to the Viennese public (Beethoven), selling them in Paris (Schlesinger), or performing them (Baillot)—was that the late quartets seemed to call for a new kind of ensemble rehearsal. The genre’s proverbial sociability, historically supporting an almost immediate and shared grasp of the performers’ interplay, was compromised in Beethoven’s late quartets by a loss in topicality. The erosion of topical references and familiar textures in these quartets made it harder for performers to predict how to coordinate their moves. Musical topics, I argue, functioned as a means of communication not only with listeners but also among performers within an ensemble. In contrast, the sociability of Beethoven’s late quartets had to be patiently engineered through dedicated rehearsals, a step that distanced this music from past quartet cultures and shaped a new notion of making music together.
Rehearsing the Social: Beethoven’s Late Quartets in Paris, 1825–1829
Fabio Morabito is the Lord Crewe Junior Research Fellow in Music at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, and from fall 2020 assistant professor of musicology at the University of Alberta. Morabito works on music and musical life in the century and a half between the birth of Haydn (1732) and the death of Brahms (1897). His recent and forthcoming publications address issues of canon formation and the origins of celebrity, string quartet culture, and the social history of musical scores. He is at work on a monograph entitled “Making the 19th-Century Composer.” With Nicholas Mathew, he is the principal investigator of the collaborative project “19th-Century Musicians as Annotators” in partnership with the British Library.
- Views Icon Views
- PDF LinkPDF
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Fabio Morabito; Rehearsing the Social: Beethoven’s Late Quartets in Paris, 1825–1829. Journal of Musicology 10 July 2020; 37 (3): 349–382. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.3.349
Download citation file: