A new reading of the finale of Beethoven's String Quartet in C# Minor, op. 131, taking as point of departure the theme in "doublet" form introduced in mm. 22-29. This theme recalls (or retrieves) the fugue subject of the first movement in peculiar ways, analyzed here in perhaps painstaking detail. Over the course of the movement the peculiarities dissipate; the theme recurs in different forms until, in a beautiful passage near the end, it seems less uncanny than reconciliatory, an authentic return at the end of the quartet to the ethos of the great fugue that began it. Meanwhile as the doublet theme develops and grows more expressive, the finale's "heroic" first theme decays. Yet the finale is the only movement in op. 131 to follow sonata-like procedures, strikingly evocative of the "Burnham canon" of middle-period works. Sonata-form narrative is undercut here by a counter-narrative tracing the transformations of the doublet theme, suggesting an overall cyclic rather than teleological dynamic. For Adorno, critique of the heroic ideal was at the heart of Beethoven's late style. Although Adorno did not think so, critique is more explicit in the finale of op. 131 than in many other late works, it is suggested, and more vivid, because the heroic accents of the symphonic style are evoked so deliberately within the movement itself.
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Joseph Kerman; Beethoven's Opus 131 and the Uncanny. 19th-Century Music 1 November 2001; 25 (2-3): 155–164. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2001.25.2-3.155
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