The String Quartet No. 14 in C♯ minor, Op. 131, by Ludwig van Beethoven was completed in 1826. (The number traditionally assigned to it is based on the order of its publication; it is actually his fifteenth quartet by order of composition.) About 40 minutes in length, it consists of seven movements to be played without a break, as follows:
- Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
- Allegro molto vivace
- Allegro moderato
- Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile — Più mosso — Andante moderato e lusinghiero — Adagio — Allegretto — Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice — Allegretto
- Adagio quasi un poco andante
This work, which is dedicated to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim, was Beethoven's favourite from the late quartets. He is quoted as remarking to a friend: "thank God there is less lack of imagination than ever before". The work was dedicated to von Stutterheim as a gesture of gratitude for taking his nephew, Karl, into the army after a failed suicide attempt in 1826. Together with the quartets op. 130 and 132, it goes beyond anything Beethoven had previously written. (Op. 131 is the conclusion of that trio of great works, written in the order 132, 130 with the Grosse Fugue ending, 131; they may be profitably listened to and studied in that sequence.) It is said that upon listening to a performance of this quartet, Schubert remarked, "After this, what is left for us to write?". The op. 131 quartet is a monumental feat of integration. Beethoven composes the quartet in six distinct key areas, closing the quartet again in C♯ major, with a Picardy third on the final chord. The Finale directly quotes the opening fugue theme in the first movement, prompting Joseph Kerman to note it as a "blatant functional reference to the theme of another movement: this never happens."
Summary of Movements
1. Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo An intense, poignant fugue, based on the following subject:
Richard Wagner said of this movement: "the very slow introductory Adagio reveals the most melancholy sentiment ever expressed in music".
2. Allegro molto vivace A delicate dance in 6/8 time in the key of D Major, in compact sonata form based on the following folklike theme:
3. Allegro moderato In the spirit of recitativo obbligato following the key of B minor; the modulation from B minor to E Major functions as a short introduction to:
4. Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile — Più mosso — Andante moderato e lusinghiero — Adagio — Allegretto — Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice — Allegretto This, the central movement of the quartet, is a set of 7 variations (6 Complete & 1 Incomplete with Coda) on the following simple theme in A Major:
This movement is the apotheosis of the 'Grand Variation' form from Beethoven's late period.
5. Presto In E Major, this is a brilliant Scherzo (though in duple rather than triple time), is based on the following simple idea:
6. Adagio quasi un poco andante In G# minor, 28 Measures in the form ABB with a Coda; this is a slow, somber introduction to:
7. Allegro The finale is in sonata form and returns to the home key of C# minor. The first subject has two main ideas:
The violent rhythm in this subject is contrasted with the soaring, lyrical second theme:
Robert Winter, who has since co-edited the Beethoven Quartet Companion (ISBN 0-520-08211-7, 1994, University of California Press Berkeley), wrote in 1982 the Compositional origins of Beethoven’s opus 131 (ISBN 0-8357-1289-3), published by UMI Research Press in Ann Arbor. The author is an authority on Beethoven's sketches, and the latter book specifically reprints the early version of the opening of the concluding Allegro movement, in its present version a pair of unison phrases. Either book – the more recent may also be more available – should contain interesting information on Beethoven's quartet writing. The middle section of the Companion comprises extensive analyses of the quartets themselves by the musicologist / annotator Michael Steinberg.
TV and movie appearances
The sixth movement of this piece was used in the ninth episode of the Band of Brothers miniseries, "Why We Fight." A spooked-up rendition of the first movement's opening bars appears repeatedly in the soundtrack to the horror movie Scanners. The second movement is featured early in the movie "I Heart Huckabees" and is erroneously cited in the credits as "Op. 151." The music is also used at the end of the film "Welcome To Sarajevo".