The Quartet in A minor, op 132, by Ludwig van Beethoven, was written in 1825, given its public premiere on November 6 of that year by the Schuppanzigh Quartet and was dedicated to Count Nicolai Galitzin, as were op. 127 and op. 130. The number traditionally assigned to it is based on the order of its publication; it is actually the thirteenth quartet in order of composition.
The five movements of the quartet are:
Assai sostenuto — Allegro
- Allegro ma non tanto
- Molto Adagio — Andante — Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart. Molto adagio — Neue Kraft fühlend. Andante — Molto adagio — Andante–Molto adagio. Mit innigster Empfindung
Alla Marcia, assai vivace (attacca)
Allegro appassionato — Presto
Formal analysis of movements
Movement I (Allegro)
The slow introduction to the first movement, like that of the fourteenth quartet, is based on a motif that recurs throughout the late quartets and in the Grosse Fuge as well, the half step. The movement's unusual structure was described by Roger Sessions as more of a triple exposition than a normal sonata form in his classes. With three statements of exposition material (including recap), it mimics the repeat seen in classical sonata form expositions, but adds the extra interest of a presentation in a different key and different registral possibilities.
This movement is in a very modified sonata form.
Exposition #1 (mm. 1–74)
1st tonal area, am (mm. 1–29)
2nd tonal area, FM (mm. 48–58)
Closing (mm. 59–74)
Note: There is no repeat.
Pseudo Development (mm. 75–102) Understanding where we will eventually arrive (not at the recap), we can call this section transitional material, even though some motives are developed.
Exposition #2 (mm. 103–192) This is almost exactly the same as the first exposition, except transposed into E minor, with C Major as the second tonal area.
Recapitulation (mm. 193–231) A shorter version of the original exposition, but at least it's in the right key!
Coda (mm. 232-end) With a strong pedal E (V) using the violin I's piercing open E string leading into the final cadence at measure 264. With Beethoven's knowledge of string instruments, he may have even chosen the key of A minor for that specific technique.
Movement II (Allegro ma non tanto)
The second movement is a minuet with trio, rather than the scherzo with repeated trio that Beethoven used most often in his works starting with the Eroica. The trio evokes a musette with its melodies over sustained tonic (here, A) tones.
To begin this movement (Listen) Beethoven exposes the fourth in a three note gesture (G♯ - A - C♯) four times, with all instruments playing in unison. In measure 5 this motive is combined with an inverted variation (outlining a descending fifth) in mixed rhythm.
Opening of the second movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in A-Minor op. 132
Movement III (Molto Adagio; Andante)
The third movement (15 to 20 minutes in duration) is the longest in the quartet. Formally described, it alternates slow sections in a modal F with faster sections, "Neue Kraft fühlend" (with renewed strength), in D. The slow sections each have two elements, (1) a passage reminiscent of the opening of the first movement in which the instruments overlap each other with a brief motive; (2) a chorale, the actual song. In the three instances of the slow section, the overlapping motives become increasingly complex rhythmically, while the chorale is pared down, and the two elements become increasingly integrated. There is a characteristic intensification of the head-motif toward the end of the movement.
Beethoven wrote this piece after recovering from a serious illness which he had feared was fatal. He thus headed the movement with the words, "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode).
Movement IV (Alla marcia, assai vivace)
This brief (2-minute) march in A major leads directly into the rondo-finale through a recitative-like passage.
Movement V (Allegro appassionato; Presto)
FORM: Sonata Rondo
A B A C A B A
One finds in Beethoven's sketches that the theme like that of the theme of this rondo was originally meant for an instrumental conclusion to his Ninth Symphony. This theme was abandoned, for the famous choral ending we are familiar with. This A minor rondo ends in A major.
Some credit this quartet as T. S. Eliot's impetus to write the Four Quartets; certainly he was recorded in a letter to Stephen Spender as having a copy of the A minor quartet on the gramophone: ' I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.'
Sessions, Roger. The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958. Paperback.