This work was completed between April and June of 1996, although the Scherzo
had been written in 1993 and the Finale had been hanging around for almost as
long, trying to hold out for being implemented as a quintet or even as an
antiphonal double quartet.
The Quartet as a whole is a response to Beethoven's last five quartets, particularly to their impulsive and obsessive facets.
The first movement begins with a falling fifth, which is soon decorated by a pair of pickups, approaching the upper note from above and the lower from below. Much of the Quartet's material is derived from this motive. Rhythmically, the movement is a study in march rhythms. It contains not a single pair of straight eighth-notes; whenever a quarter is divided, it is into a dotted eighth and a sixteenth.
The Scherzo is tonally and dynamically volatile, touching the tonic (B-flat) as little as possible; its Trio, by contrast, hardly leaves the key.
The slow movement, in F minor, is in ternary form. The first section is couched in rich, grave, slow-moving counterpoint, in which the falling fifth of the first movement becomes a falling sixth. The middle section is a crescendo of dissonance over an obsessive rhythm, and the final section explodes abruptly into a huge climax on B major (the key of the outer movements), turning back to F minor in four huge downward plunges of the falling-sixth motive.
The Finale returns to B major, with a prominent E-sharp in its first theme that struggles throughout to counterbalance a tendency, left over from the end of the first movement, towards the subdominant. The rising pickup from the first movement's motive is sharply emphasized at the end of the first phrase, and it generates the second theme, which is in E. The exposition ends, and its repeat begins, with the opening B major chord, which has become the dominant of E. The same chord opens and closes the second half of the movement, which is also repeated. The outcome of the whole process is to re-establish B, despite the penultimate A-natural that leaves the last motivic word with the rising pickup.
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