This music inhabits a place in history in which perhaps the biggest paradigm shift took place. We could even argue that without these works this shift would never have taken us where we are today. Having only been established by Haydn at the end of the 18th century, through Beethoven the genre of string quartet suddenly outgrew its "cosy" aristocratic origins and was catapulted into the nineteenth century's Romantic era and much further beyond...What began as a form of sophisticated entertainment (divertissement) for the privileged few, through Beethoven's quartets alone became the centre stage for a composer’s most personal musical quest. We all remember the first time we heard Beethoven's Grosse Fugue! Can our shock, awe and disbelief be compared to the reaction we have to much else in music, including to what is being written nowadays...?

Already his early quartets, despite owing their style to the Classical Viennese tradition, give us hints of what was to come, with there sudden changes of mood and character and their occasionally violent outbursts of drama. The middle quartets are perhaps the crowning of a process in which Beethoven found his very own voice. They are  rich, virtuosic and profound. Finally come the late quartets, each one inhabiting a world of its own. They hark back to the Gregorian Chant, Palestrina and look ahead to Stravinsky, Bartok and beyond.

There is no end to exploration of Beethoven's riches for us as performers and yet what is most compelling for us is that his music speaks so directly to us as human beings. What seems to be the predominant impulse driving this music is man’s yearning for freedom, the unquenchable desire to expand his limits and to learn the truth about himself in this process. Beethoven inspires us as performers to take up this challenge. He also accompanies us in our own quest through our lives.

 

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