Having an acute understanding of the compositional techniques required to compose for the great ensemble of string quartet, Beethoven embarked on the composition of this, the C minor quartet. Thus, though published as the fourth in the series of six, this was actually the last to be written. No doubt this was partially due to the weight of the key being used, for C minor was closely related to Beethoven’s most powerful and personal works. In being the only quartet of the six set in a minor key, there would have been a certain expectation—if only by Beethoven himself—to make a powerful and commanding statement that this would be a punctuation among the whole set. He would have put all his newfound techniques to use to craft what is the most tense of these six quartets.
He begins the quartet briskly and immediately, almost as if the music were in the middle of a rapidly changing idea—or, as if the audience had stumbled upon four learned men in the middle of a deep debate. The instruments seem to give way to the first violin, giving it prominence and space to develop its own idea. But this is only for a short moment before the agreement of the other three come around and support the music as a whole. The effect is rather wonderful, especially when regarding that it all began so tensely. The agreement, too, is quick and satisfying which allows the music to come back to the repeat. On a musical level, the effect can be interesting when given some thought, since it is as if one of the instruments had a profound thought to throw the rest into a fray again and so continue the argument. This effect would have been even greater in Beethoven’s time since repeats were generally adorned with little ornaments to slightly change the themes and make them sound a little different along the second pass; if only this was observed more by modern ensembles! When the development begins, it is clear the tension will be renewed, expanded and accelerated; the cello being quite prominent and powerful. There is a sense of uncertainty that pervades this section, mostly due to the themes and ideas being brought out quite rapidly. One’s ear does not have time to focus on them all, so it seems, yet the whole is stunning, riveting. The recapitulation preserves this very well, because now the music has changed its shape; the instruments bringing in their ideas from the development section and adding them once more to the whole. What an incredibly simple effect! The parts have merged to a sublime whole!
The second movement evinces more liveliness. It too, is brisk and enjoyable. The music is rapid and sprightly, bouncing around from one note to another, which Beethoven keeps up for the whole movement. The minuet proceeds afterwards and it is as one would expect from a minor key Beethoven piece: very passionate and energetic. One could dance to the rhythm but would seem out place to the thoughtfulness of the music being played. Much better to tap one’s foot in response, while letting one’s mind spread itself among the statements being made. The trio is more of what one would expect, it being simple and quite lovely; easily able to dance and flow to what is being heard. However, he does not spend much time along these lines and returns to the minuet before entering the final movement.
In the last movement Beethoven combines the results of the ones before into a conclusion that is moving and lively and lovely. All the instruments seem to have their say as they try to contribute the last of their ideas to a quartet full of them. And this is never more emphasized than in the fast-paced, albeit brief, coda. When finished, there is almost nothing more left to say; the sense of finality in the whole quartet is rather profound, given its relative shortness, and the immensity of the quartets that would follow.
Here then was Beethoven’s only minor key statement among the first of his six quartets. It was an indication of where the composer had arrived, where he came from and what he would ultimately do, condensed into a short span of music that could almost seem insignificant when compared to the late quartets. His ideas were new, profound, emotional, and most importantly, always developing. He would expand on these ideas, almost like his music signatures; elucidate his thoughts and feelings into greater, unimagined heights, as his own would grow accordingly. His expressions were not to be undaunted, nor would he leave them unexpressed. What Beethoven had to say would be more than any composer that had come before him, and still more than many who would come after. He gave the world but an inkling, and still had ever so much more to expatiate.
The unprecedented court decision to attempt to force Apple to develop software that allows the government to bypass its security on iOS devices is nothing short of terrifying.
This decision is profoundly anti-democratic and extremely disingenuous. It is meant to obfuscate the actual purport of the decision itself, and what the government and FBI could possibly (and would likely) do with such unrestrained power. Since the exposure by Edward Snowden of the all-encompassing state apparatus of spying, there has been widespread disillusion with the entire edifice amongst all layers of the population. In addition, there is clearly no restraint as to how far this ignominious spying will go. Cognizant of their own ignorance at cracking Apple’s iOS security measures by brute-force methods, the FBI has—with both hubris and imperiousness—demanded that Apple code new methods by which to bypass these security measures, and thus gain control of a user’s device and, subsequently, their personal information. Naturally, and somewhat predictably, this is to be done under the guise of “fighting terrorism”, but has incredibly frightening implications for everyone.
If Apple were to give in to this stunning lack of any jurisprudence, not to mention blatant disregard for the population as a whole, then they would directly open up the possibility of this new software backdoor being used against all of our devices. This is, of course, in addition to the already intense, and almost inconceivable, level of spying that goes on on a daily basis amongst all of our communications, so bravely and boldly revealed by Snowden. This would be one more intrusive measure employed by the state edifice that they now so frustratingly lack. And this frustration is plain, given the fact that this court order comes with the direct support of the Obama administration.
So anti-democratic are these measures that it is tragicomic to look upon the role technology has had in it all. That’s not to say that technology had the forethought to act of its own will: technology is merely the tool of those that use it, or abuse it, in this case. Computers, including smartphones and other like-devices, have been a near-revolution in their own right, providing people with a device that can profoundly lessen the burden of everyday activities and help us better live our lives. They allow us to communicate, through the Internet, on a global scale with near instantaneous speed; they allow us to share new ideas at the same rate, and store the near limitless wealth of knowledge of humanity—how truly wonderful that is!
Yet, those same devices and networks have been employed against us, and are used on a daily basis to assault the very freedoms that such technology is so inherently capable of! What’s more, Snowden has stated that we are now putting defense of such freedoms into the hands of a corporation like Apple. And, while the immediate response is to support Apple’s decision to fight against the FBI, they (Apple) are not the benevolent corporation that they seem to be. Tim Cook has often stated his complicity in handing over information on the company’s servers whenever the FBI has asked for it in the past, and he has once again reiterated that salient point during these initial proceedings. This complicit behavior can only be assumed to have been going on continuously during the present case, and the injunction becoming public was an unforeseen move in an ongoing course; this is not an isolated case, therefore.
No information is safe; no information can be safe under such a system. A system like ours breeds pandering to the lowest common denominator. And once that low has been reached, everything falls with it, rather than being raised to a new standard. At any time and for any reason, could the government, or police, use these potential backdoors to gain access to that information that is stored privately on your device. This is what happens when the result of spying court decisions are applied: such decisions are never restrained for their intended or ostensible purpose—they are instead used to set a new standard by which such spying can proceed unrestrained. The threat is against us all.
We must, not only as lovers of technology, but fundamentally as free-thinking human beings oppose any attempt to curtail or repeal our democratic freedoms. Any encroachment upon those are tantamount to a breech of the very notions our founding fathers stood for, and for what hundreds of years of human history, and humanity, has fought for.
We see, through the actions of these constituents, that everything they propound is not for protecting democracy, but for destroying it. By supporting these efforts against the retrenchment of our privacy, we thus support our very freedoms. But it does not end there, no; the path ahead will be long and arduous, but well worth it to preserve and enhance the society—along with all our knowledge—that we live in. All of humankind, its culture and its community, has made technological and societal advancements for the betterment of everyone, not for the enrichment of a few, nor for the enslavement of us all.
The third of Beethoven’s quartets was actually the first he composed. It’s a noble first step into the realm so lauded at the time; a beginning to what would become some of the most titanic pieces in the history of Western music, and created by an equally titanic personality. In this regard, Opus 18, No. 3 must seem almost comic by comparison: its liveliness is accompanied by an amiable atmosphere, and these aspects are enough to see that Beethoven was taking slow steps into the genre that laid before him. This must seem odd enough to anyone who listens to these quartets in order of publication, because they appear to become simpler as they go along. But still, the D major quartet has enough tunefulness in it to warrant its place in history amongst his own Opus 18, and alongside that of his forebears.
The first violin begins ever so lightly before being joined by its friends. The feeling is pleasant and respectable and, at the same time, quite relaxing. One must wonder if Beethoven sensed this all beforehand and chose to have this one published third to lighten the mood before the next quartet in the series being a minor key work. It’s enough to speculate on and ponder about, but regardless the effect achieved as a whole is compelling. After the exposition repeats, the development begins along the minor line though this does not last very long; the modulations come frequently and Beethoven explores these new ideas one after another—indeed, it is very much like Haydn. Yet, as mentioned about the other quartets thus far, the way Beethoven intersperses moments of minor mode is so characteristic of him that his style is already on display. The effect works its wonder.
After that seemingly quick foray of a first movement, the second starts with a lovely theme that is beautifully uplifted by the whole quartet. It’s a genial, thoughtful movement, wonderfully executed, and harmonious. One can picture a beautiful sunny day, the world replete with life, and this music becoming the background for a contemplative peregrination through the countryside. This is Beethoven distilled. He can make you wonder at what you just heard and what he’s going to do next; and then you immediately stop to be taken into this small bit of charming music that seems so simple, yet is so elegant. It’s amazing to think that he would only become better at this as he matured in his technique.
Next arrives the scherzo and it is light and brisk in comparison to the first two movements, or to the similar movements in the other quartets. It can seem out of place for Beethoven, who generally likes to make his scherzi weighted affairs, or at least dissimulating ones. The extremely brief trio almost does this, but its brevity doesn’t give one time to focus on it, and soon the movement is over.
Now Beethoven does something quite unexpected: he throws almost all the weight of the piece into this last movement by sheer volume of musical notions. It’s alluring and rhythmic, while being lyrical at the same time; quite a good analogy for the whole piece, I should say. The first violin begins again and the other instruments respond by giving unrestrained support. It’s upbeat and motive, able to carry along the whole work like none of the other movements were able to do. By doing so, Beethoven is establishing momentum for the rest of the quartets in the series. Knowing that the listener will want more, there is no choice but to proceed along the series and to see what else he has to expound.
Moving the music into various avenues of delight and thought, we have the perfect signature to what is considered the simplest of all the Opus 18 quartets. But, with Beethoven, simple does not mean boring. On the contrary, through careful listening it’s quite easy to hear the excitement that Beethoven must have felt in starting on the first of what he planned to be a brand new and respectable (if not groundbreaking) series of string quartets. This excitement translates to and reflects upon the listener. Thus, one cannot help but be enlightened by what they have just heard, and be eager for more.
No matter the subject or style of the quartet, Beethoven’s Opus 18 is an enriching experience. They reflect a composer on the verge of an imminent breakthrough; a breakthrough that was about to shatter all notions of what Western music could achieve. He was to pay his respects to his forefathers through this set of six of the most endearing quartets of the Classical era. But it was merely the ground on which he would evolve the genre—and all forms of music—forward to new heights, and so revolutionize it, in the end.
During the time of composition, Beethoven was a man of 30 years of age. Having learned so much of life, love and art, he was ready to step out from youth and thus forward into maturity. From such humble beginnings he transformed his art into an almost unfathomable quintessence. But art as a whole was thrust forward into new heights because of the immensity of his skill and character—he himself being born out of immense societal and personal struggles. The world around him was filled with the air of revolution; being sympathetic and wishing for a greater humanity, he had almost no choice but to follow suit. Thus, in his music, as in his person, Beethoven was always a revolutionary.
Moving onward to the next in order of Beethoven’s published quartets, we have the comparatively light-hearted and fleet-footed G major quartet. This is in comparison to the first quartet, which was undoubtedly much more bold and new than compared to this, the G major. This quartet was actually third in order of composition but must’ve been chosen to be published second to contrast with the first. And it does this admirably. Where Opus 18, No. 1 was a piece of almost precocious ensemble writing—at least, there was great uncertainty, if not only by Beethoven himself, of his ability to write for the venerated string quartet—meant to put his own mark on the genre and establish himself as the accepted heir to Haydn and Mozart; Opus 18, No. 2 is a callback to the tradition of those selfsame progenitors. Most assuredly, this piece is most like, and indebted to, his teacher Haydn.
At the time of composition (1798-1800), Haydn had already completed most of his vast number of groundbreaking quartets, having recently finished the Opus 76 quartets in 1797 which contain the Emperor, Sunrise and Fifths quartets, among others. These were, along with the rest of Haydn’s corpus, certainly a major influence on Beethoven’s own quartet writing; and indeed, he studied these works tremendously in order to begin his own.
Opus 18, No. 2 is steeped in this tradition. Almost like a dedication to his lauded teacher, the G major quartet signifies a willingness to pay his respects in a style that Haydn, and Mozart, would have most been familiar with. This quartet has a levity and freshness to it that is welcomed after the journey of his F major quartet previous. One can sense a grounding that Beethoven knew would work well before progressing further along with the works that would follow (although Opus 18, No. 3 is even lighter in character, but more on that in its appropriate article).
It can certainly be speculated that Beethoven was also being purposefully conservative in these compositions, and may have been restraining his own creativity. Political reaction was rife after the tumultuous events of the French Revolution, and Francis II (the Holy Roman Emperor of the time) was extremely suspicious of any Jacobin tendencies or sympathies. His vast network of spies and police in Austria and the Holy Roman Empire were made to combat these tendencies and repress any progressive elements against the monarchy. Knowing his patrons, Beethoven must have seen this and calculated that the Opus 18 quartets should be conservative enough to engender his popularity amongst the more progressive elements of the aristocracy, while intimating just enough of his own ability to be considered as himself, before finally dropping all pretensions and composing in almost exclusively his own manner. If this was the case, it worked very well for him, although Beethoven would despise these methods of obsequiousness towards the most degenerative class in society, not to mention all the court decorum that went along with it.
One thing Beethoven promises, and achieves, is beautiful music regardless of style and form. This, the G major quartet, has plentifully. It starts off with a theme lovingly stated by the first violin which is complimented by the other instruments in the ensemble. Beautiful music-making ensues, with the musical ideas being passed back and forth and supported by every player; not one is left behind to itself: the voices are included and welcomed, and given a sense of importance. This carries onward through the development section where every voice is conversing with each other, the music bouncing around from one to the other and then coming together before the recapitulation as if to say that they have quickly agreed upon this lovely idea and are decidedly stating their resolution. So well done! And, what’s more, Beethoven adds a weight of disproportion to the movement by returning to the main theme both too soon and in the wrong key. This is a great effect which easily owes a debt to the great Haydn; yet Beethoven adds his own signature throughout it all by little moments of uncertainty and tension, which he also does pervasively during the movement, as well.
The adagio is simple, yet beautiful. However, Beethoven inserts an almost scherzo-like section where the instruments have a bit of play time to themselves. It’s a rather refreshing part in among the lovely theme of the adagio, made almost to brighten up the mood and present a little bit of liveliness. Then the newfound quick pace subsides and the cello brilliantly comes in with the first theme again. It’s a wonderful effect that is charming in its execution, and gorgeous in its outcome.
Now comes the true scherzo which is both cheerful and driving. It simultaneously fulfills the feeling that something was left over from the movement previous and that there is a gap where a real scherzo need be. Beethoven has done this all almost unconsciously by setting precedence while making sure to delay each resolution to those statements. Then comes the trio section with its light and sprightly feeling before returning to the scherzo itself; but he does so with a bit of uncertainty as there is a brief section in the transition that isn’t sure if it wants to begin the scherzo again or just end the movement altogether. Little parts like this are what makes a Beethoven composition so recognizable compared to his great contemporaries and predecessors.
The last movement concludes the whole quartet wonderfully. The pace is usually brisk, the ideas flowing and the music engaging. Very reminiscent of Haydn again, and the Viennese tradition as a whole; mercurial and captivating, Beethoven must end it all on a high-note. All the instruments come together one last time, almost reminding one of their similar conclusion in the first movement. But it is very exciting, and thus ends his second published quartet.
As mentioned before, the debt owed to Haydn is tremendous. Listen to any of his later quartets and one can very easily hear the beginnings of Beethoven. And so does Beethoven take those ideas passed along to him by his great master and expatiate them through each of his compositions and, as this series is about, his venerable quartets. Beethoven takes the mercurial changes of Mozart, and couches it in the rapid exchange of ideas, and the endless wit and humor of Haydn. By doing so he creates an even greater style that was so typical of him because he added all of his personality, emotions and, most of all, his world, to his nascent technique. Beethoven would expertly perfect this until, realizing that he had an endless amount more to express, needed to evolve that foundation into exponentially greater forms, and overwhelming heights. His own life, and the explosive world of 18th and 19th century Europe, needed new edifices on which to express the many progressive and contradictory elements that existed. But what came of this was music born completely out of that era, yet powerful and transcendent enough for all time.
Information. To be able to access facts and data at an extreme speed is what our modern reality is all about. Efficiency is measured in the littlest detail, and the minutest change can bring huge gains in that efficiency and our perception of it. Thus our perception of how quickly we can come to information about our world around us is something that can be extremely useful when properly utilized. That is to say, to eliminate the trivialities behind it, and to make it simple and effective for people to get the data they want at the quickest speed possible. This is where the world of augmented reality now lies.
Being so new, it is hard to truly evaluate the situation since it can go in so many directions; and that’s why AR is on the cusp of one direction or another.
There is a tendency, as of now, to lose sight of the fundamental goal of AR, which is to augment our world. Instead we currently find another piece of technology to distract us from it—to decrease our perception of it.
I think the best use of such technology would be to present data upfront to the user with almost no interaction from them. For example, imagine the power of a vehicle equipped with a HUD that could display information on the street or city you’re driving in. Imagine it being able to list places of interest nearby. And, when you get to a business, for example, it would provide information of all sorts on it. Perhaps this isn’t what is now considered to be AR, but it’s more in line with the sort of proactive providing of data that is becoming prevalent nowadays.
Even in the form of an app can this concept be extremely useful. Using the previous example, one might hold up a phone’s camera and the app would be able to tell, there and then, the information on the place of interest. Whether that be location, sales, products, or anything else of that matter, it would all be useful in someway without the user having to dig through several apps or screens of information, while not knowing what to search for specifically. Let the app or device do the work and let the user focus on what they want. This, of course, requires excellent sources of data, as well as engineering, but we are not in short supply of such.
Imagine there being ways to help hearing-impaired individuals with further augmented vision that would alert them to sounds around them. These are the types of circumstances where AR would be a benefit. But it must be universal in order for it to take effect and make a difference. It cannot pander to the technologically inclined or else it will be a joke in and of itself. I believe this to be the failure of Google Glass, so far. An advanced technology was presented in a half-hearted way that people thought ridiculous, and it made them unwilling to try it. In addition, there were no benefits to the device for the incredibly high price. Making simple phone calls, reading messages, or recording video were not at all compelling enough to replace one’s phone. In a way, it just wasn’t ambitious enough. This is potentially very powerful technology that should have some imagination to it.
Perhaps this is the detrimental state of our current technology, or rather, our use of such technology. And this seems an awful lot like the IoT fiasco: it is more a product of marketing than of genuine usefulness. If that is so, we will see AR fail time and again—and certainly it will remain in the realm of triviality; relegated to pointless apps and devices that serve no real purpose and are not the least innovative.
This is a shame because there are ways to make this technology highly useful but, again, it requires some imaginative thinking to truly exploit it; a marketing team will never get further than what has already been created. We need thinkers on the same plane as science-fiction writers. Where are the designs and ideas like that of Star Trek? What a perfect place to start; so much of it is untapped. And yet, a lot of that technology is currently in our hands. We are so far advanced and so far behind, that is the great contradiction of our modern reality. So what else was there to expect from a brand new concept such as augmented reality than to have many contradictions in itself? The short-sightedness of the current utilization of it will vanish with time. That I am sure of. We will see much greater ideas come to fruition, and the unctuous marketing-speak of advertising will give way to devices and applications that are sure to enhance our lives.
Most of all, the integration into our current paradigms—not to mention, our lives—is there, but it just needs to be realized. Furthermore, AR must provide real value to people, it must truly augment our lives. Through genuine help and ease-of-use will this come to pass. Unfortunately, mere distractions have won out for the time being, no matter how small the user base may seem. This is what makes it superfluous, at the moment. If none of these things can be done then AR is dead upon arrival; it will need to be thrown away and forgotten, and better ideas will come from it.
With the release of the iPad Pro, Apple has drawn a clear line between its iOS powered products, and those ran by OS X. By doing so, and by making this focus equally clear to its customers, they are paving the way to a future where iOS and its paradigms are to be the forefront for users’s experiences everywhere. Through integration of both efficient, powerful and purposeful hardware, with specifically tailored software, they are showing that these factors—and the experience that comes with them—will be enough to meet the needs of the vast majority of users.
What’s more exciting is the subtlety by which Apple is achieving this: despite there being a demarcation between OS X and iOS devices, they are at the same time blending the experience of the two (and the experience of computer use, in general) into a situation where one type of device will clearly dominate the way we will all use our computers. It is no longer necessary for an individual to have a traditional computer (laptop/desktop) in order to possess oneself of the ability to write and read emails and documents, browse the web, listen to music, watch movies, and the other general purpose uses we use computers for. With the iPad Pro, there is beginning to be an added distinction of finally being able to truly create on a tablet using a powerful, purpose-built, tablet operating system. The iPad Pro not only provides the tools, through software, of being able to do this, but the hardware is now within reach of desktop level performance; and this is the key factor in the whole thing. With this sort of power in such an energy efficient design, there is no holding back how far it will go.
That Apple has come this far, in terms of chip design, in so short a period of time is nothing short of astounding. To be able to design CPUs that are within an earshot in performance of Intel’s x86 chips, is equally astounding. This fact cannot be overstated enough. It’s truly remarkable what Apple has been able to create over the past three to four years. For a fraction of the power draw compared to x86 CPUs, and being passively cooled, Apple’s ARM based chips are simply incredible. That they are now so pervasive so soon, is also remarkable. There are bound to be many circumstances where this growth is to continue without diminishing an iota. ARM is so prevalent in mobile, and mobile is so clearly the future of computing, that it is almost a foregone conclusion that ARM is where CPU manufacturing will head, and dominate.
It’s simply a much more efficient architecture. There is no legacy cruft to clear away, like x86. There are no instructions to translate into the new architecture; ARM can run its native code with little overhead, so speed and efficiency is paramount. Now, with all this power available, developers must take advantage of it and write programs that compare, and outdo, traditional desktop applications. There is nothing, hypothetically, that these new devices couldn’t run, in terms of computing power. It’s all there waiting to be exploited. What’s more intriguing is the fact that iOS developers traditionally jump at the opportunities available to them to exploit new hardware and software that Apple provides, and this should be no exception. We should see professional apps start to utilize the new devices on the App Store soon enough; and, we may see what are historically desktop-type apps come to the iPad Pro paradigm. This latter concept is one where most of the potential would be used, and certainly would be the most interesting to behold. The capabilities are now completely there; it is now up to developers to use them.
With touch and mobility, new user experiences are waiting to be created and harnessed to the best use. One must ask if iOS is properly using the new iPad Pro form factor to the best of its ability; I think we can answer that with a yes. iOS 9 is evidently designed with the iPad Pro in mind: its multitasking in particular. How this is done, I believe, is the right decision. For it can be said that multiple layering of windows on screens of this size is not the most efficient, nor the most easiest, to do. Must it be so in order to be considered ‘professional’? I think this is missing the point of these devices. Splitting applications and tiling their views is far more efficient, intuitive, and easier than manipulating overlapping windows on a small screen. Not to mention, that this is a far better use of screen space allowing one to focus much more at the task at hand. With iOS this feature is built directly into the operating system, to be used from the beginning in the manner most familiar with touch: one’s finger. This then, goes back to the my initial article about Microsoft’s use of hybridization in order to get many things done with one device: there is a distinct way of doing things in Windows 10 that run counterintuitive to their purpose. Unfortunately, professional applications here are still bound to the traditional desktop paradigm, and using and manipulating windows are how it is expected to be done. It’s still, essentially, the same old way of working with the device. This is why it will be thrilling to see what iOS developers create that will utilize the hardware and software that the iPad Pro has put out there. There could very soon be new ways of creating things, or, at least, more efficient ways of doing so. It will be, as the other iOS devices before it, an evolution of computer design.
The future is here, now, available to us at this very moment. Yet, the future holds so much surprise and anticipation. The iPad Pro is a statement by Apple of its ability to design compelling products, now, and to show the world what it thinks computing will be for the masses in the future. What it shows is there could very well be a future, but a few short years away, where the iPad completely replaces the laptop for the majority of people. Here, right now, is a device that is incredibly fast, shockingly efficient, and, perhaps most importantly, fun to use. It makes computing easy, yet powerful. And it adheres to one of the fundamental tenets of technology—one that I so firmly believe is foremost among all else—that it helps us and makes our lives easier, and then subsides to the background. By being easy to use it does this very well, perhaps better than anything else out there.
But there is still so much more that can be taken advantage of, and that’s where the anticipation for the future lies. Apple has created one such platform for that future.
The torch passed figuratively from Haydn and Mozart to Beethoven was one of high hopes and daunting expectations. The weight of these expectations, and the sense of his own aspirations, must have impelled Beethoven to compose from the innermost depths of his heart, and his mind. But these were shaped, undoubtedly, by a world of immense change; politically, economically and socially. As mentioned in my introduction to his string quartets, Beethoven held deeply the ideals of the Enlightenment: he loathed the existing social structure and longed for a democratic rule of man. He ardently hoped for all men to unite as brothers for the common good, a fact stressed even unto his old age when he expressed this triumphantly in the 9th symphony. Yet, despite setbacks both personal and societal, he never once succumbed to despair and lost hope; his belief that the world, and men, were good was too strongly held to be shaken by even the most egregious of failures.
In 1798, the year Beethoven began composition of this quartet, his hopes were certainly exceedingly high. He was just beginning to make a name for himself in Vienna. In the course of a few short years he would compose his very popular Septet, the Pathétique sonata, and his First and Second Symphonies. These, combined with the six quartets of the Opus 18 set, would propel Beethoven to the forefront of the successors to Haydn and Mozart. As also mentioned in the introduction, he met Josephine von Brunsvik in 1799 and fell deeply in love with her. Assuming she is the infamous Immortal Beloved (almost indubitably this is so), she must have had an enormous impact on his life; and the longing he felt for her makes itself felt in the tremendously passionate slow movements he would write: this quartet contains, perhaps, the most passionate of them all.
Moreover, the French Revolution was crumbling inwards, and political reaction was taking hold throughout all the monarchies of Europe. Threatened by Napoleon without, and an increasingly agitated population within, they lashed out upon their subjects and curtailed the free-thinking principles that had been so prevalent for so many years beforehand. And indeed, Napoleon and his followers—including the Directory previous—had rescinded the many progressive gains that the French peasantry and sans-culottes had won. It can be a good assumption that Beethoven was aware of this and was frustrated that the revolution was not turning out as he had dreamed; this would be another reason why he reacted so violently to the announcement that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, for he saw nothing more than another tyrant usurping power, and the hopes of an entire world shattered.
This was Beethoven’s life at the time of composition. Assuredly, he was unaware he had begun composing what would become the greatest cycle of music in the entire Western world. Of course, how could he? Even then, however, the greatness of these Opus 18 quartets was just starting to be realized; yet, only posterity truly recognized, and appreciated, the sheer brilliance of them, and their significance. What’s truly fascinating about these six works, and the first one in particular, is just how much Beethoven had learned in order to compose them. They show a truly staggering amount of erudition and maturity, and this should be naturally so as he was on the cusp of turning thirty. But this is more fascinating in the fact that he seemed to learn so much in such a short period of time, and these quartets intimate that more than any other work he composed during the same time. There is so much more beauty and passion here that they foreshadowed all his works to come.
Beethoven starts the quartet off very joyfully; the main theme is full of life and wonder, beauty and hope. This was not the first quartet by order of composition, but Beethoven had chosen it to be the first one published in the set, and one can easily see why right from the beginning. It was a statement to the musical world of Vienna that he felt himself capable of carrying that metaphorical torch from Haydn and Mozart, and to be able to bring their music into a new world, evolved and of his own creativity. Perfectly crafted to do so, the F major quartet evinces this with adroitness.
He manages to take the main theme into all sorts of new places as if he were demonstrating his ability to the world. He does so in a way that isn’t highly technical, but in a way that is emotionally grasping; one that immediately brings the listener’s attention into the piece and allows for the development of their own thoughts along with the music itself. In this way, it invites comparisons to the music of Haydn and Mozart—and then, by doing so, to see the differences between him and his great predecessors. Beethoven also shows all his skill here in writing for a string quartet ensemble. Through the skillful interplay of all four instruments, he develops the music through sparse and quick modulations, bouncing from one idea to another, which lends credence to the playful nature of this first movement. There is utter delight through it all, and this serves to set up the intense contrast that is about to take place between this sense of levity, and the ensuing profundity of the slow movement.
And so, we find ourselves in the realm of Beethoven’s innermost emotions: full of romance, passion and longing. This is the terse summary of the slow movement. Only by listening to it will one be able to truly grasp the deep nature of the music, but I will essay to describe the movement in words.
Marked Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato (Slowly, with emotion and passion), this accurately sums up how one should feel about the movement. It is dark and brooding, and yet, full of ardor. It is, perhaps, the most expressive of all the slow movements in the Opus 18 set; and certainly presages the depth that would come about in his later quartets. It is almost overwhelming. The contrast is stark. He resolves to take you into his closely intimate world, and show you the sadness and longing he has within him.
It is said that Beethoven was inspired by the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet thinks Romeo is dead, and then passionately takes her own life. Undoubtedly, the sorrow and pain of that scene is represented in the music very well. Beethoven himself seems to cry out. This one movement is, arguably, on a greater scale and depth than any of his contemporaries’ works of the time, and this includes Mozart and Haydn. He was already finding a mode of expression that was nearly unbeknownst to all of musical life at the time. It was very probable that no one really knew how to compose music to that great an extent, or that they could plumb such emotional depths that would reveal the enormous magnitude of human thought and feeling. And this one movement was but a precursor of what was to come.
This tremendous movement is also the focal point of the entire quartet: In both length and intensity, it is unequaled by the other movements. The weight is firmly on this one point, as if Beethoven was physically stretching, not only the quartet itself, but the very domain of contemporary music to its limits; as if he was finding that the old ways of structuring music were inadequate to his ideas and emotions, and that he would have to evolve the style to new, unimagined heights to continue to express himself. What wonder and foresight in this one movement!
But it is over, and the scherzo is now upon us. Scherzo means “joke” in Italian and it acts as exactly that: a little interlude to lighten the mood of the whole piece before bringing it nicely into the finale. Indeed, this quartet almost needs it in order to refrain from completely breaking with tradition. Beethoven gives but a preview of what he would accomplish in a few short years with his breakthrough Razumovsky quartets, and he seems to be willing to forbear from moving that far forward just yet. The scherzo is light and entertaining and serves its purpose well; it is charming in its brevity and that’s what appeals the most about it.
Soon we arrive at the finale. Here, Beethoven elects to bring back the mood of the first movement, and this is not a bad thing by any means. He does so in a way that marks the typical hallmarks of his style: state a simple theme, or motif, subject it to very sudden changes of mood, show a sense of power and command by big, powerful notes in the cello, and then reveal moments of great beauty to contrast it all. Beethoven almost wants to threaten the status quo through music, and this he does so with vivacity and precision! Here are, once again, the hopes of the Enlightenment coming through his music. By doing so he brings this, his first published quartet, to a conclusion. What a statement! Music was changed forever.
Beethoven was a titan in Western music; a genius of immense proportions. With a commanding, resolute, fervid personality he was not one to stand idly by, or to be used by his patrons. He declared, through his music, that he would compose in the manner he chose, and no other. He would not follow rules; he broke down old methods and reconstructed them to better suit his emotional world, and the ideas of the world around him; he changed the scope of music in such a way that his contemporaries could hardly keep up. No one, not one, composed as Beethoven did. No one understood the multifaceted nature of humanity in the way Beethoven did. This all comes through in his music. And here, in this first quartet, is but one example of just that—and what an example it is. Anyone wanting to know the man that is Beethoven must first listen to his music, and the F major quartet is a perfect place to start.
Thus begins the most insurmountable cycle of music in history. And it is just a beginning. For Beethoven had so much more to tell the world, and this quartet was a small repartee. It was, assuredly, calculated to gain an interest in what he would further have to say. Having done just that, he would take the world of music by storm; going on a journey that stepped slowly away from his revered predecessors, before he completely left them behind and paved his own path to such a height that no composer would ever reach it.