Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies


Among the different sketch typologies in Beethoven’s hand, the so-called “telescoped drafts” are the most eloquent in conveying the composer’s vision and intentions. In these synoptic diagrams made up of musical ideas and notes in writing, Beethoven outlined the structure of the work he had in mind, fixing the decisive points (themes, keys, tempo markings, number and configuration of movements). Four movement plans are extant for the String Quartet Op. 127 in E-flat major, sketched between February 1823 and the summer of 1824; in each, the composer explores alternative ways of managing musical form and content.

This article discusses and analyzes this material, some of which is new. For example, the Adagio in E major, which in the original project was to precede the quartet’s Finale, and a sketch of a march-like movement, which was to become the Scherzo. There are also some initial ideas for a second quartet in F minor, in which latent traces can be seen of what was to become the Quartet Op. 132. The different stages of compositional genesis are examined from a perspective that aims to contextualize the composer’s choices in historical-critical terms. The self-reflexive tendencies of the “telescoped drafts” provide a backstage view of artistic creation, showing how it arises and develops in dialogue with its models. To envision the new quartet commissioned by Prince Galitzin, Beethoven looked back to the chamber works of his early Viennese years and to what he learned from Haydn, including an amused homage to “galant” dance music. From this perspective, the original second movement of Op. 127 is telling: an Allegro grazioso in C-major called La gaieté, whose title for the first time is traced to the country dance collections of the mid-eighteenth century. Ultimately, the study of these sketches suggests a less “austere” reading of Beethoven’s late style. It sees the composer as anything but alienated or out of touch, but rather eager to re-establish contact with the roots of the so-called Viennese classicism.

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