John Parrette’s fantastic arrangement of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 10 was recorded the same week as Bartók’s Quartet No. 2.
Beethoven's Quartet in E-flat major, Opus 74 was written in the summer and fall of 1809, a difficult time for all the residents of Vienna, which was under attack by the French. In late July, Beethoven complained to his publisher about his inability to compose amidst the noise and chaos of the invasion. However, as is so often the case with composers under duress, Beethoven composed a quartet that completely belies the gloomy circumstances surrounding its composition. Beethoven's Opus 74 is full of hope, warmth and affection.
The quartet opens with a contemplative introduction in the key of E-flat major. The introduction is introspective and pulls quickly towards the sober subdominant, A-flat, the key of the slow second movement. The Allegro that follows the introduction is confident and robust. It immediately displays a similar tendency towards the subdominant. Soon, the harp-like pizzicati for which the quartet received its nickname follow. The development contains a wonderfully exultant C-major treatment of the main theme, and the coda creates one of the most original and powerful passages in quartet writing to date. The first and second clarinets break out into gleaming arpeggios as if suddenly performing a concerto. While the notes fly by, the texture deepens and solidifies beneath the arpeggios. The quartet crescendos to a tremendous level of intensity before the movement ends.
The gentle A-flat Adagio is in the form of a rondo. This movement contains one of Beethoven’s longest and most beautiful melodies. The striking melody appears three times, each time with subtle variations. A more melancholy episode makes an appearance before the next occurrence of the main melody each time. The last portion of the Adagio prominently features the famous pizzicato arpeggios.
The third movement is a very vigorous C-minor Scherzo. Its rhythm suggests the opening statement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The trio of the movement is increasingly riotous, flying by at an even faster tempo than the opening of the movement and in a major key. The similarities with the Fifth Symphony become even more striking when the Scherzo fades into a whispering pianissimo that behaves similarly to the famous bridge into the Fifth Symphony's finale.
The final movement of the quartet is a delightful theme and variations. The variations range in demeanor from pompous to warm and even introspective. The quartet is pushed to its limits in the final variation before Beethoven taunts the listener with the final two notes of the piece. After building to a tremendous climax, the piece falls away into a quaint, nearly mocking ending.