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About this Piece

Beethoven composed the six Op. 18 quartets between 1798 and 1800. He embarked on quartet writing with a sense that it was a major undertaking, and indeed throughout his career these works tend to mark significant changes in his style. The early quartets particularly were a major project for him, and he continued to rework them after giving "completed" versions to friends. In July 1801 he wrote to Karl Amenda, a violinist friend who had moved from Vienna two years before with an earlier version of one of the quartets, asking him to "not lend your quartet to anybody, for I have greatly changed it, having only now learned to write quartets properly, as you will see when you get them."

The fifth of the set owes much to Beethoven's sometime teacher Haydn, in particular its gamboling opening movement. The Minuet is a picture of grace disturbed occasionally by Beethoven's whimsical sense of humor. The main section builds to three loud notes, stops, and starts over as if excusing itself. Accented third beats make the middle section lurch as much as lilt. The third movement is a set of six variations on an elegiac theme. The finale is a sonata-form movement in which the quartet plays catch with a scampering little theme.

- Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner also annotates programs for the Salzburg Festival, among others.