String Quartet in C sharp minor Op. 131
The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour On the Cross
The String Quartet in C sharp minor op. 131, completed in 1826, which Arnold Schering ranked among the “highest manifestations of Beethoven’s genius”, was understood soon after the composer’s death as a portrayal in sound of cosmological conceptions of existence, as “casting an anchor into the timeless, space-less and worry-free afterlife” (Wilhelm von Lenz).
Richard Wagner wrote in an aperçu referring to Goethe’s Faust: “The introductory slower Adagio reveals the most melancholy sentiment ever expressed in music, which I would like to identify with awakening on the morning of the day, ‘in the long course of which not one wish is to be fulfilled, not one!’” Wagner then described the Finale as “the dance of the world itself: […] it flickers like lightning, and thunder rumbles: and above it all the enormous minstrel that drives and holds everything at bay, proudly and safely led by the maelstrom to the vortex, the abyss: […] the night beckons to him: his day is done.”
In this concert the Belcea Quartet juxtaposes the late Beethoven work with Joseph Haydn’s string quartet version of the Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross. This music, composed to texts from the Gospels of Luke, John and Matthew, originated as sacred meditative music, though the composer imagined it performed independently of the liturgy. The text, spoken on this evening by Thomas Quasthoff, is expressed, Haydn wrote, “by purely instrumental music in such a fashion that it produces the deepest impression” in the listener’s soul. Between the individual parts of the work, the composer wrote, there should be “a bit of a break” so that the listener can envision the last words of Christ in silence.