Two Beethoven quartets: one that looks backward and one that looks forward.
The Op. 18 set of six quartets (following Haydn’s model) published in 1801, is Beethoven’s first attempt at writing for the medium. They show, as well as an early mastery of the ensemble, a considerable diversity. At one moment there’s the young proto-Romantic genius straining at the constraints of his predecessors and the next, as in this quartet (the second in the series in G), he’s all the curtseys, bows, flounces and politesse of an idealised 18th century nobility!
What a difference nine years can make! There’s nothing of politesse in the short, enigmatic Quartetto Serioso, Op. 95 in f (1810). Even its composer considered it a bit too much for the average listener, writing that it was “written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public”.
Fortunately for us, most quartets have ignored the composer’s instructions: