a1 Bowdoin College
It has long been recognized that journalistic discourse about the string quartet in early nineteenth-century sources stressed its elevation and seriousness in comparison to other genres, and that the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were described as ‘classical’ very early in the century. Less well known is that the idea of performance is embedded in this discourse – particularly around the question of the group dynamics of ensemble performance. The tendency to blur the roles of the parts and the roles of the players are evidence of this, as is the discussion of the relation between first-violin-centricity and the ideal of free and equal contribution by all four parts/players in ‘true’ or ‘classical’ works. This ideal, I argue, is distinct from the longstanding metaphor of ‘conversation’ to describe the relations of the parts. The first part of this article explores these broad topics. The second part of the article focuses on a single measure in the slow movement of Beethoven's op. 59 no. 2 and argues that in various ways it raises and thus exemplifies the issues of the distribution of power, of musical initiative or the ‘genius of performance’, and ultimately of differing subjectivities in the early nineteenth-century notion of the quartet.
Mary Hunter is A. Leroy Greason Professor of Music at Bowdoin College. She is the author of The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna, (Princeton University Press, 1999), and Mozart's Operas: A Companion (Yale University Press, 2008). She has written articles on eighteenth-century opera, Mozart, the chamber music of Haydn, and the idea of the performer in Romantic aesthetics in essay collections and in such journals as Cambridge Opera Journal and the Journal of the American Musicological Society. She is currently engaged in a project on the ideology of performance in the culture of classical music.
1 Wiener allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf den österreichischen Kaiserstaat (AMÖ) 8/12 (27 Mar. 1824): 45.