Beethoven à la moujik: Russianness and learned style in the "Razumovsky" String Quartets

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Beethoven's treatments of the Russian folksongs in the " Razumovsky" String Quartets, Op. 59, nos. 1 and 2, have long elicited sharp criticism. A closer look at these treatments allows for a reappraisal of the quartets and the circumstances of their commission. Beethoven's setting of "Ah, Whether It's My Luck, Such Luck" (Opus 59, no. 1/fourth mvt.) juxtaposes folk and learned styles in ways that complicate the traditional relationship between "nature" and "artifice." His quasi-fugal treatment of the famous "Slava" tune (Opus 59, no. 2/third mvt.) engages this relationship from the perspective of self-conscious critique. Both settings recall the "synthetic" approach to art championed by Herder; they also evince a cosmopolitan aesthetic with wider cultural and political implications. The settings seem especially designed to appeal to the quartets' dedicatee, Count Andrey Razumovsky, a European Russian whose intense interest in serious music has been understated. These conclusions are brought to bear on Opus 59, no. 3, the only quartet in the opus lacking a labeled thème russe. Rather than returning to the Lvov-Pratsch Collection (1790/1806) for material, Beethoven appears to have incorporated a Russian folksong from a German source in the Andante's main theme. The movement fulfills in an unexpected way his pledge to weave Russian melodies into all three quartets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-123
Number of pages47
JournalJournal of the American Musicological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music


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