Whether or not Schnittke's Fourth ever finds eternity, Beethoven's C-sharp Minor is now, as it ever has been and ever shall be, the greatest, the most sublime, the most transcendent string quartet ever composed. Beethoven's quartet starts with a slow fugue on an unutterably molto espressivo theme and moves through a gracefully rocking Allegro, an insouciant little Allegro Moderato, and a serenely sky-spanning set of molto cantabile variations to a vertiginously virtuosic Presto, pausing for a prayerful Adagio before the final Allegro's relentless ride to the abyss that ends in a series of C-sharp major chords that refuse the consolations of either pity or despair.
Like Schnittke's Fourth, like any real classical quartet, Beethoven's C-sharp minor isn't pretty. How could it be?
[Originally published in March, 2003.]