The introverted and personal quality of Beethoven's late style is evident
in this string quartet, written the year before the composer's death. At
this stage in Beethoven's life, he was composing more for himself than for
an audience, for he no longer felt it necessary to prove himself to his
public. Despite the popular belief that Beethoven (at that time) was
indifferent to the sound of his music because of his deafness, his
sketchbooks show that he rewrote the last four bars of the variations of
the quartet 12 times. It is the music of a man who has experienced life.
The composer thought that this was his greatest string quartet.
A traditional string quartet consists of two violins, one viola and one
cello, and is usually in four movements; the String Quartet in C sharp
minor contains seven movements, played without a pause.
Leonard Bernstein said: "The C sharp minor Quartet seems to cry out for
the whole string section." In this performance, the work is played by an
orchestra of 60 strings.
This recording is part of Leonard Bernstein's Beethoven cycle, recorded
primarily with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the early 1980s.
Writing in The New York Times, critic John J. O'Connor stated:
"As Mr. Bernstein says, there is 'no single body of work in the universe of
orchestral music that is in any way comparable to this one.' Conducted with
intense dedication and soaring spirits by Mr. Bernstein, these recordings
are superb, both visually and aurally."