Thu 17 May 2018
6:30pm | €12/10
Thu 17 May 2018
6:30pm | €12/10

RTÉ Contempo Quartet – Beethoven Music for a Later Age

Elaine Agnew Ready, Steady, Go!

Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 133, ‘Grosse Fugue’

Beethoven String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131 in C-sharp minor

Beethoven’s late Quartets set the standard for the string quartets that followed them. The Grosse Fugue and Op. 131 Quartet are works of spiritual dimensions, intensely felt and profoundly moving. Andrew Hamilton’s new RTÉ-commissioned work offers a contemporary commentary on Beethoven’s legacy.

Beethoven’s late Quartets reached an unparallelled peak of inspiration. Couched in music of daunting complexity, they seem pregnant with ideas and emotions and communicate with compelling directness, their every utterance movingly profound.

Originally the finale to his Op. 131 Quartet, the Grosse Fugue is a granitic, gnarly and gnomic creation. It confounded public and pundits alike – who considered it provocatively modern – at its 1826 premiere.

Moving from abject despair to elated joyfulness, the seven-movement Fourteen Quartet (Op. 131) plumbs the darkest depths and reaches sublime heights in music of intense introspection.

On hearing it, Schubert asked: ‘After this, what is left for us to write?’ With a reputation for creating music that ‘lingers in the mind with earworm-like tenacity’ (Irish Times), Andrew Hamilton’s new RTÉ-commissioned work provides one answer…

Beethoven’s sixteen quartets and the Grosse Fugue still stand today as some of the most extraordinary and innovative music ever composed. Written over a span of thirty years in roughly three blocks, Beethoven took the form, perfected by “Papa Haydn” and developed further by Mozart , completely revising and transforming it.

Nos. 1-6, written when he was in his late twenties were early explorations into the form and although lighter than many of the later works there is always a dark side too. The Middle Quartets have at their core the three Razumovskys, commissioned by Count (later Prince) Razumovsky which included Russian themes. Already aware of his deafness, he wrote on one of the sketches:

“Make no secret of your deafness, not even in art!”

The five Late Quartets and Grosse Fugue undoubtedly represent the ultimate in quartet writing, the very best of Beethoven’s genius, described by him to his musicians as:

“music not for you, but for a later age”

Ten Irish works complement each of the nine programmes, with works dating from 1934 to the present day, including three new RTÉ commissions.


The RTÉ Contempo Quartet is one of the most exciting and vibrant chamber ensembles performing today. The members studied together in Bucharest, formed a quartet in 1995 and were appointed as Galway Music Residency’s Quartet in Residence in 2003 and RTÉ’s Quartet in Residence in May 2014. They have given over 120 performances for RTÉ so far with another 40+ planned for the 2017-18 season.

“Full of telling detail…this was a performance undertaken out of love for the music” (Irish Times, 2016)

In its three previous seasons for RTÉ the Quartet has focused on the core repertoire of Haydn and Bartók in particular, with the complete Beethoven Cycle to perform during 2017-18 including three new commissions by Irish composers. At the heart of every performance is the desire to communicate to its audience both the love of, and delight in the music, and the Quartet has gained many new fans with its fresh and enthusiastic approach to a wide variety of repertoire. They continue in their role as educators with quartet workshop sessions in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin as well as one-to-one teaching in the RIAM and DIT colleges.

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