String Quartet in B Minor for Richard Ford (Pencarrow Quartet), gardi 16 (mp3)
Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Author: Mark S. Zimmer
In 1817, Beethoven was working on some small fugal movements to be an added item of interest for a contemplated set of collected works. This resulted in the quintet fugue op. 137, and also in this recently discovered manuscript. Beethoven wrote down this brief Allegretto for a visitor from England, Richard Ford, and apparently left no other trace of its existence until it made news when it surfaced at auction in 2000. Only 22 measures in length, it is nonetheless an interesting little composition that fell completely off the radar for over 180 years. It has since its rediscovery become popularly known as the "Pencarrow Quartet," after the Pencarrow House in Cornwall, where it was found in 1999.
Ford wrote on the manuscript, "this quartette was composed for me in my presence by Ludwig v. Beethoven at Vienna Friday 28th November 1817”. A facsimile edition was produced by Corona Nova in Munich, but unfortunately is now out of print. A copy of the opening bars of the manuscript is visible for the curious at Old Manuscripts & Incunabula.
This brief quartet in B minor has extremely close ties to several fugal works. The relationship is clarified by Ford's convenient dating of the autograph as Friday, 28 November of 1817. That year was the date of the composition of the Fugue for String Quintet, op. 137, for the projected Complete Works to be published by Beethoven's friend Tobias Haslinger. In fact, the second and corrected manuscript of op. 137 now held in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale is dated by Beethoven 28 November, 1817, exactly the same date. Thanks to Gustav Nottebohm's careful recitation of the contents of the now-lost Boldrini sketchbook, we know that sketches for op. 137 were also done almost simultaneously with the Prelude and Fugue for String Quintet in D minor, Hess 40; the sketches for Hess 40 are on pages 1, 2 and 7 of the lost sketchbook, which also contained the last four bars of op. 137 on page 5.
As musicologist Richard Kramer points out in his book Unfinished Music at p. 291, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (or Musikfeinde) in Vienna has a manuscript, Beethoven Ms. Autogr. 81, which is comprised of two gathered bifolia, only three pages of which Beethoven has used. Folio 1v and 2r contain a copy of the Fugue in B minor from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, two staves at the bottom of 2r contains sketches for the Hess 40 Quintet. The fact that Beethoven was studying Bach's Fugue in B minor, and wrote Ford's short fugue in that same key, one that Beethoven almost never used, cannot be a mere coincidence. In fact, the Vienna manuscript is written on the very same paper type, Johnson's watermark type 33, as the Pencarrow quartet. Thus we can with some confidence conclude that all these materials were written out during November of 1817, and in all likelihood were part of his preparation for writing the fugal treatments in the Hammerklavier Sonata at about that time. The bulk of the rest of the Boldrini sketchbook was filled with sketches for op. 106, tying it in closely with these fugues and this Quartet.