String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74, (“Harp”)
The early months of 1809 brought Beethoven cause for celebration: Prince Lobkowitz, Prince Kinsky, and Archduke Rudolph joined forces to provide Beethoven with the financial stability that he had been lacking, provided that he remain based in Vienna. With such newfound support, Beethoven began contemplating marriage, travel, and even the possibility of a future promotion to the title of Imperial Kapellmeister.
However, the revery was abruptly curtailed by the Napoleonic invasions into Vienna in May of that year. While the aristocrats (including Beethoven’s new patrons) fled to the country, Beethoven remained stranded in the city, where the tumult of battle stifled his creative energies. Explaining his stagnation to his publisher, he wrote: “The whole course of events has in my case affected both body and soul. The existence I had built up only a short time ago rests on shaky foundations. What a destructive, disorderly life I see and hear around me: nothing but drums, cannons, and human misery in every form.”
Despite the upheaval, Beethoven managed to resume composing by the end of the year, completing his fifth Piano Concerto (the “Emperor”), the String Quartet, Op. 74, and three piano sonatas. Beethoven had pushed the boundaries of quartet composition three years earlier with his three “Razumovsky” quartets, Op. 59; in Op. 74, Beethoven’s innovations are less formal, and more textural: the quartet earned its nickname, “The Harp”, from the pizzicato figures, bounced among the players, which link the two principal themes of the first movement. Beethoven dedicated the work to Prince Lobkowitz, who by autumn had returned to the capital and was able to host the premiere at his home.