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"So-called private concerts (music in well-to-do homes) are legion here all winter long. Not a name-day, not a birthday goes by without a musical performance" wrote the Viennese correspondent of a German newspaper in 1800. Beethoven's appearance on this lively scene did not go unnoticed; as sociologist Tia DeNora notes in a recent book, he arrived "with a good deal of social and cultural capital in the form of connections and previous honors." His reputation gained him access to these gatherings both as a pianist and, as in this case, a composer of chamber music. The six Quartets in Op. 18 were composed between 1796 and 1800 and dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven's earliest and most enthusiastic patrons. Though listed as No. 3, the D-major Quartet was likely the first of the six to be composed.

The Allegro begins with a series of solo gestures, echoed by the other members of the ensemble in a graceful call and response that suggests the ritual bows at the beginning of an aristocratic dance. The Andante pulls the ensemble into a flowing dialogue in which melody and accompaniment effortlessly trade places. The elegant third movement recalls the minuet Beethoven inherited more than the scherzo he left; the Finale is a mischievous Presto whose skittery rhythms keep up the momentum before disappearing in the musical equivalent of a puff of smoke.

- Susan Key is a musicologist and frequent contributor to Los Angeles Philharmonic programs.