Even Ludwig van Beethoven’s first series of quartets was a resounding success: the six quartets, op. 18, Beethoven’s opus magnum of his first decade in Vienna, are still among his most frequently performed works in this genre. Their creation is inextricably linked to violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s string quartet, which was founded by Beethoven’s patron Prince Karl Lichnowsky. It was a top-class ensemble that later offered its own subscription series of quartet evenings, which introduced what was until then privately performed chamber music to concerts for the general public.
Beethoven had a lifelong friendship with the primarius Ignaz Schuppanzigh: “One would not have guessed,” said Carl Czerny, “what fine, witty feeling lay in this small, fat, fun-loving young man, whom Beethoven only called his Falstaff”. One of the best violin players of the day, he was unsurpassable in the performance of the quartet. With “unwavering fidelity”, Schuppanzigh applied “all the art of his performance” to ensuring that Beethoven’s works were “presented to the audience in all their grandeur and beauty” (Czerny). The composer himself was able to attend Schuppanzigh’s matinees every Friday morning, in which mainly music by Haydn and Mozart was performed. This is also noticeable in his opus 18, in which Haydn’s Russian Quartets and Mozart’s Haydn Quartets in particular left their mark.