Remembering Razumovsky

An in-house string quartet, a plot to assassinate the tsar, an international diplomatic summit and a dramatic fall from grace are just some of the elements in the life of Count Andrei Kirillovich Razumovsky, the man who commissioned Beethoven’s set of three string quartets Opus 59, the third one of which we will hear the Diemen Quartet perform on 19 April 2013. 



Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky by Alexander Roslin, Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria


Count Razumovsky was born in St Petersburg in 1752. After an early naval career he became the Russian Ambassador to Vienna from 1792 to 1799 and again from 1801 to 1806. He was man with cultivated tastes in all the arts and the wealth to indulge those tastes. His palace in Vienna was lavish, with a grand library and an extensive art collection. He was a serious music connoisseur and became a patron and friend to Haydn and Mozart and then Beethoven.

Razumovsky's passion for music extended to employing leading Viennese musicians as his household string quartet. In an age when many wealthy palaces maintained large orchestras, a private string quartet must have distinguished the Count as a man of modern and sophisticated musical tastes. He was an accomplished amateur violinist and occasionally took the part of the second violin in quartet performances. 

In 1805, Razumovsky commissioned Beethoven to compose three string quartets, stipulating that they should contain Russian melodies. Beethoven obliged with Russian melodies in the first and second quartets. The third quartet does not include a Russian melody, but it does have an affinity with the emotional intensity and turbulence of the ‘Russian Soul’. When he listened to that quartet, one can imagine the Russian Count being deeply moved by the halting, uncertain beauty of the first movement, the dark melancholy of the slow movement and the dazzling resolution of the final movement with its passion and bravura energy.

Count Razumovsky reached the pinnacle of his career in 1814 as Russia’s principal negotiator at the Congress of Vienna, held to settle the many complex issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.

In late 1814 life changed dramatically for Razumovsky. His grand palace was destroyed by fire. He faced financial ruin. His appeals to the Tsar Alexander for help were refused because the Tsar had long suspected Razumovsky of supporting the assassination of his father Tsar Paul.

Little was left of Razumovsky’s fortune and political influence. His glittering social and musical life was gone. He dismissed his beloved string quartet from his household, but with some generosity and affection provided pensions for its members. He continued to live in Vienna in modest seclusion until his death in 1836.

The world might have forgotten Razumovsky, had his name not been immortalized in the title of Beethoven’s wonderful opus 59 quartets. The lesson of Razumovsky’s life is that power and wealth are easily lost, but great music lives forever and the world remembers the people who make it possible.

When you listen to the Diemen Quartet perform Beethoven’s string quartet Opus 59 No 3, remember Razumovsky and thank him for his generosity in commissioning its composition from Beethoven and for his early championing of the string quartet music form that we still enjoy today.

And remember his example. Most of us cannot afford to maintain our own in-house string quartet or to commission new compositions, but in a small way as members of the Sydney Mozart Society and other music groups we can follow Razumovsky’s example, giving performance opportunities to talented musicians and keeping classical music alive and vibrant.

                                                                                                                       Charmain Boyakovsky