I have heard recordings of Beethoven's C sharp minor string quartet Op. 131 where, in bar 53 the third crotchet of the first violin part is played as E flat, and at least one recording where it is played as E natural. The E flat (or D sharp), combined with the other parts would give the chord B major, while the E natural would give a B suspended 4th, if I'm not mistaken.

(The "E natural" recording I have in mind is by the Taneyev Quartet of Leningrad dated 1988, and is on an LP on the мелодиа (Melodia) label.)

Given the tempo and the prominence of this particular note, it seems highly unlikely to be a `bum note' on the part of the player.

Are there different editions of the score that would account for this? Is there any consensus as to which was Beethoven's true intention?

EDIT: Using the links kindly provided by Carl below, I found one possible source of the E natural, namely the 1863 Breikopf and Haertel edition. Here it appears with the accidental immediately preceding the note. In other editions (including at least one older edition) there is no such accidental, so following the key signature the note is E flat.

So the answer to my first question above is yes. But what is the source of the Breikopf and Haertel natural sign? And which is the composer's likely intention?

  • 2
    To the close vote(r), read this: meta.music.stackexchange.com/questions/592/…
    – Sergio
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 8:13
  • Shane, I have never heard a E natural there. Maybe the 2nd violin E-flat suggests that? Can you point to that recording if you have alink?
    – Sergio
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 8:29
  • The recording I'm thinking of (with the E natural) is by the Taneyev Quartet of Leningrad. I don't know the year off-hand but can look it up later. It's on a vinyl record bought in 1991. Granted, it may be an acoustic illusion, but compared to other recordings it sounds to me as I've described. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 9:09
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    FWIW, there are (at least) two scores available online at imslp.org/wiki/… and free-scores.com/download-sheet-music.php?pdf=2388 Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 11:35
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    Right enough, looking through the scores on the first link, I think I can now see where the E natural may have come from: the Breitkopf & Härtel edition, 1863. This looks like a great resource. Thanks Carl! I'd still be interested to know where this accidental came from though. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


The autograph (page 12 of the PDF) has E flat:

Detail of autograph score of Beethoven's Opus 131 string quartet, measure 53

My guess is that the natural in the Breitkopf & Härtel score is either a simple mistake or a hypercorrection; either way it was likely influenced by the E natural in the second violin part.

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    That's very interesting and clear. Thank you for the link to the autograph score and resolving this question! Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 14:31

Something tell me it's linked to Chinese Whispers. In the same way a story is reworded by whoever tells it to their convenience, a script is reworked according to the tastes of who's going to perform it.

The difference of a semitone is strangely noticeable in any music, and makes a difference to how to it sounds. The composer's true intention we will likely never know, but where there is a difference in two scores, you can be fairly sure it was just one little tweak from an orchestra to make a piece sound better (I say better as in, better-sounding to them).

If you had to throw a guess on the composer's likely intention, it is likely to be the least... pleasant sounding note. (I say that very loosely). If one note happily matches a chord and one does not, the former is likely to be the edit. Then again, some tweaks makes pieces sound much harsher.

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