The second movement was inspired by the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet. It gives a sense of tragedy and deeper meaning compared to the balance and brightness found in the other movements.
The only quartet that Beethoven gave a nickname, the Serioso is a work that even in the fast movements include a sense of despair. Upon completion, Beethoven knew the darkness of the piece would not have a wide appeal, stating “this quartet is meant for a small circle of connoisseurs.”
At his publisher’s request Beethoven wrote a separate ending for the Op. 130 for inclusion in the printed version of the quartet. The original finale became the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, which we will hear this summer.