Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, opus 135, provides a powerful musical motif for this novel. It was the last significant work that Beethoven composed -- in October 1826, just five months before his death -- and it was not premiered until a year after he was gone. Kundera refers mainly to the final movement of the four-part quartet.
As the narrator explains, Beethoven wrote some words in the manuscript to illuminate two of the musical motifs: “Muss is sein?” (must it be?) for the introductory slow chords of the fourth movement; and “Es muss sein!” (it must be) for the main theme. (See Bookmark entitled "A certain Dembscher," page 195, for the supposed story behind these phrases.) The words to indicate the style of playing are “Grave” and “Allegro,” which simply mean “slow and solemn” and “fast and lively.”
This 1820 portrait, painted by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) is supposed to show Beethoven in the act of composing his Missa Solemnis.
The implications of the Beethoven work and its use in this novel have to do with fate. As the discussion in the next section of Part One states, Beethoven viewed weight as a positive value. The characters of The Unbearable Lightness have differing opinions on this, however: Tomas and Sabina are obviously drawn to lightness, though it bothers them at times, while Tereza and Franz are more typically drawn to weight while occasionally flirting with lightness.
Tereza decides there was something necessary, perhaps even preordained, about her love with Tomas, because of the circumstances that brought them together. She had loved Beethoven’s music ever since she had seen a string quartet play the last three Beethoven string quartets to an audience of three (Tereza, the pharmacist, and his wife), and then had dinner with all six. Beethoven is playing on the hotel restaurant radio as she goes to serve Tomas a cognac.
There’s a part of Tomas that wants to believe their love is fated, but it also makes him uncomfortable that his meeting with Tereza depended on “six fortuities” and could so easily never have occurred.
Must what happens be what happens? And how does one read the signs, assuming there are any?