Beethoven en Groot-Brittannië

foto: Plaster-casts of the skulls of Franz Schubert, Franz Joseph Haydn & Ludwig van Beethoven; Alois Wittman; Beethoven-Haus, Bonn c. 19th century

Beethoven had many contacts in Britain where his music was highly appreciated. Business partners in London and Edinburgh bought his compositions and also asked him for certain pieces such as folk song adaptations or a plain piano version of his violin concert.
Two former citizens of Bonn particularly supported Beethoven in London: Violinist and concert organiser Johann Peter Salomon, born in the later Beethoven-Haus, who held quite an important position within the London concert environment as well as Beethoven’s pupil and temporary secretary Ferdinand Ries. The latter was one of the directors of the Philharmonic Society founded in 1813 which invited Beethoven several times to come to London and perform works commissioned by the society for the first time. However, Beethoven never made it to Britain. Although commissioned by the Philharmonic Society the Ninth Symphony was first played in Vienna.
In cooperation with the British Library in London the Beethoven-Haus presented a special exhibition about this interesting subject at the 2007 Beethoven Festival.

Variation subjects for Piano and Flute, ed. by George Thomson, Preston, London and Thomson, Edinburgh 1819
Johann Peter Salomon

Just like Beethoven violin player Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815) was born in Bonn and grew up in the Beethoven-Haus of today. And just like Beethoven 24 years later he was also admitted as a 13 year old to the Prince-Elector’s Bonn Court Chapel. Later Salomon became Concert Master serving Prince Heinrich of Prussia. Around 1780 he settled in London where he played a major role in musical life until his death. As violin virtuoso, orchestra director and concert entrepreneur he had much success and also belonged to the founders of the Philharmonic Society. Together with George Smart and Ferdinand Ries Salomon promoted Beethoven’s music in England. Concerning publishing affairs he later occasionally engaged in correspondence with Beethoven in Vienna. When Salomon died, Beethoven was very sad: “Salomon’s death inflicts pain on me because he was a noble man whom I remember from my childhood days.”

Guest book of the Bonn Reading Society, 1788-1821 Lese- und Erholungsgesellschaft Bonn

During his successful activity as head hunter Salomon managed to bring the renowned Joseph Haydn from Vienna to the British centre of music twice, namely in 1791/92 and 1794/95. This achievement is even mentioned on his tomb slab: “He brought Haydn to England in 1791 and 1794”. On the first journey together they passed through his hometown of Bonn where some of his relatives still lived. On Christmas day in 1790 Beethoven’s violin teacher Franz Anton Ries introduced Joseph Haydn as a guest to the “Lesegesellschaft” (reading society) founded three years ago. Certainly, Salomon, who on his outward journey had attended the reading society on October 1st in the company of two guests from London, was there, too. Hence on this occasion Beethoven not only met his future teacher but also made a first contact with England, although in a less direct way.

Letter from June 28th, 1792

As opposed to the outward journey Salomon was not able to accompany Haydn on his journey back home in 1792. In a letter to his brother-in-law Geiger in Bonn he expresses his regret: “as much as I wanted I am not able to accompany dear father Haydn on his way to you, because the matters of my business are calling for my presence in England […] Mr. Haydn will tell you the reasons better.” The expression “father Haydn” both shows a particular closeness as well as respect. The letter also says that Salomon purchased the piano extracts of two operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from Bonn publisher Nikolaus Simrock.

Transformation of the “Military Symphony” for piano trio

Haydn wrote his last twelve symphonies that are still referred to as the “London Symphonies” for Salomon and his concert series. According to the agreement the composer ceased all rights hereof to Salomon. Salomon then adapted the pieces for chamber music instrumentation and published them in his own publishing house even before the first publication of the orchestra part. The transformation of Haydn’s “Military Symphony” No. 100 for piano trio bears Salomon’s hand-written name on the cover sheet.

Entry of Christoph von Breuning, October 28th, 1792 Original: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien

When Beethoven, thanks to a grant of the Prince-Elector, left Bonn in 1792 like Salomon 27 years ago to take lessons with Haydn in Vienna, his Bonn friends gave him a “book of memories” filled with good wishes for his future as a farewell gift. Christoph von Breuning’s farewell greeting demonstrates that one assumed Beethoven would also travel to London: “Look! Long time, my friend, Albion [ancient name for the British Isles] has been waiting for you, see the shady groves it offers the singer” (“sieh! Es winket Freund lange dir albion / sieh! den schattigen Hain, den es dem Sänger beut”). When Haydn travelled to London for his second engagement in 1794/95 one wondered if the young Beethoven should accompany his teacher. However, Beethoven remained in Vienna, and even in the future he would never set his foot on London soil.

Ornamented sheet with Bonn musicians

Another Bonn native, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838), son of Beethoven’s violin teacher Franz Anton Ries (who once was a pupil of Salomon), followed Beethoven to Vienna in early 1803 and became his piano pupil. A few years later he travelled around the world as a piano player and settled in London in 1813. After only two years he was named a director of the Philharmonic Society. Although in this position he was able to regularly promote the presentation of Beethoven’s works in London, he did not manage to bring the composer to London. Out of the seven Bonn musicians depicted on the ornamented sheet three (Beethoven, Salomon and Ferdinand Ries) significantly influenced musical life in England in the first third of the 19th century.

Folk song collector George Thomson

George Thomson (1757-1815), a public servant and passionate folk song collector living in Edinburgh strove to save the folk melodies of his home country from falling into oblivion. His suggestion directed to Beethoven to compose six sonatas about Scottish melodies marks the beginning of Beethoven’s evident relationship to Britain. Beethoven’s reply letter dated October 5th, 1803 is the composer’s first letter across the Channel. Although the project was never carried out because the parties involved were not able to come to an agreement, a vivid business contact developed until 1820. At the end of October Beethoven offered the piano variations on the English folk songs “God save the King” and “Rule Britannia” WoO 78 and 79 for printing. « Je vous envoie ci joint des Variations sur 2 thêmes anglais, qui sont bien faciles et qui, à ce que j’espère, auront un bons succès. » With his suggestion Thomson might even have initiated the composition of the variations on this melody that even people on the Continent knew and cherished. Both pieces were first published in Vienna. Half a year later Clementi published “God save the King” in London but it took two decades for “Rule Britannia” to be published by an English publishing house. Beethoven used both melodies again in 1813 for his “Grand Battle Symphony” op. 91.

Piano variations on “God save the king” (C Major) WoO 78
Piano variations on “Rule Britannia” (D Major) WoO 79

As a result of Beethoven’s letter dated November 23rd, 1809 George Thomson drew up the following calculation. Thomson had offered Beethoven 60 Pounds Sterling (equal to 120 gold ducats) for three quintets and three sonatas, but the composer demanded the double sum due to the weak exchange rate and the difficult war-induced situation. For each work category Thomson now earmarked a remuneration of 40 Pounds instead of the offered 30 Pounds (an envelope at the British Library addressed to him shows another calculation on the inside stating 50 Pounds). Thomson calculated that only with 410 and 440 copies sold the costs would be covered. As he considered the deal too risky, it was never closed.
On the back of the calculation Thomson briefly summarised Beethoven’s letter in which the composer also wrote that he was working on the 43 songs Thomson had sent.

Calculation, January 1810 The British Library

Thomson hoped to increase the folk melodies’ popularity by means of a contemporary composition. By adapting the pieces for piano trio – then popular for making music at home – he wanted to give the British bourgeoisie an insight into “original” music. He ordered these adaptations from renowned composers such as Joseph Haydn, Leopold Kozeluch, Ignaz Pleyel and Beethoven. All in all 150 song adaptations by Beethoven of Irish, Welsh and Scottish songs have been preserved. In September 1809 Thomson had sent Beethoven 43 melodies and explicitly asked for an easy piano part. He would do so repeatedly in the future. In the mentioned letter dated November 23rd Beethoven pointed out that this was a less pleasant work for an artist but surely a good work for business. Initially he received three ducats for each adaptation, later on four and then five. He also asked to obtain the texts in the future, a request Thomson did and could not fulfil. The text is not identical with that of the original folk songs but Thomson had famous poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott write new lines for the completed adaptations. In July 1810 Beethoven sent the final 53 adaptations each consisting of three copies (one by himself and two by copyists) to England by various means. Thomson, however, waited in vain. The present copy was a gift from Beethoven to his pupil Archduke Rudolph. In the summer of 1811 he borrowed it to make a new one for Thomson. The receipt of this copy was confirmed in early August 1812.

Corrected copy of the 53 folk song adaptations for singing voice, violin, violoncello and piano, 1810

In 1814 the first of two volumes of the “Irish Songs” and in 1817 the third and last volume of the “Welsh Songs” with Beethoven’s contribution were published. Thomson served as editor and the London music publishing house Preston printed and marketed the folk song adaptations. The book-friendly folio format editions feature elaborate copper engravings.

Frontispiece “St. Cecilia” of the 1st volume of the “Irish Songs”
Original edition of the “Welsh Songs”, 3rd volume, 1817

After agreeing on a remuneration of four ducats for each song adaptation in 1814 Beethoven requested a subsequent payment for three Scottish songs delivered later (Thomson regularly asked Beethoven to facilitate his compositions). In a letter from March 1818 Beethoven claimed he had only received three ducats instead of the determined remuneration. Thomson, however, replied that the bill issued by the Fries bank certainly stated 12 ducats. Either Beethoven was mistaking or Fries had written the bill only after Beethoven had asked him to do so.
Beethoven also mentioned that he had the English texts be translated, thus it can only be pieces that were already published in the “Irish Songs” or “Welsh Songs”. Probably the translations were done for a planned publication by the Vienna publisher Steiner. Beethoven offered Thomson piano variations on these melodies at a price of nine ducats each.

Letter to George Thomson dated March 11th, 1818

The fifth and last volume of the “Scottish Songs” series published in 1818 contains apart from Beethoven’s 25 Scottish songs op. 108 four songs by Joseph Haydn and the quite popular cantata “The Jolly Beggars” by Robert Burns with a melody by Henry Rowley Bishop. Beethoven had rejected the composition before. Thomson had asked both to compose the violin part in such a way that it could also be played with a flute. He hoped this would increase sales. The sales of Beethoven’s song adaptations were far below the sales of the first editions featuring adaptations by Haydn and Kozeluch. The editor believed Beethoven’s complex style was the reason for the decreased revenue. In his last letter to Thomson from May 1819 Beethoven, now angry at Thomson for his ongoing request for simplicity, explained that he could not regard this as a criterion and that he hardly found the courage to call the pieces his own.

Original edition of the “Scottish Songs”, 5th volume, 1818

As already mentioned Beethoven, who was quite an adept businessman in using his compositions several times, later tried to sell the compositions also on the Continent. He did so in Berlin in 1820. Publisher Adolph Martin Schlesinger showed an interest in the songs and arranged a German edition in 1822. One copy created by two different copyists, reviewed and corrected by Beethoven, was used for the engraving. Franz Oliva, a friend of Beethoven and his voluntary secretary, underlaid the English text of the songs. Schlesinger commissioned Samuel Heinrich Spiker, publisher and librarian of the Berlin Royal University, to translate the text into German for later addition.

Corrected copy of the Scottish songs for voice, piano, violin and violoncello, op. 108 for the German edition

To facilitate the marketing of the songs on the German market Schlesinger had the edition be printed bilingual in English and German. Originally, the songs were written in a Scottish dialect, something which did not make translating them an easy task. Thus, the German translation is not always the best. Beethoven recommended Schlesinger to commission Carl Friedrich Zelter, a close friend of Goethe, to correct the translation but the publisher decided in favour of the original translation.

Bilingual edition of the “Scottish Songs” op. 108

During the adaptation of the folk songs Thomson had asked the composer to select a few European folk songs for adaptations. However, it proved impossible to underlay these with English poetry. In 1818 Thomson commissioned Beethoven to compose variation cycles for piano with flute on some of these and other subjects that had partially been published as song adaptations before (op. 105 and op. 107). Displayed are Russian subject “Beautiful Minka” and the first variation on the Welsh melody “Peggy’s Daughter”. Beethoven wrote: “for the subject the flute in 8va plays with the piano but only the melody” (“zum Thema die Flöte in 8va mit dem Klawier jedoch nur mit der Melodie”), wherever the flute is not mentioned it plays the piano’s melody part. The side remark is from Beethoven’s secretary Anton Schindler who dated the handwriting too early: “Side remark: This composition by Beethoven dates [crossed out: “either”] from 1816. [crossed out: “or 1819″] A. Schindler.” (“Nb. Diese Komposition Beethovens fällt [crossed out: “entweder”] in das Jahr 1816. [crossed out: “oder 1819″] A. Schindler.”)

Autograph of the variations op. 107 No. 6 and 7, subject “Beautiful Minka”

In 1819 Thomson published nine of the delivered piano variations. According to the title 12 were planned originally. The collection was published in three booklets richly adorned with copper. It contains three Irish, three Welsh (among them as No. 8 the subject shown above), one Scottish, one Austrian and one Russian subject (“Beautiful Minka” as No. 7).

Variation subjects for piano and flute, 1819
Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)

Already at the age of thirteen, Muzio Clementi, born in Rome in 1752, was “bought” for seven years by an English traveller who noticed Clementi’s exceptional talent as organ and harpsichord player, and spent this time on an English country estate, deeply involved in studies. Since 1774 he lived in London where he performed stirring piano sonatas in concerts, something still quite unusual at that time. In the following years he made himself a name in the London musical life as piano player and teacher. In the early 1780s Clementi went on a long concert journey through Europe. Later he also worked as a music publisher and piano manufacturer. In 1798 the famous piano factory “Longman & Broderip” was renamed to “Clementi & Co.”. With Clementi as director the company not only built pianos but also published works written by all famous musicians of that time. When the Philharmonic Society was founded in 1813 Clementi was named one of the six directors and often took part in their concerts with great passion.

Cadenzas for piano concerts, composed in the style of famous composers, André, Offenbach 1787

The cadenzas, composed according to the style of renowned composers Joseph Haydn, Leopold Kozeluch, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Xaver Sterkel and Johann Baptist Vanhal and complemented by an individual one, represent a type of musical anthology that should clearly demonstrate Clementi’s knowledge of the works of his fellow composers as well as his own musical flexibility. On Christmas Eve of 1782 Clementi competed with Mozart in a musical competition in the presence of Emperor Joseph II and the Russian Tsar Paul I without suffering any damages to his name. At that time cadenzas were only noted and printed with exceptions. Hence, the collection is of historical relevance as it shows the rewritten form canon that served as a pattern for cadenzas. Beethoven with his very individual, if not to say revolutionary cadenzas would have quickly shown any contemporary imitating this style his limits.

Three piano sonatas op. 25

The sonatas op. 25 were published in 1804 as “10. Suite du Répertoire des Clavecinistes”, a series edited by the Zurich publishing composer Johann Georg Nägeli. The ensuing 11th delivery then contained Beethoven’s sonata “Pathétique” op. 13 and the first print of the sonata in E flat Major op. 31 No. 3. From a publisher’s point of view, Clementi and Beethoven were then on a comparable level. In his piano sonatas the elder now and then elaborated on approaches for the future which the younger must have studied with attention during his first years in Vienna. Later Clementi self-confidently added a selection from his over fifty year long working life to the fairly well-known piano study programme with the sophisticated title of “Gradus ad Parnassum, or The Art of Playing on the Piano”.

Ludwig van Beethoven, septet op. 20 in a string quintet adaptation

The copy is a later edition of the reprint by Clementi, Banger, Hyde, Collard & Davis dated 1807. The septet’s original edition was published by the Franz Anton Hoffmeister publishing house in Vienna and Leipzig in 1802. In an announcement in the Vienna newspaper Beethoven explicitly wrote that only the publisher was responsible for the transformation into a smaller instrumentation deemed only for string instruments. The visible plate cracks on the title page, a sign of wear, prove that many copies of this edition were printed which in turn proves that the quintet was also very popular in England. 
From 1802 until 1810 Clementi went on a long journey to the Continent, selling his own and other works to publishers and accepting the works of other composers for publishing purposes. In April 1807 he met Beethoven in Vienna. In a letter to his business partner Collard he described the meeting: According to Clementi, Beethoven started grinning at Clementi in public places. Of course, he tried hard not to discourage the young composer. Finally, he was able to conquer the “haughty beauty Beethoven”, a term that may be interpreted in various ways and encompasses various meanings from “proud” to “noble” to “uppish”. When Clementi first visited Beethoven at his place, he effusively praised some of his compositions and was able finally to conclude an agreement covering the following pieces: the 4th piano concert op. 58, the three string quartets op. 59, the 4th symphony op. 60, the violin concert op. 61 and an adaptation of the piano concert as well as the “Coriolan” overture op. 62. Beethoven received 200 Pounds. However, only the string quartets and the violin concert, i.e. the adaptation thereof which Clementi had suggested himself, were later printed. Although Beethoven gave notice when the Vienna editions were published to facilitate the simultaneous edition of the English editions, those were printed with a delay of two years.

Piano version of the violin concert (D Major) op. 61 Royal College of Music, London

The piano version Beethoven – possibly with the support of an assistant – drew up on Clementi’s request was published at the same time as the original version. Today, only one single copy remains and is now in possession of the Royal College of Music in London. In the field of concerts the piano version did not gain any relevance. Its purpose is more of a “second use”, stemming from material expectations rather than artistic beliefs. In any case Beethoven wrote the piano version “for” piano player Clementi and not for use within his own concerts.

In 1810/11 Beethoven’s operas 73 to 82 were published as “first” original editions. All were published shortly before the German parallel editions by Breitkopf & Härtel. The string quartet op. 74 was edited two months earlier. The title cover explicitly mentions the other Beethoven editions published only a short time before: “Where may be had just Published by the above Author, A Concerto / for the Piano Forte. Two Sonatas, for Do. Thema, with Variations for Do. / A Fantasia for Do. and a Concerto for the Violin.” Meant here are the piano versions of the violin concert op. 61, the piano sonatas op. 78 and 79, the piano variations op. 76, the piano fantasy op. 77 and the original version of the violin concert. Here, the string quartet is labelled with opus number 62 because Clementi continued counting from his last Beethoven edition. The piano sonatas were then published as op. 63, the piano concert op. 73 as op. 64 and the choir fantasy op. 80 as op. 65. The other editions did not have an opus number.

String quartet (E flat Major) op. 74

One copy of the piano version encouraged by Clementi and thoroughly revised by Beethoven still exists. The composer corrected notes, added dynamic symbols, legato arches, pedal and performance instructions such as “dolce” and “pizz[icato]”, missing clefs, pauses etc. The solo part shows signs of scraping. Many corrections are indicated with a little cross on the margin.

Copyist’s score of the piano version of the violin concert (D Major) op. 61 corrected by the composer The British Library

During the piano transformation Beethoven also reviewed the part of the solo violin between May and June 1807. The piano and orchestra version was printed in August 1808 and as such three months later than the “original version” for violin and orchestra. Whereas the piano version probably never would have been created without the suggestion of the English publishing house, the London edition was published only after two years.

Piano version of the violin concert (D Major) op. 61

Whereas only one copyist´s score corrected by Beethoven of the adaptation remains, original cadenzas written by him for this concert have been preserved. Displayed is the cadenza for the first movement. Not only for the length is it rather unusual – 12 handwritten pages! A second manuscript, a part for bass drum, was added to the piano part. To accompany the solo piano part with a bass drum when playing the cadenza is something unheard of in piano literature (until Alexander Glasunow did it again many decades later). Already at the beginning of the concert the bass drum has a prominent function: with four strikers it opens the musical event. Maybe Beethoven wanted to strengthen and confirm this role in the cadenza. In the past, the handwritten cadenza was part of the musical collection of Beethoven’s pupil Archduke Rudolph of Austria, a good piano player.

Beethoven´s own cadenza, piano part
Beethoven´s own cadenza, bass drum part

Publisher Robert Birchall

After having sold a total of 13 works to the Vienna publisher Sigmund Anton Steiner in early 1815, Beethoven tried to arrange for a parallel English edition for these pieces, too. A request directed to Sir George Smart in this matter remained unanswered. Two and a half months later Beethoven offered the compositions to Johann Peter Salomon in order to bring them to an English publisher (both letters are shown on the following pages). Salomon managed to sell at least four pieces: For 130 Dutch gold ducats London publisher Robert Birchall bought the violin sonata op. 96, the “Archduke Trio” op. 97 and the piano extracts of the Seventh Symphony op. 92 and of the “Grand Battle Symphony” op. 91. Beethoven’s former pupil and friend Ferdinand Ries who spent ten years of his life in London, carried out the corrections for Birchall and settled further details between composer and publisher such as publication dates.

Letter to Ferdinand Ries in London, February 28th, 1816

In the meantime Beethoven had sent all four compositions to London and now requested the publisher to reimburse him the costs for copying and postage in addition to his payment. (“It is very little for an Englishman but a lot more for a poor Austrian musician!”). On February 10th he sent Ries a detailed bill stating additional expenses of ten ducats. Besides, he expressed his sorrows about Salomon’s death for whom Ries served as executor of his will: “Salomon’s death inflicts pain on me because he was a noble man whom I remember from my childhood days.”

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)

In 1824 Ries returned to the Rhineland. Shortly before, this portrait was created and published in the English music magazine “The Harmonicon”. Ries gave it to his old Bonn friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler (1865-1848) as a gift and added the following handwritten dedication: “to my friend Wegeler Ferd: Ries” (“meinem Freunde Wegeler Ferd: Ries”). The title quote of the exhibition “Where your compositions are preferred to any other” was taken from a letter from Ferdinand Ries to Beethoven.

Summary of ownership and receipt for Robert Birchall, March 9th, 1816

With the confirmation of ownership Beethoven ceased the rights of ownership and publishing for the UK and Ireland of the mentioned compositions to the publisher and obliged himself to delay the publication in other countries until after the pieces had been published in Britain. The compositions are individually listed with incipit, dedicatee and opus number (the Seventh Symphony wrongly named op. 98). The simultaneous publication on the Continent and in Britain should protect any publisher from financial damages caused by unauthorised reprints. Nevertheless, the Vienna publishing house Steiner published the violin sonata already in July 1816 whereas Birchall published the English edition three months later in October. In case of opus 91 Birchall was ahead of Steiner by two months. Also the piano extract of the Seventh Symphony was first published in Vienna and two months later in London in January 1817. Obviously, Beethoven never succeeded in giving London exact publication dates.
Although the composer must have received his remuneration at the latest in early May, he did not send the signed document to Johann von Häring who took care of his English correspondence to be forwarded to England until September 1816.

Letter concept from Christopher Lonsdale to Beethoven, November 8th, 1816

Birchall’s employee Christopher Lonsdale expresses his contentment with the payment now being complete. Before, he had asked Beethoven to indicate one remuneration sum including all expenses. Lonsdale repeatedly reminded the composer of the ownership confirmation and supposed that Beethoven would not sign the document until he received his additional claim. According to the receipt Beethoven had been reimbursed on August 3rd. On September 9th he had also given Peter Joseph Simrock who visited him in Baden the property confirmation along with a short letter addressed to Johann von Häring to be forwarded to London. Obviously the further delay was the fault of the banks.
Birchall had continued to commission Beethoven for adaptations of folk songs for violin or cello accompaniment, however, he considered the remuneration of 30 Pounds requested by Beethoven as exaggerated. With a reference to Birchall’s bad health other offers (piano sonata op. 101 and a never completed piano trio in F Major) were refused. The cooperation stopped.
As late as December 1816 did Birchall publish the English original edition of the trio. Hence, the Vienna original edition was again ahead by three months.

Trio for piano, violin, violoncello (B flat Major) op. 97

Ferdinand Ries should also offer the variations on a march by Anton Diabelli (C Major) op. 120 for publication in England. On April 25th, 1823 Beethoven made the following announcement: “In a few weeks you will also receive 33 new variations on a subject (Waltz opus 120), dedicated to your wife.” The corrected copy is the promised manuscript. Beethoven himself wrote a dedication and the date on the title: “33 variations on a waltz dedicated to the wife of my dear friend Ries by Ludwig van Beethoven Vienna, April 30th 1823”. The English edition was never published as Ries tells in his Beethoven memories: “Because Beethoven had delayed the sending so long and had forgotten all about the commission, that when I brought Boosey [the London publishing house interested in publishing the composition] the variations, we (…) found out it had already been published in Vienna (…) with a dedication to Madam Brentano”.

Title page written by Beethoven of the corrected copy of the Diabelli variations op. 120

Publisher Robert Birchall

The “Grand Battle Symphony” op. 91

Duke of Wellington

In June 1813 the troops of Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at the Vitoria plain in northern Spain. Inventor and music mechanic Johann Nepomuk Mälzel (he also built the hearing tubes for Beethoven) convinced the composer of his idea to put the defeat of the French to music. Originally intended for Mälzel’s new musical device, the so-called “Panharmonicon”, the composition was too powerful to be transferred to a mechanical musical machine. Beethoven then arranged the composition for orchestra and added a piece of battle music (with the marches “Rule Britannia” and “Marlborough”) and an intrada. As a composition written on a special occasion it matched the current taste and was met with great success in December 1813. Thereafter, the piece was performed many times in Vienna. Beethoven dedicated the composition to the prince-regent and later king of England George IV who governed the country since 1811 because his father had become insane. Already in early 1814 had Beethoven sent the score copy to the dedicatee but neither received an answer nor the expected remuneration. Instead, the composition was performed in London on February 10th, 1815, a first presentation that should be followed by many successful performances. The topic was reported effusively in the newspapers so that Beethoven who spoke French but not English asked Johann von Häring to write to conductor George Smart. Both were pleased with the great success the battle music had in London. However, Beethoven asked the conductor for advice because he did not want to publish the piano extract without the dedicatee’s permission. In addition, he offered Smart other compositions for English publishers. In the end Beethoven thanked Smart for his efforts dedicated to his “children” (i. e. his compositions).

Letter to George Smart in London, March 16th and 19th, 1815

The announcement for the English first performance under Sir George Smart at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on February 10th, 1815 explicitly mentioned the great success the composition had in Vienna: “Between the 2nd and 3rd Parts will be introduced, fort he 1st time in our Country, A Grand Battle Sinfonia. Composed by Beethoven. And performed with unbounded Applause at Vienna.” The announcement for the second presentation in London a few days later bore the following remark about the success of the previous performance: “Which was performed, for the first time, on Friday last, with universal Acclamations of Applause, and unanimously encored”, that means with continuously growing public acclaim. Until May the piece was performed over and over again while the euphoria of the audience steadily increased. In the following year the orchestra counted 200 musicians. Until November 1817, when Princess Charlotte died, the piece was part of almost any concert performed here. Beethoven’s oratorio “Christ on the mount of olives” op. 85 was also presented at this theatre for the first time in England in February 1814 and repeated several times.



Announcements for performances of op. 91 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane The British Library
Announcement for the performance at King’s Theatre on June 23, 1830 The British Library

The scenic performance on June 23, 1830 at King’s Theatre in the Haymarket must have been quite noteworthy when apart from stage setting, costumes and other decoration a troup of horses was shown on stage.

Het leven & de muziek van Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) op Compact Discs, DVD's en Boeken

%d bloggers liken dit: