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These facts bring us to the most valuable and interesting notice contained in the article from the “Freymüthige"—the earliest record of Beethoven's engagementascomposerforthe Theater-an-der-Wien.
Zitterbarth, the merchant with whose money the new edifice had been built and put in successful operation, “who had no knowledge of theatrical matters outside of the spoken drama," left the stage direction entirely in the hands of Schikaneder. In the department of opera that director had a most valuable assistant in Sebastian Meier—the second husband of Mozart's sister-in-law, Mme. Hofer, the original Queen of Night-a man described by Castelli as a moderately gifted bass singer, but a very good actor, and of the noblest and most refined taste in vocal music, opera as well as oratorio; to whom the praise is due of having induced Schikaneder to bring out so many of the finest new French works, those of Cherubini included. It is probable, therefore, that, just now, when Baron von Braun was reported to have secured Cherubini for his theatre, and it became necessary to discover some new means of keeping up a successful competition, Meier's advice may have had no small weight with Schikaneder. Defeat was certain unless the operas, attractive mainly from their scenery and grotesque humor, founded upon the “Thousand and One Nights” and their thousand and one imitations, and set to trivial and commonplace tunes, should give place to others of a higher order, quickened by music more serious, dignified and significant.
Whether Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler was really a great and profound musician, as C. M. von Weber, Gänsbacher and Meyerbeer held him to be, or a charlatan, was a matter much disputed in those days, as the same question in relation to certain living composers is in ours. Whatever the truth was, by his polemical writings, his extraordinary self-laudation, his high tone at the courts whither he had been called, his monster concerts, and his almost unperformable works, he had made himself an object of profound curiosity, to say the least. Moreover, his music for the drama “Hermann von Staufen, oder das Vehmgericht,” performed October 3, 1801, at the Theateran-der-Wien (if the same as in “Hermann von Unna,” as it doubtless was), was well fitted to awaken confidence in his talents. His appearance in Vienna just now was, therefore, a piece of good fortune for Schikaneder, who immediately engaged him for his theatre.
Whether Beethoven had talents for operatic composition, no one could yet know; but his works had already spread to
ENGAGED TO COMPOSE AN OPERA
Paris, London, Edinburgh, and had gained him the fame of being the greatest living instrumental composer—Father Haydn of course excepted—and this much might be accepted as certain: viz., that his name alone, like Vogler's, would secure the theatre from pecuniary loss in the production of one work; and, perhaps—who could foretell?—he might develop powers in this new field which would raise him to the level of even Cherubini! He was personally known to Schikaneder, having played in the old theatre, and his “Prometheus” music was a success at the Court Theatre. So he, too, was engaged. The correspondent of the "Zeitung für die Elegante Welt” positively states, under date of June 29th: “Beethoven is composing an opera by Schikaneder.” There is nothing very improbable in this, though circumstances intervened which prevented the execution of such a project. Still the fact remains, that Schikaneder—that strange compound of wit and absurdity; of poetic instinct and grotesque humor; of shrewd and profitable enterprise and lavish prodigality; who lived like a prince and died like a pauper-has connected his name honorably with both Mozart and Beethoven.
These plain and obvious facts have been so misrepresented as to make it appear that this engagement of Beethoven was a grand stroke of policy conceived and executed by Baron von Braun, who, at the Theater-an-der-Wien (“newly built and to be opened in 1804”), had suddenly become aware of a genius and talent, to which, notwithstanding the “Prometheus" music, at the Imperial Opera, he had been oblivious during the preceding ten years! The date of the transaction is a sufficient confutation of this; as also of the notion that the success of the “Christus am Ölberg” led to his engagement. On the contrary, it was his engagement that enabled Beethoven to obtain the use of the Theater-an-der-Wien to produce that work in a concert to which we now come.
The “Wiener Zeitung" of Saturday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 30, 1803, contained the following
NOTICE On the 5th (not the 4th) of April, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will produce a new oratorio set to music by him, “Christus am Olberg, in the R. I. privil. Theater-an-der-Wien. The other pieces also to be performed will be announced on the large bill-board.
Beethoven must have felt no small confidence in the power of his name to awaken the curiosity and interest of the musical public, for he “doubled the prices of the first chairs, tripled those of the reserved and demanded 12 ducats (instead of 4 florins) for each box. But it was his first public appearance as a dramatic vocal composer, and on his posters he had several days before announced with much pomp that all the works would be of his composition. The result, however, answered his expectations, "for the concert yielded him 1800 florins.”
The works actually performed were the first and second Symphonies, the Pianoforte Concerto in C minor and “Christus am Olberg”; some others, according to Ries, were intended, but, owing to the length of the concert, which began at the early hour of six, were omitted in the performance. As no copy of the printed programme has been discovered, there is no means of deciding what these pieces were; but the “Adelaide,” the Scena et Aria “Ah, perfido!” and the trio “Tremate, empj, tremate," suggest themselves, as vocal pieces well fitted to break the monotony of such a mass of orchestral music. It seems strange-knowing as we do Beethoven's vast talent for improvisation—that no extempore performance is reported.
“The symphonies and concertos,” says Seyfried, “which Beethoven produced for the first time (1803 and 1808) for his benefit at the Theater-an-der-Wien, the oratorio, and the opera, I rehearsed according to his instructions with the singers, conducted all the orchestral rehearsals and personally conducted the performance. 1
The final general rehearsal was held in the theatre on the day of performance, Tuesday, April 5. On that morning, as was often the case when Beethoven needed assistance in his labors, young Ries was called to him early-about 5 o'clock. "I found him in bed,” says Ries, “writing on separate sheets of paper. To my question what it was he answered, "Trombones.' At the concert the trombone parts were played from these sheets. Had the copyist forgotten to copy these parts? Were they an afterthought? I was too young at the time to observe the artistic interest of the incident; but probably the trombones were an afterthought, as Beethoven might as easily have had the uncopied parts as the copied.” The correspondent of the “Zeitung für die Elegante Welt” renders a probable solution of Ries's doubt easy. He found the music to the “Christus” to be “on the whole good, and there are a few admirable passages, an air of the Seraph with trombone accompaniment in particular being of admirable effect.” Beethoven had probably found the aria “Erzittre, Erde” to fail of its intended effect,
1“Cäcilia,” IX, p. 219.
clock in the was exhaust the rehears
and added the trombone on the morning of the final rehearsal, to be retained or not as should prove advisable upon trial. Ries continues:
The rehearsal began at 8 o'clock in the morning. It was a terrible rehearsal, and at half after 2 everybody was exhausted and more or less dissatisfied. Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who attended the rehearsal from the beginning, had sent for bread and butter, cold meat and wine in large baskets. He pleasantly asked all to help themselves and this was done with both hands, the result being that good nature was restored again. Then the Prince requested that the oratorio be rehearsed once more from the beginning, so that it might go well in the evening and Beethoven's first work in this genre be worthily presented. And so the rehearsal began again.
Seyfried in the article above quoted gives a reminiscence of this concert:
At the performance of the Concerto he asked me to turn the pages for him; but-heaven help me!--that was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most on one page or the other a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory, since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to put it all on paper. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages and my scarcely concealable anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper which we ate afterwards.
The impression made on reading the few contemporary notices of this concert is that the new works produced were, on the whole, coldly received. The short report (by Kotzebue?) in the “Freymüthige" said:
Even our doughty Beethofen, whose oratorio “Christus am Ölberg” was performed for the first time at surburban Theater-an-derWien, was not altogether fortunate, and despite the efforts of his many admirers was unable to achieve really marked approbation. True, the two symphonies and single passages in the oratorio were voted very beautiful, but the work in its entirety was too long, too artificial in structure and lacking expressiveness, especially in the vocal parts. The text, by F. X. Huber, seemed to have been as superficially written as the music. But the concert brought 1800 florins to Beethofen and he, as well as Abbé Vogler, has been engaged for the theatre. He is to write one opera, Vogler three; for this they are to receive 10 per cent. of the receipts at the first ten performances, besides free lodgings.
The English editor of this biography found trombone parts written out by Beethoven among Mr. Thayer's posthumous papers; they belonged to the Trio in the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony, and Beethoven's instructions to the copyist where to introduce them in the score plainly showed that they were an afterthought.
'It was not the case this time, for the manuscript of this Concerto bears in the composer's hand the date “1800.”
anxiety not toome of the invisible me a sec
The writer in the "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung" alone speaks of the “Christus” as having been received with “extraordinary approval.” Three months afterwards another correspondent flatly contradicts this: “In the interest of truth,” he writes, “I am obliged to contradict a report in the 'Musikalische Zeitung'; Beethoven's cantata did not please.” To this Schindler remarks: “Even the composer agreed with this to this extent—that in later years he unhesitatingly declared that it had been a mistake to treat the part of Christ in the modern vocal style. The abandonment of the work after the first performance, as well as its tardy appearance in print (about 1810), permit us to conclude that the author was not particularly satisfied with the manner in which he had solved the problem, and that he probably made material changes in the music.” The “Wiener Zeitung" of July 30, 1803, gives all the comment necessary on the “abandonment” and probable changes in the work, by announcing that “the favorable reception" of the oratorio had induced the Society of Amateur Concerts to resolve to repeat it on August 4. Moreover, Sebastian Meier's concert of March 27, 1804, opened with the second Symphony of Beethoven and closed with “Christus am Ölberg,” being its fourth performance in one year. 1
A few days after this public appearance we have a sight of Beethoven again in private life. Dr. Joh. Th. Helm, the famous physician and professor in Prague, then a young man just of the composer's age (he was born December 11, 1770), accompanied Count Prichnowsky on a visit to Vienna. On the morning of the 16th of April these two gentlemen met Beethoven in the street, who, knowing the Count, invited them to Schuppanzigh's, “where some of his pianoforte sonatas which Kleinhals had transcribed as string quartets were to be rehearsed. We met," writes Held, in his manuscript autobiography (the citations were communicated to this work by Dr. Edmund Schebek of Prague) a number of the best musicians gathered together, such as the violinists Krumbholz, Möser (of Berlin), the mulatto Bridgethauer, who in London had been in the service of the then Prince of Wales, also a Herr Schreiber and the 12 years' old? Kraft who played second. Even then Beethoven's muse transported me to higher regions, and the desire of all of these artists to have our musical director Wenzel
'In a Conversation Book from the year 1825, Holz writes that till then “Christus am Ölberg” had always drawn full houses, but that the court official in charge of musical affairs (Hofmusikgraf) had not allowed further performances to be given.
*Anton Kraft was 14%2 years old at the time.