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First Performance Of "fidelio"
under French rule, Ries was liable to conscription, and notice came that he was among the first drawn. "He was therefore," says the 'Harmonicon,' "obliged to return home immediately, for his disobedience would have exposed his father and family to the risk of ruin." Before Ries' departure from Vienna, Beethoven, himself unable to afford him pecuniary assistance, again proved his kindly feelings towards his pupil by giving him a letter commending him to the benevolence of Princess Liechtenstein.
"To Beethoven's rage," says Ries, "the letter was not delivered, but I kept the original, written on an unevenly cut quarto sheet, as a proof of Beethoven's friendship and love for me." Three years will elapse before we meet Ries again in Vienna—the greater part of which period he passed at Paris in such discouraging circumstances, that he thought seriously of abandoning his profession.
At the Theater-an-der-Wien none of the new operas produced this season had long kept the stage; although two of them —Schikaneder's "Swetard's Zaubergiirtel," music by Fischer, and his "Vesta's Feuer," music by J. Weigl—were brought out "with very extraordinary splendor of decorations and costumes." It was now Autumn and the receipts did not cover the expenses of the theatre. "From the distance," says Treitschke, the storm of war rolled towards Vienna and robbed the spectators of the calm essential to the enjoyment of an art-work. But just for this reason all possible efforts were made to enliven the sparsely attended spaces of the house. "Fidelio" was relied upon to do its best, and so, under far from happy auspices, the opera was produced on November 20 (1805). It was possible efficiently to cast only the female parts with Miles. Milder and MUller; the men left all the more to be desired.
Anna Milder (born December 13, 1785), now just completing her twentieth year, was that pupil of Neukomm to whom Haydn had said half a dozen years before: "My dear child! You have a voice like a house!" Schikaneder gave her her first engagement and she began her theatrical career April 9, 1803, in the part of Juno in SUssmayr's "Spiegel von Arkadien," with a new grand aria composed for her by him. Beethoven had now written the part of Fidelio for her. In later years it was one of her grand performances; though, judging from the contemporary criticisms, it was now somewhat defective, simply from lack of stage experience. Louise Miiller, the Marcelline, "had already (in April, 1805) developed in a few years into a tasteful and honest singer, although she did not have the help of a voice of especial volume." She became, in the opinion of Castelli, "a most amiable actress and good singer, particularly in the comic genre."
Demmer, “trained in Cologne,” is reported in 1799, when singing at Frankfort-on-the-Main, as having “a firm, enduring voice with a high range; he played semi-comic rôles admirably. He was best in airs in which there was little agility and more sustained declamation.” Castelli praises him; but all contemporary accounts agree that he was not equal to the part of Florestan, for which he was now selected.
Sebastian Meier, brother-in-law to Mozart (the musical reformer of this theatre), “was insignificant as a singer, but a valiant actor,” says Castelli, who knew him most intimately. Schindler has an anecdote of him as Pizarro, apparently derived from Beethoven, to the effect that he had a high opinion of his own powers; that he used to swear by Mozart and confidently undertake everything. In view of this Beethoven resolved to cure him of his weakness, and to this end wrote the passage in Pizarro's air:
the voice moves over a series of scales, played by all the strings, so that the singer at each note which he has to utter, hears an appogiatura of a minor second from the orchestra The Pizarro of 1805 was unable with all his gesticulation and writhing to avoid the difficulty, the more since the mischievous players in the orchestra below maliciously emphasized the minor second by accentuation. Don Pizarro, snorting with rage, was thus at the mercy of the bows of the fiddlers. This aroused laughter. The singer, whose conceit was thus wounded, thereupon flew into a rage and hurled at the composer among other remarks the words: “My brother-in-law would never have written such damned nonsense.”
Weinkopf (Don Fernando) had “a pure and expressive bass voice,” but his part was too meagre and unimportant to affect the success or failure of the opera.
Incidents At The Rehearsals 51
Cache (Jaquino), according to Castelli, was a good actor,
who was also made serviceable in the opera because Meyer, the stagemanager, knew that good acting, in comic operas, was frequently more effective than a good voice. It was necessary to fiddle his song-parts into his head before he came to rehearsals.
Rothe (Rocco) was so inferior both as actor and singer, that his name is not to be found in any of the ordinary sources of Vienna theatrical history.
One can well believe that very considerable difficulties attended the performance, as Treitschke states. His words, in a passage above cited, as well as certain expressions of Beethoven's a few months later, indicate that the opera was hurriedly put upon the stage, and the inadequacy of the singers thus increased by the lack of sufficient rehearsals. Seyfried says, "I directed the study of the parts with all the singers according to his suggestions, also all the orchestral rehearsals, and personally conducted the performance." In 1805 Seyfried was young, talented, ambitious, zealous, and nothing was wanting on his part to insure success.
Speaking of the rehearsals recalls to mind one of those bursts of puerile wrath, which were passed over with a smile by some of Beethoven's friends, but gave serious offense to others. Mahler remembered that at one of the general rehearsals the third bassoon was absent; at which Beethoven fretted and fumed. Lobkowitz, who was present, made light of the matter: two of the bassoons were present, said he, and the absence of the third could make no great difference. This so enraged the composer, that, as he passed the Lobkowitz Place, on his way home, he could not restrain the impulse to turn aside and shout in at the great door of the palace: "Lobkowitzian ass!"
There were various stumbling-blocks in the vocal score of "Leonore." Schindler on this point has some judicious remarks (in his third edition), and they are borne out by his record of conversations with Cherubini and Anna Milder. During his years of frequent intercourse with Beethoven and subsequently, "Leonore" was a work upon whose origin and failure he took much pains to inform himself, and its history as finally drawn up by him is much more satisfactory and correct than others of greater pretensions.
Outside the narrow circle of the playhouse, weightier matters than a new opera now occupied and agitated the minds of the Viennese. On the 20th October, Ulm fell. On the 30th Bernadotte entered Salzburg, on his way to and down the Danube. Vienna was defenceless. The nobility, the great bankers and merchants—all whose wealth enabled and whose vocations permitted it—precisely those classes of society in which Beethoven moved, which knew how to appreciate his music, and of whose suffrages his opera was assured, fled from the capital. On November 9th the Empress departed. On the 10th the French armies had reached and occupied the villages a few miles west of the city. On November 13th, about 11 o'clock in the forenoon, the vanguard of the enemy, Murat and Lannes at the head, 15,000 strong, representing all branches of the service, entered Vienna in order of battle, flags flying and music sounding.
On the 15th, Bonaparte issued his proclamation from Schonbrunn, which he made his headquarters. Murat quartered himself in the palace of Archduke Albert; General Hulin, in that of Prince Lobkowitz. It was just at this most unlucky of all possible periods that Beethoven's opera was produced; on November 20, 21 and 22.
Beethoven's friend, Stephan von Breuning, prepared a pretty surprise for him by printing a short complimentary poem and having it distributed in the theatre at the second performance. It is preserved in the "Notizen" (p. 34).1 Beethoven
'To the opinions of the reviewers some attention must be given; it does not seem advisable to quote them t'n extenso. The "FreymUthige" describes the military occupation of Vienna, the officers quartered in the city proper, the private soldiery in the suburbs. At first the theatres were empty, but gradually the French began to visit them and at the time of writing were more numerous in the playhouses than the Austrians. "Fidelio," the new opera by Beethoven, did not please. It was given a few times only and the house was empty after the first performance. The music did not meet the expectations of the cognoscenti and music-lovers, lacking the passionate expression which is so compelling in Mozart and Cherubini. The music is beautiful in places, but as a whole the opera is far from being a perfect or successful work. The "Zeitung fUr the Elegante Welt" records that the music is "ineffective and repetitious," and did not add to the writer's opinion of Beethoven's talent for vocal writing formed on hearing his cantata ("Christus am Olberg"). In its issue of January 8, 1806, the correspondent of the "Allg. Mus. Zeitung" says that he had expected something very different, in view of Beethoven's undisputed talent. Beethoven had often sacrificed beauty to newness and singularity and therefore something new and original had been expected, but these were the qualities which were least noticeable. The music is distinguished neither by invention nor execution. The overture is not comparable with that of "Prometheus." As a rule there is nothing new in the vocal parts; they are generally too long, the text is ceaselessly repeated and the characterization misses fire, as, for instance, in the duet after the recognition. A canon in the first act and an aria in F [E] are more successful, though the pretty accompaniment with its three horns obbligato and bassoon is somewhat overloaded. The choruses, especially the song of the prisoners, are a failure. Dr. Henry Reeve, of Norwich, England, one of the earliest collaborators on the "Edinburgh Review," then a young man of 25, was in Vienna at the time of the French invasion and attended the second representation of the opera on November 21st. Sir George Grove sent a copy of a page from his journal to Thayer. He thought the plot a sad mixture of bad action and romantic situations, but the airs, duets and choruses worthy of all praise. The "overtures," of which there was one for every act, were too artificial to be generally agreeable and an appreciation of their beauties would require frequent hearing. Beethoven sat at the pianoforte and conducted the performance—a little, dark, young-looking man, who wore spectacles.
desired to retain the original title of the opera, "Leonore," and the directors of the theatre have been severely censured from that day to this for persisting in giving and retaining the title "Fidelio"; but unjustly; for, considering the relations in which Paer stood to Baron Braun, it was surely enough to have taken his subject, without stealing his title.
A young man, educated at the University of Munich, had for some time past been private secretary to the Bavarian Chargé des Affaires at Salzburg. The approach of the French armies after the fall of Ulm made his position and prospects very uncertain. It was just then that an agent of Baron Braun came thither in search of a young, fresh tenor to succeed Demmer, whose powers were fast yielding to time. The engagement was offered him and thus it came about, that J. A. Rockel, in the Autumn of 1805, became first tenor in the Theater-an-der-Wien. After appearing in divers characters with much success, considering his inexperience, he was offered the part of Florestan in the contemplated revival of "Fidelio." A conversation with the singer at Bath in April, 1861, is authority for these particulars, and a letter from him dated February 26 of the same year adds more. Rockel wrote:
It was in December, 1805—the opera house An-der-Wien and both the Court theatres of Vienna having been at that time under the intendance of Baron Braun, the Court Banker—when Mr. Meyer, brother-in-law to Mozart and Regisseur of the opera An-der-Wien, came to fetch me to an evening meeting in the palace of Prince Charles Lichnowsky, the great patron of Beethoven. "Fidelio" was already a month previously performed An-der-Wien—unhappily just after the entrance of the French, when the city was shut against the suburbs. The whole theatre was taken up by the French, and only a few friends of Beethoven ventured to hear the opera. These friends were now at that soiree, to bring Beethoven about, to consent to the changes they wanted to introduce in the opera in order to remove the heaviness of the first act. The necessity of these improvements was already acknowledged and settled among themselves. Meyer had prepared me for the coming storm, when Beethoven should hear of leaving out three whole numbers of the first act.
At the soiree were present Prince Lichnowsky and the Princess, his lady, Beethoven and his brother Kaspar, [Stephan] von Breuning, [Heinrich] von Collin, the poet, the tragedian Lange (another brotherin-law to Mozart), Treitschke, Clement, leader of the orchestra, Meyer and myself; whether Kapellmeister von Seyfried was there I am not certain any more, though I should think so.
I had arrived in Vienna only a short time before, and met Beethoven there for the first time.
As the whole opera was to be gone through, we went directly to work. Princess L. played on the grand piano the great score of the