Several canons can be found in Beethoven’s manuscripts dating from the time when he studied counterpoint with Albrechtsberger in Vienna in 1793-94. A handful of these were reprinted by Gustav Nottebohm in his Beethovens Studien. Three more were reprinted by Beethoven’s friend and fellow-composer Ignaz von Seyfried (1776-1841) in 1832 in his volume Beethovens Studien im Generalbass.
Seyfried was by no means a scholar in the modern sense of the word. He had no scruples changing Beethoven’s music if he thought he could improve it, or when he felt that Beethoven had made a mistake. Therefore the music in Seyfried’s book has always to be viewed with great suspicion. Apart from his wilful changes, Seyfried also made honest mistakes. The three canons referenced (Hess Anhang 60, 61 and 62) are examples of such mistakes. Seyfried believed, probably sincerely, that they were by Beethoven. (Seyfried, p.333-6). In the 20th century, however, Willy Hess demonstrated that at least the canons Anh. 61 and 62 are not genuine Beethoven compositions, because they originate from an earlier source: Abhandlung von der Fuge, by the famous music theorist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1718-1795).
For many years, no author was ever identified for the canon Hess Anh. 60, though Beethoven specialists strongly suspected that it was not Beethoven. We are pleased to learn that Stölzel has at last been definitely identified as its composer.
Stölzel, forgotten almost completely today, was a prolific and well-regarded composer in his day in northern Germany, and a correspondent of J.S. Bach. While Stölzel is known to have written thousands of works, only a handful have survived due to mistreatment and poor storage techniques; left in the attic of an old castle, rats and rain were given free rein over his life’s work. Stölzel was also a musical theoretician, writing several then-influential works on music.
The theoretical work that concerns us here is his 1725 Practical Demonstration of how to make, out of one simple four-voice canon, a great many other canons varying partly in melody and in harmony. Stölzel does so in 46 numbered paragraphs, jocularly showing that using his method one could generate sixty canons per day “without being puzzled” in any way. This short treatise was apparently written as a supportive response to Canonic Anatomy by Johann Mattheson, who, incidentally, also very nearly killed his friend Georg Friedrich Handel in a duel. Stölzel, like Mattheson, tends by his factory approach to trivialize the canon and relegate it to the less valuable compositional techniques. Beethoven himself would frequently use canons for musical greetings and jokes, though his approach was often more laborious than Stölzel suggests.
Among his many musical examples in the Practical Demonstration, Stölzel provides at par. 23 the following:
Extract from Practical Demonstration (1725)
This musical example is the same as Hess Anhang 60. We can assume that this now-rare treatise (only half a dozen copies survive) was well-known to Albrechtsberger. Since it dates from 1725, it is obvious that Beethoven cannot have been the composer. The canons Hess Anhang 60-62 are all three intelligent as well as beautiful, and testify to great musical skill. It’s therefore easy to understand that Beethoven felt the need to copy them out for study purposes. Seyfried, none the wiser, took them to be Beethoven’s own work and reprinted them. But now all three of these mysterious canons have at last been identified and the proper authors may be credited.
Our great thanks to Unheard correspondent Ferenc M., who tipped us off to Stölzel’s treatise and the fact it contained the Hess Anhang 60 canon. To our knowledge, that is the first identification of this canon’s true author. So, that’s one riddle solved! Thanks Ferenc!
UPDATE: Dr. Julia Ronge, on the staff of the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, writes to advise as follows:
In fact, Beethoven doesn’t [directly] copy Stölzel. The source he is copying in this manuscript is chapter 35 “Vom Canon” from Albrechtsberger’s “Gründliche Anweisung zur Composition”. Albrechtsberger uses the example from Stölzel and correctly names it: “Canone a trè (resp.: a quattro) del Sigl. Stoelzel”. Beethoven copies the example but not its title.”
Many thanks also to Dr. Ronge, who is currently editing the Albrechtsberger studies of Beethoven, for this additional information!