Roughly about now, a group of music lovers and admirers of Beethoven gather in a beerhouse, the J. Haidvogel Gasthaus, Schlossergasse No.599, at the south end of the Graben (long since demolished). They are a decently well-informed group, since they are aware that Beethoven has completed a great Mass, and a new symphony. But that much has been in the musical press and is not particularly noteworthy.
What they also understand that was not common knowledge was that Beethoven had promised the symphony to the London Philharmonic Society, and that he has recently developed a relationship with the theater management in Berlin, and might be considering Germany as the site for the premiere of either or both of these new compositions. They also knew that Beethoven had for some time been thinking idly about an Akademie benefit concert for both of these works to appear, and seem to be aware that he reacted badly last month when the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde decided that although they would be happy to take part, they would not be able to front the substantial expenses of such a concert. [Though most of Beethoven’s wrath on the subject actually appears to have been directed at unpaid assistant Anton Schindler for prematurely approaching the Musikverein.]
Concerned that these major, long-awaited works from the great but temperamental composer would evade Vienna completely, this gathering decides to take action. They agree to assemble a petition to Beethoven, and circulate it amongst nobles, government officials, and other music lovers for their signatures, begging him to keep the premieres of these works in Vienna. One of the group, Austrian National Bank liquidator Joseph Jacob Stainer von Felsburg (b.1786, or possibly his father, Court Secretary Johann Baptist Stainer von Felsburg (1756-1832), who was also one of the members) is reportedly appointed to draft the petition. Once a satisfactory and appropriately obsequious text is developed, the petition will be circulated for signatures and presented to Beethoven in a few weeks, in an effort to get him to hold his Akademie as he had planned, and premiere both works here in Vienna.
How did these conspirators know so much, yet come to the belief that Beethoven might not premiere these works in Vienna? Beethoven had of course discussed in depth the idea of an Akademie with several persons that we know of: the gossipy Schindler and Brother Johann, both of whom seem to have informed the directors of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, a rather large group; Nephew Karl, who knew more about his uncle’s plans than anyone else, but demonstrates no signs of being aware of the preparation of the petition; and violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, through whom Beethoven had developed the relationship with Berlin. Both Johann and Schindler (and Karl) also knew about the commission of the symphony by London.
Caroline Unger can be safely eliminated as a source, since Beethoven appears to have already offered her the solo alto part for the Akademie, so long as it occurred before she was to leave for Germany in December, and thus she was of the understanding the concert would definitely take place in Vienna. Likewise, Schuppanzigh expected to be the concertmaster for the Akademie concert. While Count Moritz Lichnowsky signed the petition, and was in the know about Beethoven’s vacillations on the issue of the Akademie, he seems at first blush an improbable source, since he certainly would not have been found sitting in a beerhouse discussing the matter with commoners. But you will recall that Nephew Karl told his uncle he had seen Lichnowsky looking unwell at Carl Czerny’s on February 3rd. Did an ill Lichnowsky unguardedly mention something about Beethoven’s indecision regarding an Akademie concert to Czerny-who like Lichnowsky signed the petition-suggesting a danger the works might be premiered outside Vienna?
Schindler, with his persistent interest in creating drama and inflating his own importance as part of Beethoven’s inner circle, seems an obvious candidate for mentioning to people that Beethoven was considering taking these major compositions elsewhere. But Beethoven himself also could have half-seriously or jokingly mentioned such a thing as a possibility when he met last month with music publisher Maximilian Leidesdorf, who was also one of the signatories to the petition. Or perhaps there was a combination of these factors and others that convinced the gathering that they urgently needed to persuade Beethoven to bless them with his new works, rather than send them elsewhere. Considering Beethoven’s constant complaining to anyone who would listen about how the people of Vienna did not appreciate him and thought him mad, such a fear was not at all an unreasonable one. Indeed, we have seen Beethoven in recent weeks specifically fret to Lichnowsky, Unger and Schuppanzigh that if he held such an Akademie the unappreciative Viennese public might not show up. But we will probably never know precisely the source of the rumor that gave rise to the petition and the above will remain speculation.
There is also a question as to whether the Petition was really meant in complete sincerity, or whether it was intended to flatter Beethoven into finally stopping his indecision about his Akademie. Some of the signatories, such as Moritz Lichnowsky and Carl Czerny, were well aware Beethoven intended to hold the Akademie in Vienna, but that he was vacillating badly about when and where and how to do it.
In any event, a good deal more will be heard about this petition in future installments. Much of the information in today’s entry is derived from our friend Professor Theodore Albrecht’s forthcoming book about the premiere of the Ninth Symphony, and we are once again grateful to him for generously providing us with an advance proof of that book, to be published by Boydell & Brewer on February 20, 2024.
Regular readers of our column will be familiar with Professor Theodore Albrecht, whose ongoing series of the English language editions of the conversation books are the framework that this feature is built upon, with his kind permission and assistance. Prof. Albrecht has a new book on the premiere of the Ninth Symphony forthcoming on February 20, 2024 from Boydell & Brewer press.
Prof. Albrecht has arranged for a coupon code that will allow our readers to purchase his book at a greatly reduced price, from $105 US to $49.95 (individuals only; the coupon cannot be used by institutions). The coupon code is:
and the book may be ordered here: