BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Monday, September 18, 1820 (approximately)

Today we get a close look at the evolution of a Beethoven composition, with illustrations.

Beethoven has spent the last few days proofreading the Stichvorlage, or printer’s copy, of the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108, for Schlesinger. He corrects a number of errors, and on at least one occasion inserts a bar that the copyist missed at a page turn. The one really significant change, however, is a complete reworking of the violin part to the song Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie (#15 in Beethoven’s numbering, #7 in the numbering as published by Schlesinger).

Beethoven’s initial version of the violin part was written in the spring of 1815. Publisher George Thomson in Edinburgh rejected it as too difficult, since it was full of 16th-note arpeggios. This version is catalogued as Hess 201. That first version, delightfully performed by Fiona Gillespie and Makaris, can be heard here:

It took a while, but Beethoven complied and rewrote the violin part of the song for Thomson in about February of 1818. While the second version (confusingly, also catalogued by Hess under Hess 201) is beautiful, it contains a great many double stops and Thomson found it also to be too difficult for his intended audience of young ladies in their parlors. This second version was recorded on Naxos by Georg Klimbacher, accompanied by Bernadette Bartos, Bertin Christelbauer, and Josef Herzer and can be heard here:

Thomson then wrote his own simplified version of the revised violin part, eliminating many of the difficult features, and published it without telling Beethoven about the changes he had made. This published version is what Beethoven gave to his copyists, and they dutifully followed Thomson’s lead. It was thus probably not until he was proofreading, after Oliva finished writing in the English language lyrics, that he realized what Thomson had done. One can only imagine Beethoven’s rage at this discovery.

So, rather than revert to one of his first two options, Beethoven now writes into the printer’s score a third version of the violin part for the song, using Thomson’s simplification as a framework, but incorporating some of the 16th-note figures from the first version and some of the double stops from the second version, to arrive at the final version we know today. This rewritten violin part is the very last folk song arrangement from Beethoven’s pen. Attached is the second page of the song from the printer’s copy, Bonn Beethovenhaus HCB Mh 52:

Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie, op.108/15 (7), Stichvorlage p.2, Bonn Beethovenhaus HCB Mh 52

The final version can be heard here, performed by Sarah Walker, accompanied by Krysia Osostowicz, Ursula Smith, and Malcolm Martineau:

The proofreading of the set of songs will continue for at least several more weeks, before Beethoven considers the manuscript to be in a condition to send to Schlesinger. In the meantime, he will feel the need to apologize for the delays in getting the score off to Berlin.

We at The Unheard Beethoven take great satisfaction in knowing that our work at this website brought the first two versions of this song to the attention of musicians and record labels, resulting in previously Unheard works becoming heard.