BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, December 1, 1822

Today, eleven-year-old Franz Liszt (1811-1886) makes his public Viennese debut in a concert at the town hall, sharing billing with contralto Caroline Unger (1803-1877) and violinist Léon de Saint-Lubin (1805-1850). Unger will in May of 1824 sing the contralto part in the debut of the Missa Solemnis, and it is she who will gently turn Beethoven around so he could see the applause he could not hear. Saint-Lubin also has a Beethoven tie: the composer wrote a small cadenza for Saint-Lubin’s appearance at the October 3, 1822 concert premiere of The Consecration of the House, op.124, but this work is unfortunately lost from the Austrian National Library, and no one thought to make a copy of the piece, Hess 296.

Young Franz Liszt (artist unknown)

The young Liszt had come to Vienna during the early summer of 1822, and his musical education was entrusted to Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri, both of whom had connections to Beethoven. Czerny was one of Beethoven’s few composition pupils, while Salieri had given Beethoven lessons in Italian vocal writing. Czerny gave Liszt regular but demanding lessons at no charge, helping develop the skills of the young virtuoso. Liszt had given a number of private concerts in the city in order to cover the expenses of his impoverished family, but this marks his first appearance to the public at large.

The concert begins with a overture by Clementi, followed by Liszt playing Hummel’s highly demanding piano concerto nr. 2 in A minor, op.85. St. Lubin plays variations by Rode in E on the violin, and Unger sings an aria from Rossini’s Demetrio e Polybio. The concert concludes with a free fantasy on the piano by Liszt.

Liszt was met with immediate and resounding success and quickly became a favorite in Vienna, with today marking the beginning of a long and illustrious career. The Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung Nr. 4 of January 22, 1823 at cols. 52-53 was very impressed with the young pianist: “Another young virtuoso has fallen from the clouds, as it were, and who arouses the greatest admiration. it borders on the unbelievable what this boy achieves for his age.” In the Hummel, he has the thunderous power, “but also feeling, expression, shading and all the finer nuances are present. It is as if this musical child prodigy reads everything a vista and is now attempting to look for his equal in playing this score. May Polyhymnia protect the delicate plant from defoliating storms so that it grows and thrives.”

The free fantasy that ended the concert interwove the theme from the Andante from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with the motifs from a cavatina from Rossini’s Zelmira. The AMZ critic was quite pleased by how this “little Hercules” “kneaded them together into a dough.”

Els Biesemans here plays the Hummel Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in A minor op.85 on fortepiano, with Capriccio Barockorchester on period instruments: