BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, January 13, 1822

The first autograph of the score of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, #32 op.111 in C minor, bears today’s date in a penciled note at the top of the first page. However, whereas the date of December 25, 1821 on the score of Sonata #31 was clearly the date of completion, the meaning of the date on this work is less clear. William Kinderman suggests that this date was when the autograph began to be written out, but if that were the case, Beethoven would have had to work quickly to allow time for a professional copy of it to be prepared no later than about February 18, when we know that Beethoven will hand off the copy to Schlesinger’s agents for payment. By way of comparison, the task of copying the piano sonata op.110 took about two weeks.

This final sonata (especially the second movement) was again heavily revised in late February and March, so this date may only signify the completion of a first draft, still missing significant details and instructions to the performer. Note that the date is in pencil, and appears to have been added later than the music written on the first page. Would a date for beginning to write out the draft not be in the same ink as the music? Adding another wrinkle to the issue is the fact that Beethoven becomes seriously ill again in late January. If my interpretation of the date on the manuscript is correct, that would indicate the following timeline:

*Deliver autograph of the sonata to the copyist tomorrow, Monday, January 14.
*Beethoven becomes ill about Sunday, January 20.
*Copy finished roughly about Monday, January 29 (based on the two weeks required to copy op.110); it may have taken longer to copy since Beethoven later describes the manuscript of the second (last) movement in this autograph as “incomplete and missing some indications,” which may have caused additional difficulties of interpretation for copyist Wenzel Rampl. That “incomplete” status may reflect the state of Beethoven’s health as he was finishing the finale.
*Beethoven takes longer than usual to proofread, due to his illness, but finishes by about Sunday, February 17th.
*Corrected copy delivered to Schlesinger’s agents about Monday, February 18th.

Under my interpretation, Beethoven may well have started work on this draft of the sonata before he completed the autograph of sonata #31 on Christmas Day. That would be somewhat unusual for Beethoven, but he was also well aware that these sonatas were over a year late and he was in desperate need of funds.

Under Professor Kinderman’s interpretation, the following timeline would apply:

*Today, Sunday January 13 the sonata autograph is started.
*Beethoven would need to deliver the proof to the copyist by Saturday, February 2nd to give him at least two weeks to copy, so the autograph would need to be finished by that time, during which time he is also ill.
*Beethoven would require two or three days to proofread carefully, so the copy cannot have been completed earlier than Saturday, February 16th. This assumes his health was good enough to do so (and he does seems to be more or less recovered by this time).
*Corrected copy delivered to Schlesinger’s agents about Monday, February 18th.

This timeline is tight, but also possible. Which one is correct depends to a large degree on exactly how ill Beethoven was, and how much it affected his ability to work during late January and early February.

In any event, Beethoven will shortly arrange to have this first autograph (incomplete and faulty as it may be) copied by one of his favorite copyists, Wenzel Rampl, to be sent to the Berlin publisher Schlesinger. You will recall that after the debacle over the sonata op.109, Schlesinger insisted that Beethoven provide a professional copy rather than his firm attempt to decipher the composer’s handwriting at a distance.

The autograph of the first movement of the sonata, with today’s date at the top of the first page, is held by the Beethovenhaus, BH 71, and can be seen here: