BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, June 6, 1822 (very approximately)

Sometime roughly about now (but likely not long before June 8th) Beethoven receives a commission from Carl Friedrich Hensler, director of the Theater in der Josefstadt to provide an overture and incidental music for the opening of the remodeled theater, scheduled for October 3-6, 1822. Pretty quickly, Beethoven decides to only provide a new overture (the Handelian one he has been sketching) and then to rework The Ruins of Athens with a modified libretto, which had originally been written in 1811 for the opening of the theater in Pesht. It is not entirely certain whether the sketches predate the commission or vice versa, but June 8th is the first known indirect mention of the commission, and some of the sketches clearly predate that.

Theater in der Josefstadt, photo by Gryffindor,

Carl Meisl, commissioner of the Royal Imperial Navy, changed the texts of four of the pieces, and also added a new chorus with soprano solo, Wo sich de Pulse, WoO 98. Given that, it appears likely that the theater management knew of and approved Beethoven’s plans for providing a modified work, rather than a fully original one, especially given the rather short time before the event. The Overture by itself is catalogued as op.124; the revised incidental music as a whole is catalogued Hess 118.

This event will prove to be an important one, since the overture is the first new orchestral composition by Beethoven presented to the Viennese public in quite a few years. It will be followed in quick succession by a revival of Fidelio, bringing Beethoven back into the public eye.