BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, October 3, 1822

The big premiere of The Consecration of the House, op.124, conducted by Beethoven himself, occurs tonight, in celebration of the eve of the Emperor’s Name Day. Emperor Franz II attended in person. Tickets have been sold out for this gala event for weeks. For a change, Vienna is ready to appreciate a new work by Beethoven wholeheartedly. It is also a tremendously important evening for Beethoven, who largely has been out of the public eye for years. The titular “Consecration” was a celebration of the reopening of the Theater in the Josephstadt, which had undergone a significant renovation over the summer.

Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic playing the Overture, op.124, here:

Nr. 2, the beautiful and dramatic Duet, Ohne Verschulden (op.113/2), borrowed from Beethoven’s earlier composition The Ruins of Athens, is performed here by Bernhard Klee conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, Klaus Hirte and Arleen Augér, soloists:

Nr. 5, the newly-composed Ballet with Soprano and Chorus, “Wo sich die Pulse” (WoO 98) is performed here by Jutta Vulpius, soprano, the Rundfunkchor Berlin, and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Helmut Koch:

Nr. 6, the March and Chorus op.114, also recycled from The Ruin of Athens, “Schmückt die Altare,” is here performed by Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, with the Rundfunkchor Berlin:

The December 4 issue of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung from Leipzig, Nr. 49 at col.794-795 includes a discussion of the premiere of The Consecration of the House. The reviewer notes that it is the same as the work written some years ago for the inauguration of the Pesht Theater [The Ruins of Athens, op.113], “only enriched here with a new overture and a choral dance. The master conducted himself. However, since one cannot safely trust his unfortunately still-weakened auditory tools, Kapellmeister Gläser did his best to translate the composer’s intentions to the orchestra. These doubled tactics turned out to be quite strange. Nevertheless, everything went pretty happily, except for the choruses, which extemporized some dissonances. The composer was received with joy, was called out at the end, and heaped with applause.” The second half of the program featured The Picture of the Prince, an anecdote of Tyrol’s fight for freedom, composed and conducted by Kapellmeister Joseph Drechsler (1782-1852).

The Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung of October 16, Nr.83 also covered the reopening of the Theater in the Josephstadt in somewhat greater length at cols. 659-662. “After this theater was closed for six months of renovations by the skillful architect and builder Mr. Kornhäusel, Herr Carl Friedrich Hensler resumed his direction of the newly-opened house on October third….There was already a highly excited curiosity, increased even more by the public’s stories about the beautiful furnishing and decoration of the house. It was therefore no surprise when the evening of the first performance created an extraordinary rush. The third of October, so holy and festive for all Austrians, is the eve of the name day of His Majesty our beloved Monarch, who was at the celebratory opening of the Theater. The huge crowd in the stands heard with great emotion the folk song in which the feelings of gratitude of the subjects are joyfully expressed for their honored ruler. Herr Carl Friedrich Hensler prudently elected on the first evening to choose to perform a new play written by the well-known folk poet Herr Meissl, along with Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous composition, using occasional music from the opening of the new Pesther Theater. The latter bore the title, “The Consecration of the House,” and the former was “The Picture of the Prince.”

“Herr Ludwig van Beethoven’s new composition was already much admired in Pesth, and now has an added overture and a chorus with ballet. The full-bodied, grand style, which pronounces itself equally in the Adagio of the Overture, through the emergence of imposing trumpet calls with the figured accompaniment of the bassoon, runs beautifully elaborated through the entire composition. The contrapuntal imitations give the whole piece of music a most interesting character.”

“Beethoven’s deep spirit permeates this overture and like all of his works is stamped with true originality. The whole thing became even more attractive by the fact that the master himself conducted, and his creation was given life welling up from his innermost being.”

“Great was the applause granted to the composer, and a duet in G minor was especially well liked and presented quite well. [Nr.2, “Ohne Verschulden Knechtshaft dulden”] The great March and Chorus, [Nr.6, Schmückt die Altäre, separately published as op.114] whose imposing, celebratory character received universal and joyful recognition, loudly proved Beethoven’s never-ending genius.”

“The all new chorus with ballet [Nr. 5, Wo sich die Pulse, catalogued separately as WoO 98] has a single, simple but very beautiful and singable melody, which like all of Beethoven’s works is seasoned with a very rich and brilliant harmony.”

“If the vocal parts of the choruses were not executed with great precision, it is partly caused in all probability by the short time that was available to assemble the members of the chorus. Only through frequent repetition to the point that the execution is routine, can one artfully and properly sing together.”

“The orchestra, which has not yet acquired the spirit of unity through frequently playing together, nevertheless exceeded our expectations and performed Beethoven’s beautiful music well and to the best of its ability. Mr. Schindler has acted as concertmaster at this theater. [A first print recognition of a connection between Beethoven and his later unpaid assistant and biographer, Anton Schindler.] Despite the difficulties, the good, friendly cooperation did honor to the music of the composer. Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven was called back at the end of the play and welcomed with great applause.”

“Both plays were applauded for four consecutive evenings, and were always well attended. The good outfitting of the new theater is praised by the public, especially the painting of the galleries in tasteful colors, harmonious to the eye.”

Schindler in his biography of Beethoven describes the premiere as follows (translation by Constance S. Jolly, p.235): “As had so often been the case with other works, the overture was not ready on the appointed day. The events of 1814 regarding the Fidelio overture in E major were almost repeated: as we saw then, the overture was not completed in time for the first performance, so that the overture to Prometheus had to be used. The newly constituted orchestra of the Josephstadt Theater received the music on the afternoon of the day of the opening, with countless copying mistakes in every part. All that a rehearsal in front of an auditorium that was already filling up could accomplish was to correct the most noticeable of these errors.”

“Beethoven had stipulated that he should conduct at the ceremonial opening of the theatre. Accordingly he took his place at the piano in a position in which he was facing most of the orchestra and where his left ear, which was still of some service to him, was turned towards the stage. The Kapellmeister Franz Gläser (now Court Kapellmeister in Copenhagen) placed himself on Beethoven’s right where he could oversee the whole performance, while I led the orchestra from my place at the head of the first violins. I was no longer simply an amateur musician; I had recently given up the law, a change brought about in considerable part through the influence of the composer.”

“It cannot be said that the musical success of this festal performance was particularly brilliant, despite the zeal with which all the participants co-operated, stirred by the encouraging words of the master. The principal conductor’s straining to hear and his dragging of the tempo, sometimes in absolute contradiction of his two subordinates, resulted in frequent lapses both on the stage and in the orchestra, causing the greatest tension. Beethoven was not aware that he was mainly to blame. His warnings about ‘hurrying too much’ were futile, for hurrying was not the problem. Nevertheless, the performance came to an end without noticeable mishap, and the great master was repeatedly called back to the stage by the highly enthusiastic audience. He appeared holding the hand of the worthy director, Hensler.”

Although Schindler was an eyewitness participant in this concert, the fact that both of the critics contemporaneously reviewing the performance contradict him on the substitution of the familiar overture to Creatures of Prometheus puts the rest of his account (written many years after the fact) into doubt as well. The Vienna critic’s description of “imposing trumpet calls with the figured accompaniment of the bassoon” perfectly describes The Consecration of the House Overture, but does not at all resemble the overture to Creatures of Prometheus. They do, however all agree that Beethoven conducted and that it did not go well, but he was nevertheless greeted warmly by an enthusiastic audience.

What tremendous satisfaction Beethoven must have felt to know that he was beloved and his new music was joyously accepted by the people of Vienna, whose tastes he regularly dismissed.