BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, January 13, 1824

Raphael Georg Kiesewetter (1773-1850), vice-president of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and a music historian, writes two letters today as a followup to the board of directors meeting held last Friday, January 9, 1824. Both concern the oratorio Der Sieg des Kreuzes, which had been commissioned back in 1818, after several years of discussions. In June of 1819, Beethoven had received a 400 florin advance for composing the music, but the poet, Joseph Carl Bernard, had taken over five years to finish the libretto, delivering it only in October of 1823 both to the Musikverein and to Beethoven.

The first letter is to Beethoven. Kiesewetter reminds Beethoven that the Society had engaged him four years ago [actually closer to six] to write an oratorio, and left the choice of the poem and the poet up to him. Afterwards, they learned Bernard was working on the poem. They periodically made inquiries as to the progress, and since Bernard had not delivered the poetry, and they could hardly expect Beethoven to start work until the whole had been provided to him, all they could do was urge Bernard on. He finally delivered a copy and said he had given one to Beethoven as well. They remind Beethoven that he has received partial payment as requested, and they therefore ask for certain confirmation that Beethoven will set the music, and the anticipated time of delivery. But they are careful to end the letter with flattery of Beethoven, describing the expected oratorio as one “which every friend of music and admirer of your great talent looks forward to for so long with eager anticipation.”

Brandenburg Letter 1772; Albrecht Letter 341. The whereabouts of the original are unknown. A draft of this letter in the hand of Joseph Sonnleithner is in the collection of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (which was the source for Thayer in TDR V, 10). The Society also has a more complete but substantially identical copy of the letter with the date January 13, 1824 included, in the hand of Joseph Langhammer, Akten 362/1824.

Kiesewetter similarly writes to Bernard on this date, acknowledging in the hand of the Society’s secretary, Privy Councillor Sonnleither, that they have received the libretto. Bernard is informed that at their board meeting, the Musikverein was pleased to learn of the completion of this labor, which they have looked forward to for several years. The board has decided to await Beethoven’s verdict on the libretto, as to whether he will compose the music, and approximately when that work will be finished. The Society can make use of it only once Herr van Beethoven has completed the composition and the work has been passed by the censor. They encourage him to induce Beethoven to complete the work “that has been so long awaited by the entire musical world.”

Albrecht Letter 342. Like the letter to Beethoven, this exists in the Society’s archives in a fine copy by Langhammer, Akten 363/1824, and a draft by Sonnleithner, together with the draft to Beethoven.