BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, May 5, 1824

The big Akademie concert for the premiere of the Ninth Symphony is to be held the day after tomorrow, and today is the second rehearsal, after yesterday’s disaster where no one told the orchestra to show up.

Nephew Karl is at Uncle Ludwig’s apartment early before classes. A prospective maid candidate came to the door, perhaps while Ludwig was taking his morning walk, but she left and said she will come back Friday.

Once again, unpaid assistant Anton Schindler picks up Beethoven in a rented fiacre around 9 a.m. to bring him to the rehearsal for the Akademie concert. Things are arranged now so that Karl will sacrifice one day of classes, Friday May 7, and be present in the Cashier’s Office at the Kärntnertor Theater, to supervise the sales of tickets. The seats available will be designated this afternoon by number in preparation for the sales, which are expected to be brisk.

They arrive at the large Redoutensaal a little after 9. Bass Joseph Seipelt has graciously agreed to step in on extremely short notice to sing the bass part for the Akademie. “Out of high regard and esteem for the great Master, he is taking over the bass part, also in order to show the Germans that he is no Viennese.” Schindler says Beethoven owes him a commendation from his own hand. Schindler notes that Joseph Preisinger did the same thing recently to the Tonkünstler Societät, bailing out on the very last day before the concert. [On that occasion, Haydn’s The Seasons was to be performed on April 11 and 12.] Seipelt also filled in there under desperate circumstances.

The rehearsal begins with the professional members of the orchestra, the chorus having been instructed to arrive later. They play what they can, but in conductor Michael Umlauf’s estimation, doing the Finale without the singers would not be useful. Umlauf would like to run through the entire Ninth Symphony, and do the Finale two times; the first time without the singers, and the second time with them. The first time through, things seem to go passably well.

Things go poorly with the cello and bass recitatives in the Finale. According to Leopold Sonnleither, writing in 1864, “I attended … most of the orchestra rehearsals [and] all subsequent performances. Beethoven had the contrabass recitatives performed at a rushed tempo, not exactly Presto, but also not Andante. The entire symphony, especially the last movement, seemed very difficult and confusing to the orchestra the first time it was played, even though the city’s best musicians (like Mayseder, Böhm, Jansa, Linke, and so forth) were among them. The contrabasses had no idea what to do with the recitatives. One heard nothing but a raw rumbling of the basses; subsequently, the musicians…became used to it, and the clearer and purer it sounded (with the exception of some thoroughly and unnaturally difficult vocal passages.” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Neue Folge (April 6, 1864) at 245-246.

Around 10 a.m., the soloists and the chorus arrive. Alto Caroline Unger notes that Nicola Bassi of the Italian Opera company and she have looked upon Beethoven “with inexpressible feeling.”

It is apparent that more rehearsal is necessary. Schindler suggests that another one be set up in Beethoven’s name at 9 o’clock tomorrow [May 6, the day before the concert]. Schindler asks that Beethoven make the request personally to Umlauf and chorus director Ignaz Dirzka. At least the most difficult passages can be rehearsed. Soprano Henriette Sontag is in agreement. “I have never sung anything so difficult in my entire life.” The rehearsal tomorrow will need to be rigorous.

Now that the first Akademie seems to be set, what about the second? Next week the Kärntnertor Theater is closed on Friday May 14, honoring the death day of the Empress-Mother Maria Ludovica. But if there is to be a repeat concert, Beethoven could have the concert that week since there would be no performance at the other Court theater.

Franz Lachner, who was present at this rehearsal, saw Beethoven’s frustration. “Because of his already advanced hearing afflictions at the time, Beethoven’s actions during the rehearsals were merely a distraction.” Franz Lachner, “Erinnergungen an Schubert und Beethoven,” in Vor den Coulissen, ed. Joself Lewinsky (Berlin 1882) vol. II, pp.7-10

Nephew Karl makes a sudden appearance, and not wanting to interrupt, writes the single word, “Purse.” [Karl might need money, but it seems more probable that he is bringing news that there are 50 ducats available to pick up at Geymüller’s banking house. Schindler says that he will pass on the 120 florins to Beethoven precisely and carefully, but he cannot pay the fiacre afterwards. [Schindler appears to be volunteering to retrieve the money; 50 ducats would be 125 florins, and then Schindler would pay the fiacre driver 5 florins out of that since he has no money of his own to do so. Beethoven will have Karl pick up the money tomorrow, so Beethoven has to pay the fiacre driver himself.]

After the rehearsal is concluded, and after Unger and Sontag are taken home, Beethoven and Schindler go to the Golden Pear restaurant for mid-day dinner. Schindler mentions that the mother-in-law of Karl’s old headmaster, Joseph Blöchlinger, died and was buried last night. Copyist Peter Gläser attended the funeral and passed word on to Schindler.

Out of earshot of the participants, Schindler then delivers a post-mortem of the rehearsal for Beethoven, who seems not to have been able to hear any significant portion of it. Schindler thinks Umlauf is not strict enough. He plans to place the orchestra on the stage of the Kärntnertor Theater, but in the hall [the more acoustically lively Redoutensaal] the basses made too great a noise and the violins lost strength.

Beethoven mentions that Sontag and Unger were laughing at him. Schindler insist that he should not think they were laughing at him personally, or at his music. “You know anyhow that Unger is a foolish thing, full of joking and teasing, even at those places where it isn’t appropriate.”

The altos are weak, but there are boys coming tomorrow to shore them up, and they’ll make a difference.

Beethoven is concerned about whether Seipelt will be able to handle the part, with no preparation. Schindler is confident that Seipelt is worth his gulden. Anton Forti is very proud and would have had difficulty taking on the part after Preisinger, otherwise Schindler would have gone to him. But Preisinger and Forti are good friends, Schindler felt he had to turn to Seipelt as a neutral party.

Beethoven is under the impression that the strings learned their parts quickly. Schindler agrees. “In this respect we are far ahead of the French, in that they rehearse a large-scale work for 4 to 6 weeks and their violin players still are said to play inaccurately. Beethoven thought that the French were precise. Schindler backs off on his criticism, saying that their execution is said to be incomparable, but they must study a long time.

Beethoven feels useless with his deafness, and he’s coming too late to this. Schindler denies it. “You are not yet coming too late!! and your ears don’t hinder you so much that you cannot make a powerful impression upon the whole…The author, through his influence must often take many pains in pounding the true spirit into the performers.”

Beethoven thinks Unger did well. Schindler says Sontag knows even more than Unger, and was more attentive.

Nicola Bassi affected Schindler at the rehearsal. He was present from the first note to the last, and took in everything voraciously. The performance of Beethoven’s C minor symphony [the Fifth] was the beginning of it all for him. [Bassi seems to have attended Schuppangizh’s May 1 concert in the Augarten, where the Fifth was played.] Beethoven asks who Bassi was. “One of the foremost singers of the Italian Opera,” is the response.

Beethoven pays the bill (3 florins 59 kreutzers). Schindler suggests that if Beethoven would like, they can buy him some stockings for the concert.

Tomorrow, the Court visits will need to be paid, with the private invitations for the nobility. Schindler says Beethoven will need to do that personally, so he will not be able to attend the entire rehearsal. It cannot be put off until the day of the concert. The nobility need time to prepare, and they might go out to the country in the meantime. “Therefore tomorrow is absolutely necessary for this business.” Beethoven, disliking the idea of catering to the nobility like that, is resistant. Schindler points out that if Beethoven is only present at the dress rehearsal, there is also much to be gained by that, so he asks Beethoven to think it over.

Beethoven asks about how the boxes will be handled with the ticketing. They are not paid for at the box office, if they have already been taken earlier.

Beethoven is again unwilling to make the calls to deliver the private invitations. Schindler tells him that they are very much needed, and it will only require Beethoven to devote two hours to them, which is not that big an inconvenience. Schindler does not expect the rehearsal to be over before 1 p.m. The hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. are the best time, so he can still catch the last portion of the rehearsal. Beethoven is uncooperative, and Schindler warns him that he should not give the nobility a convenient reason to excuse themselves, just because he failed to visit them. “We are living in an aristocratic state.”

Beethoven needs to go shopping. Schindler suggests he have the maid accompany him, and she can carry everything. The hat Beethoven is looking at costs 20 florins. Beethoven doesn’t decide to buy black stockings after all. Schindler asks whether he has some at home, and Beethoven says he does.

Schindler excuses himself to go call on Kärntnertor Theater manager Louis Antoine Duport. [Probably to ensure that the orchestra is called for tomorrow’s rehearsal, and to let them know that Karl will be supervising the ticket sales on Friday.] Ignaz Schuppanzigh also wanted Schindler to reserve the double winds.

Beethoven returns home. Nephew Karl is there, and tells his uncle that the temporary housekeeper reminded him that her time is up Friday, May 7 [the same day as the concert.] Karl told her she could have left already, since she can’t cook anyhow. There is another housekeeper available, whom the maid knows.

Uncle Ludwig tells Karl about the problems with the rehearsal this morning, especially with the vocalists. “If things are going on like this at the rehearsal in the Theater, then it’s no wonder that the opera performances don’t also do the best either.” The singers seem to regard the rehearsals as a good time, for their own entertainment. Their custom of behaving this way at rehearsals is apparent. “I find it negligent that the girls [Unger and Sontag] have not studied their parts.” Umlauf has been coaching them, Karl believes, at least according to Schindler.

Uncle Ludwig is despondent. His music is too difficult, no one understands it, and the performers are making a mess of it. He wishes he were dead. Karl tries to cheer him up. “Live!” Uncle Ludwig thinks his talents are wasted on the Viennese. Karl answers, “For this reason, it is already good that there is an Akademie, from which you will really see how inspired the people are.” But his music is too difficult for the musicians. Karl will have none of that. “Nothing has been written from France or Russia that indicated in the least that it [the Missa Solemnis] was too difficult for them.” [The Mass had been premiered in St. Petersburg in April, and portions of it may have been played for the King of France.]

Braced up by Karl, Ludwig makes some notes to himself for tomorrow’s rehearsal, the first half in pencil, the second half in ink:
“Bass recitative. No: instead of A, F-sharp.
+Bass: red pencil
Ritard. Vcello primo
[musical figure]
poco ritard.”
These notes from Conversation Book 65, 33v, are reproduced here courtesy of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek. If this was an intended change to the cello and bass recitative, it never made its way into the score.

Conversation Book 65, 33v (detail).

Conversation Book 65, 23r-33v.

The Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Nr. 28 at 112 includes an announcement of Beethoven’s upcoming Grand Musical Akademie to be held Friday, May 7, at the Kärntnertor Theater:

“The latest list of pieces to be played are all works by Herr Lud. v. Beethoven.

  1. Grand Overture.
  2. Three great hymns with solo and choral voices.
  3. Grand Symphony, with a Finale featuring solo and choral voices, on Schiller’s ‘Lied an die Freude.’

“Over the last ten years, Beethoven’s great creative spirit has come into ever-increasing popularity and his works have won the admiration of the world forever. All educated countries recognize the original creations of his imagination to be the first works of German art, or so it seemed. It seems though, that in Vienna where we always heard his works performed first, he did not find a favorable time to present any major performance of a new work before the public, which certainly includes the largest number of his most sincere admirers.”

“After his latest work, “The Great Mass”, was received with a readiness honoring the great artist and also characteristic of the level of courteousness of the recipient, he was honored with the medal which was shown in our penultimate issue, and also by the appointment as an honorary member of the Royal Stockholm Academy. The great Master was finally persuaded by his loyal friends to let the often so difficult preparations for an Akademie, which for many reasons often gives the creative genius the most disturbing unrest – to let things take their course, and give space for their well-intentioned advice for his best interests.”

“‘He who creates a great world within himself’ could deserve no blame if the external things going on were foreign to him! Rather, those who are involved in the planning and implementation of a well-prepared public performance of a new work by Beethoven deserve our sincere gratitude. If this increases by a degree the master’s well-deserved joy at the sympathetic recognition of his friends and compatriots, we not only make a sacrifice befitting art, but this hour will certainly awaken genius to a new enthusiastic creation, and fuel its power to be productive.”

“There’s no other way to think of it than that the national character of the Viennese people will always make itself known and will appear in the brightest light on this occasion.”

“For the worthy performance in the theater next to the Kärntnerthor, several nobles have united. The Master himself will join with Hr. Kapellmeister Umlauf and Hr. Schuppanzigh to manage the entire event. We are pleased to say Dlles. Sontag and Unger and Hr. Preisinger have taken on the solo parts.”

[Our thanks to reader and contributor Birthe Kibsgaard for her assistance with the translation of this article.]

The Wiener Zeitung for today (Nr. 103) at 439 includes yet again J. Bermann’s advertisement for Beethoven’s Das Glück der Freundschaft op.88, and the Grande Sonate pathètique op.13.