BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, September 13, 1820 (approximately)

Back in Mödling, and free of the Archduke’s demands for lessons while he is out of town, Beethoven sets to concentrated work on proofreading and correcting the printer’s copies of the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108, which are long overdue to Schlesinger in Berlin, especially since Schlesinger has already paid Beethoven for them.

The first order of business: in what order should the songs appear? George Thomson had printed them in a fairly random order without consulting the composer, but Beethoven seldom did anything musical without considering it thoughtfully first. As he rearranged the songs, he carefully made sure that there were never two songs in the same key in a row, and he kept moods contrasting throughout. He then renumbered the pages of the printer’s copy. The first song in op.108 should be the duet, “Behold, My Love.” Here that song is performed live by Magdalena Kalinowska and Efrain González:

Unfortunately, when Schlesinger received the manuscripts, he did not understand Beethoven’s careful ordering, and he mixed up the first two bundles of eight songs each. Thus, what we today consider song #9 was actually intended by Beethoven to be song #1, and vice versa. So as a result, “Behold, My Love” ended up as song #9. This is why on some recordings (such as the Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven Edition) the order of these songs is presented as 9-16, 1-8, and 17-25: that arrangement preserves Beethoven’s intended order. Schlesinger’s error destroyed the effect Beethoven sought, and in the present score of op.108 there are now songs of the same key together.

It’s not entirely clear why Beethoven went to such lengths for a set of songs that were unlikely to be presented all 25 at once. Did he actually mean for them to be a folk song cycle? A full performance of these songs would take about an hour and a half–not impossible, but definitely a long presentation, and probably a shocking idea since the very first song cycle composed by anyone, Beethoven’s own An die ferne geliebte, op.98, was only a little over four years old in 1820. But it seems as if he was at least leaving that possibility up to the performers, and conceived of the 25 songs as a unit.

In any event, in the mornings he now sets himself to proofreading the scores of the songs and making corrections and changes as needed. In the afternoons, he continues work on the third movement of piano sonata op.109 (also intended for Schlesinger).