Exercises in Strict Counterpoint, Hess 234 (1794-1795) corrected by Albrechtsberger (55 MB)

Exercises in Strict Counterpoint, Hess 234 (1794-1795) corrected by Albrechtsberger (55 MB)
Download mp3
Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Length: 23:27
Exercises in Strict Counterpoint, Hess 234 (1794-1795) uncorrected (55 MB)
Download mp3
Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Length: 23:28
Exercises in Strict Counterpoint for Albrechtsberger, Hess 234 (1794)

After Haydn departed for England in January 1794, Beethoven continued his composition studies with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, a noted musical theorist who in 1790 had published a treatise on composition (Gr√ľndliche Anweisung zur Composition) and was one of the most acclaimed musical teachers in Vienna. Beethoven spoke of him with reverence in later years.

Albrechtsberger's method of proceeding is very similar to that used by Haydn, in the mold of Fux. However, Albrechtsberger provides only two cantus firmus for Beethoven to work from in these exercises, one in D minor, and one in F, rather than the six used by Haydn. There are exercises successively in two voices, three and finally four. Each of these proceeds in turn through the five species of counterpoint as described in Hess 233.

The original is held by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, catalogued as manuscript A 75 II, Bundle 1. The pages are preserved in that bundle out of order; we have presented the exercises in what appears to be their their correct compositional order. There are 81 strict counterpoint exercises contained together in the first 4 bifolia of Bundle 1. Bifolia 5 and 6 contain a mixture of 21 exercises in strict counterpoint (i.e., part of Hess 234) and 26 exercises in free counterpoint (Hess 235). According to the chronological reconstruction of the counterpoint studies by Julia Ronge of the Beethovenhaus, Bifolia 5 and 6 of Bundle 1 were written much later than the first 4 bifolia, at the very end of Beethoven's instruction by Albrechtsberger. This conclusion is borne out by the fact leaves 5 and 6 are written on a different paper type, and have Beethoven's later form of writing a staff (with two parallel lines with diagonal lines at top and bottom, as opposed to the earlier version, which is simply two parallel lines. Nevertheless, following Nottebohm's and Hess' lead we have separated out the strict and free counterpoint exercises from this later grouping and included the later strict counterpoint exercises with the earlier ones, so the result is 81 exercises from the very beginning of that training and 21 from the very end.

Unlike the manuscript for Hess 233, which was clearly a fair copy in a very readable hand for Beethoven, the exercises in Hess 234 seem almost like sketches. Beethoven is obviously writing in haste and there are many corrections throughout. In many instances the noteheads are barely dots, which makes interpretation a bit dodgy at times. There are also a few instances where the original version of the exercise has been eradicated so completely that it is difficult to read. Albrechtsberger's corrections and notations are typically clearer than Beethoven's writing. Also, in more than a few places Beethoven is inconsistent regarding the length of the final note within a particular exercise, holding one note of the chord longer than others. We have honored those inconsistencies, which results in some voices releasing the final chord earlier than the others in a number of exercises.

Once again, for the two-voice exercises Beethoven writes one harmony above the cantus firmus and one below. In the three-voice exercises, Beethoven moves the cantus firmus amongst the tenor, soprano and bass voices. Albrechtsberger proceeds in orderly fashion as did Haydn for 22 two-voice exercises and 21 three-voice exercises. For these first 43 exercises, the cantus firmus is one whole note to each bar instead of the two that Haydn used, and Albrechtsberger here explicitly specifies cut time is to be used. With exercise 44, Albrechtsberger goes back to two-voice but varies the time signatures among 3/4, 2/4, 4/4, and 3/2, proceeding once again through all five species for nine exercises. Exercise 52 returns to the three-voice exercises, now in 3/2 time or 3/4 or cut time. Exercise 65 begins the four-voice exercises and Beethoven proceeds through all five species to the end of exercise 81. Finally, exercises 82 through 102, which appear to have been written significantly later, follow and successively go through the two-, three- and four-voice sequence once more, with one or two exercises written in each species. This later group includes ten two-voice, six three-voice, and five four-voice exercises. All of these 21 later exercises are on the same cantus firmus in F. Since Beethoven would be well advanced from strict counterpoint exercises at this point in his studies, these later exercises were probably composed as practice for comparison with the treatment of the same cantus firmus in F in free counterpoint (Hess 235).

As we did with Hess 233, we have distributed the exercises amongst a string quartet, brass quartet and woodwind quartet, with the cantus firmus always in the organ voice. In the two- and three-voice exercises that cantus firmus is always in the tenor voice; in the four-voice exercises the cantus firmus moves among the voices. Whenever Beethoven changes to a new cantus firmus, we signal that by returning to the string quartet. We have also added a longer-than-usual hiatus between the early exercises (breaking after nr. 81) and the later group.

These first exercises in strict counterpoint with Albrechtsberger cover the territory already studied with Haydn, and may have been in the nature of a review of that work already accomplished. However, Albrechtsberger paid far closer attention to Beethoven's work than Haydn did, and there are many corrections. Albrechtsberger sometimes provides as many as three different solutions to the exercise. It is on occasion difficult to determine what is a correction by Albrechtsberger and what is a self-correction by Beethoven, because it appears that Albrechtsberger would at times dictate the correction to Beethoven, who would then write it in the margins himself. We have assumed that where there are X figures written in by Albrechtsberger, and a correction that refers back to the X, that it is in fact a correction at Albrechtsberger's direction, even if written in Beethoven's hand. In addition, we have assumed that alternative versions in the margins are also written by Beethoven at Albrechtsberger's direction, and are thus considered corrections.

Hess' counts of the number of exercises in this grouping do not align with what is found in the manuscript for these exercises; there are only 102 exercises in strict counterpoint, a good bit fewer than the approximately 125 exercises in free counterpoint that he enumerates under Hess 234. Hess may have double-counted the 26 exercises in free counterpoint (Hess 235) in his description of the exercises in strict counterpoint. In any event, there are not as many previously-unpublished exercises in this grouping as Hess suggests.

None of these exercises have ever been recorded, and almost certainly have never been performed in public, so Hess 234, like Hess 233, is another world premiere for The Unheard Beethoven.

Hess: 234

Click here to help us continue bringing more Unheard Beethoven compositions to the Internet