This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Many organisations around the world were planning to celebrate his music this year, and King’s Library was one of them, with planned exhibitions as part of the Cambridge Beethoven 2020 Festival. Our first exhibition, of first and early editions of Beethoven’s music from the Rowe Music Library, was due to be open to the public during March and April. Sadly, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we had to cancel our exhibition in the Library, although we are delighted to bring you an online version of our exhibition here.
Three Piano Quartets – First Edition
These piano quartets, designated WoO 36 in the catalogue of Beethoven’s works, were composed in 1785, when the composer was only fifteen years old. They were the only compositions he wrote in the genre, and their music is best known in recycled form, with thematic material from the C major quartet reappearing in two of the early piano sonatas. The works were not published until the year after Beethoven’s death, in this Viennese edition by Artaria.
Sonata quasi una Fantasia or ‘Moonlight’ Sonata
The so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, op. 27 no. 2, was popular even during Beethoven’s lifetime and remains one of his most best loved pieces today. Its name derives from remarks made by the German poet and music critic Heinrich Friedrich Ludwig Rellstab (1799–1860) who, in 1832, likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. First published in Vienna 1802, this edition was published around 1811 by Giovanni André in Offenbach in Germany.Third Piano Concerto – First Edition
The first performance of this work took place on 5 April 1803 with Beethoven as the soloist. His friend Ignaz von Seyfried (1776–1841) turned pages for Beethoven, and later remarked:
I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper.
The first edition was published in the spring of 1804 in Vienna by the Bureau d’Arts et d’Industrie, and dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (1772–1806) who was a talented musician.
Six String Quartets, Arranged – First Edition
Beethoven’s six string quartets, op. 18, were composed between 1798 and 1800 and first published by T. Mollo and Comp. in Vienna in 1801. They were republished by numerous publishers in Europe during Beethoven’s lifetime, and arrangements were also made of them for other instrumental combinations, including piano duet, piano solo and even two guitars! This arrangement for piano trio (piano, violin and cello) of these popular works was made by the composer Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838), a friend, pupil and secretary of Beethoven.
‘Appassionata’ Sonata – First Edition
The popular nickname of the celebrated op. 57 sonata was not Beethoven’s own, but coined in 1838 by Cranz, the Hamburg-based publisher of a piano duet arrangement of the work. The annotation, ‘Asspassionato’, at the head of the title page of this first edition from 1807, must date from after that time. The sonata’s dedicatee, the Hungarian nobleman and cellist Franz von Brunsvik (1777–1849), was the elder brother of Josephine Brunsvik, one of Beethoven’s dearest friends and a woman considered by many to be the composer’s mysterious ‘Immortal Beloved’.
First, Second and Third Symphonies – First Editions
Beethoven’s first three symphonies, which had all been performed in public by 1805, were not published in score until these English editions appeared in 1808 and 1809 as part of a series of the complete symphonies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. A note tipped into the second volume of this set informs subscribers that because of the length of Beethoven’s works, future symphonies may have to be divided into two volumes each at considerable expense to the publisher. These three symphonies do appear to have been the final entries in the series, so perhaps the expense was too great to continue. The fact that the first two symphonies are wrongly numbered does not inspire confidence in the publisher!‘Eroica’ Symphony, Arranged – First Edition, Second Issue
Numerous arrangements were made of Beethoven’s orchestral works during his lifetime for smaller forces (e.g. piano duet, string quartet, piano trio etc.) thus rendering them playable by amateur musicians at home. Written between 1802 and 1804, the first edition of the parts for Beethoven’s third symphony (known as the ‘Eroica’) was published in October 1806 in Vienna. The first published arrangement for piano duet appeared in Leipzig in spring 1807 published by the publisher Kühnel. This edition, published by Peters after 1814, has been printed from the same set of engraved plates used by Kühnel.
String Quartet in B flat – First Edition in Score
The op. 130 string quartet was published simultaneously as score and parts by Artaria in May 1827, shortly after Beethoven’s death. This was unusual and was remarked upon in many early reviews which pointed out that access to a full score was important because, unlike the op. 18 string quartets for example, this was music that needed to be studied, and not merely played or listened to. Written in the second half of 1825, the quartet’s original final movement was the Grosse Fuge (later designated op. 133), which was substituted for a new Allegro final movement after the quartet’s premiere in March 1826.
We hope that despite the many cancelled events this year, perhaps you’ll be able to find the opportunity to reconnect with old favourites from among Beethoven’s compositions, or perhaps discover something new.