Monday, 12 December 2016


A young Beethoven, c. 1881
It was on this mid-December day in 1792 Vienna that two of Western Classical Music’s most iconic composing figures sat together for what would become, for one, a pivotal moment in an already burgeoning musical career and, for the other, a remarkably lucrative tutorship that would add to an already impressive professorial track record.

The two key players in this historical meet up of musical minds were Bonn native Ludwig van Beethoven, and 18th century Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, Vice-Kapellmeister to the esteemed Esterházy family.

The pair had first met two years prior, in Bonn, when Herr Haydn, accompanied by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon had taken rest upon their journey to London where Haydn was scheduled to perform. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting of musical minds – for in 1792, a 22-year old Beethoven again met his contemporary Haydn, this time presenting the maestro with two recently written scores: his Cantatas on the Death of Emperor Joseph II (WoO 87) and the Elevation of Emperor Leopold II (WoO O88). Haydn was said to have been so impressed with the young German’s work, he offered Ludwig lessons in composition should Beethoven take it upon himself to relocate to Vienna – which he did, in November that same year.

It would be a rather rocky affair for the tempestuous Beethoven – Herr Haydn, it seemed, was often absent from Vienna, or otherwise pre-occupied with projects of his own. This was not the one-on-one exclusive tutorship Beethoven had in mind when he left for the Austrian capital. As a matter of principle – though not so bold as to make it an open secret – a frustrated Beethoven would acquire the tutorship of other teachers in occulto when Haydn absconded from the classroom and the Esterházy court.

Franz Joseph Haydn
A major turning point in Beethoven’s formerly held reverence for his esteemed Tutor would occur in August of 1795, when an excited Ludwig performed at the salon of one Prince Lichnowsky his newly composed Piano Trios (Opus I) with Haydn listed as the evenings Guest of Honor. After the performance concluded, Beethoven, feeling quite proud of himself, requested of Herr Haydn his opinion on the work. Much to Ludwig’s unexpected horror, Haydn responded not with unadulterated praise for the Trio, but rather with a critique: the work was simply too long, he told a shocked Beethoven – and it needed a fair amount of work before it could even be published.

Beethoven – in typical Beethoven fashion - never forgot this betrayal by his former idol.

On one memorable occasion, when the begrudging composer was asked about the pair’s relationship, Beethoven famously quipped “I never learned anything from Haydn!”

Listen below the work that first brought together this dynamic pair – and which ultimately brought an unsuspecting Beethoven to Vienna and Haydn: Ludwig’s Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II. (Featuring the works sixth and penultimate movement "Hier schlummert seinen stillen Frieden" (Here the patient sufferer slumbers peacefully), sung by Kiwi soprano Kiri Te Kanawa under maestro Sir Colin Davis:

Fun Fact:
The Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II, written by Beethoven as a tribute to the recently deceased Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria on the occasion of the monarch's death in February of 1790 curiously would not be performed until 1884, for reasons that to date, still remain unclear. All that scholars of this period know with any certainty, is that the work was rejected by the minutes of the Literary Society in March of that year, who stated that “for various reasons the proposed cantata cannot be performed." Neither was the work ever published. All that survived of the cantata was Beethoven’s original manuscript, which was purchased at auction in 1813 by the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel for a private collection, which was later sent, once more, to the auction block in 1884. It would receive its premiere performance in November of that year in Vienna, followed by a repeat performance and subsequent premiere in Beethoven’s hometown of Bonn in June of 1885 to much critical acclaim. The German composer Johannes Brahms famously praised the work, writing to music critic Eduard Hanslick in 1885 “Even if there were no name on the title page, none other could be conjectured—it is Beethoven through and through! The beautiful and noble pathos, sublime in its feeling and imagination, the intensity, perhaps violent in its expression; moreover, the voice-leading and declamation, and in the two outer sections all the characteristics which we may observe in and associate with his later works.”


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