Saturday, 25 August 2018


One of the few surviving, contemporary portraits of Beethoven: the
"Waldmüller" portrait (unfinished) by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
Beethoven sat for this likeness sometime after April 13, 1823.
The Beethoven-Haus museum at Bonn is the recipient of two “previously unknown” documents related to the 19th century musical icon: a letter, addressed to one Heinrich von Struve, a childhood friend of the composer, and the original manuscript for Beethoven’s 1817 “Ruf vom Berge,” (Call of the Mountains), a tender lied set to texts written and assembled by the poet and Fidelio librettist Georg Friedrich Treitschke (who borrowed from the popular Volkslied “Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär” for the lied’s first verse).

Beethoven first met the Leipzig-born playwright in Vienna in 1811. Treitschke, who had relocated to the Austrian capital eleven years earlier, had already caused quite a stir among the city’s artistic sphere, establishing himself as a leading and eminent poetic mind – one which would serve both budding and established composers alike quite handsomely should they be fortuitous enough to make his acquaintance.

Together, the dynamic pair would first collaborate in 1814, when an unsatisfied Beethoven implored the revered writer to re-work the libretto for his only opera, Fidelio, which had been previously prepared into German by the Austrian librettist Joseph Sonnleithner from the French libretto of "Léonore, ou l'Amour conjugal," an alleged ‘historically inspired’ work by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly (1798).

The Treitschke version of Fidelio would premiere on the 23rd of May in 1814 at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, nearly a decade after the original Sonnleithner version of 1805 (and a subsequent reduction the following year by librettist Stephan von Breuning).

Heinrich von Struve
Beethoven’s relationship with Heinrich von Struve extends even further – the pair first made acquaintance sometime after 1789 in the composer’s native Bonn, following the death of von Struve’s sister, the wife of a local diplomat, whom he had visited from his home in the Bavarian city of Regensburg.

Von Struve was the son of Russian agent (and later Ambassador to Regensburg) Anton von Struve. At just 17, von Struve would become one of Beethoven’s youngest friends (the composer was two years his senior). He would later follow in the footsteps of his father, becoming a diplomat in the Russian Imperial Service.

Correspondence between the two friends survive, and are known to scholars. Two notable examples lay in a letter from Beethoven to von Struve, dated 17 September 1795 from Vienna, sold at auction in June 2012[1] in Berlin; and in a tender note from von Struve to the composer in the latter’s cherished Stammbuch, an autograph book gifted to Beethoven in November of 1792 before his departure from Bonn to Vienna, where he would reside until his death.

The Stammbuch, organized by Matthias Koch, the son of the owner of the Zehrgarten, (a tavern on the Marktplatz in Bonn which served as a favorite meeting hub for young artistic intelligentsia) and fellow mate Johann Martin Degenhart, was designed as both a token of farewell and as a keepsake for Beethoven to accompany him on his relocation to Vienna, where the 21 year old musician was scheduled to study under the eminent composer Joseph Haydn.

The collection of epigrams, poetry, and personal messages – solicited by Koch and Degenhart from frequent patrons of the Zehrgarten – began some eight or nine days before Beethoven’s departure, concluding on November 1, 1792, at which time it is believed the Stammbuch was presented to the composer during a celebratory sendoff held at the tavern. Beethoven was known to have cherished the autograph book – it was discovered among his possessions following his death in 1827.

Von Struve’s entry, which contains a quote from the noted philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, (father to both Felix and Fanny) is dated 30 October.[2]

It reads:

“Bestimmung des Menschen.

Wahrheit erkennen, Schönheit lieben,
Gutes wollen, das Beste thun.
Bonn den 30ten October 1792.

Denk, auch ferne, zuweilen Deines
wahren aufrichtigen Freundes

Heinr. Struve aus Regensbrg.
in Russisch Kaiserl.”

Translated into English:[3]

“Bonn, October 30th, 1792

The Purpose of Mankind

To discern Wisdom, to love Beauty,
To desire Good, to do the Best.

Think occasionally from afar
Of your sincere friend,

Heinr. Struve from Regensburg,
In the Russian Imperial Service."

This brief note is followed by an illustration by von Struve of two entwined wreaths: one wound with roses, the other with ripe grapes, representing the blossoms of youth, and the fruit of wisdom in "ripe, old age."[4]  Von Struve borrowed the first two verses from Mendelssohn’s entry in the Stammbuch of Norwegian artist Jacob Peter Hersleb.

At present, there are no further details on the new acquisitions at Bonn. The documents were acquired with the aid of the NRW Ministry of Culture, the Cultural Commissioner of the Federal Government and the Cultural Foundation of Länder. 

Listen below to a recording of English lyric tenor John Mark Ainsley perform Beethoven's “Ruf vom Berge” (wo0 147):

Footnotes / links:
[1]Letter sold by Berlin auction house Stargart for €140,000 on 6th June 2012 under lot no. 589.
Official register for 2012 and background

[2]Ludwig van Beethoven (Große Komponisten), Thayer, Alexander Wheelock
[3,4]Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828 pp. 22, ed. Albrecht, Theodore
External Links:

No comments:

Post a comment