Theater-an-der-Wien during Beethoven's Time



Taking leave of Kinderman's Promethean comments on the musical genesis of the Eroica, we turn to the history of its first performances.  From our creation history we might recall our chronological comments on the completion of the score and the clean copy of this work.  In that section, based on Ferdinand Ries' report and Thayer's comments on it, we determined that a clean copy of the score must have been completed at least at the beginning of May, 1804.  

As Ries (according to Thayer, p. 348-350) reports, Prince Lobkowitz obtained the right to first enjoy this Symphony in a few private performances in his own Palais.   Cooper (p. 148) points us to the earliest written reference with respect to this: 

"Lobkowitz also enjoyed the first performances of the symphony, which was played privately in his palace several times.  The earliest record of these performances is an invoice dated 9 June 1804, which refers to two 'rehearsals' of the Eroica (presumably trial runs) that had just taken place: (Cooper: 148).

Whether or not Solomon's following report refers to these rehearsals or not is something we can not determine with certainty.  However, he provides us with a vivid impression of the impact on Beethoven of his growing loss of hearing during that time: 

"To be sure, there is a report that Beethoven had difficulty hearing the wind instruments during an 1804 rehearsal of the Eroica Symphony; and in the same year Stephan von Breuning wrote to Wegeler:  "You cannot believe, dear Wegeler, what an indescribable--I should say terrifying--impression the waning of his hearing has had upon him. . . . "" (Solomon: 122).

As Thayer has Ries report, in December, 1804, a private performance of the work took place at the Lobkowitz Palais:  

"In December the famous Munich oboist Ramm was in Vienna and took part with Beethoven in one of Prince Lobkowitz' concerts.

Here it happened that Beethoven, who was directing [the Eroica] himself, in the second part of the first Allegro, where the music is pursued for so many measures in half-notes against the beat, threw the orchestra off in such a way that a new beginning had to be made.

In the first Allegro occurs a mischievous whim (böse Laune) of Beethoven's for the first horn; in the second part, several measures before the theme recurs in its entirety, Beethoven has the horn suggest it at a place where the two violins are still holding a second chord.  To one unfamiliar with the score this must always sound as if the horn player had made a miscount and entered at the wrong place.  At the first rehearsal of the symphony, which was horrible, but at which the horn player made his entry correctly, I stood beside Beethoven, and, thinking that a blunder had been made I said: 'Can't the damned hornist count?--it sounds infamously false!'  I think I came pretty close to receiving a box on the ear.  Beethoven did not forgive the slip for a long time" (Thayer: 348-350; in: "The Year 1804").


The Lobkowitz Palais in Vienna



Cooper (p. 148) reports that Beethoven made many minor changes to the music during the private performances of the Eroica at the Lobkowitz Palais which have been reflected as corrections, in the original score.  Also, so Cooper, Beethoven had the first movement rehearsed several times with and without a repetition of the exposition before he came to the conclusion that it should better be included.  With respect to this, Cooper still comments:   

". . . paradoxically, the movement seems excessively long without it.  The repeat was finally confirmed in a letter from Carl to Breitkopf dated 12 February 1805:  'My brother thought at first, before he had heard the symphony, that it would be too long if the first part of the first movement were repeated, but after several performances it was found disadvantageous if the first part were not repeated.(8: Alb-98; BB-212)  (Cooper: 148).

Cooper (p. 148) also refers to a semi-private performance of the Eroica in February, 1805 (Kropfinger (S. 29) dates this, the Würth performance, to the 20th of January, 1805), in connection with a performance of his First Symphony. 

Both Cooper (p. 148) and Thayer (p. 375) point out that the first public performance of this work took place on April 7, 1805.  Let us take a look at Thayer's report: 

"Its first really public performance was in the Theater-an-der-Wien, on Sunday evening, April 7th, where it began the second part of a concert given for his own benefit by Clement.  The programme announces it thus:  "A new grand symphony in D-sharp (9: According to German tablature, flat tones (E-flat, A-flat) were customarily called sharp tones (D-sharp, G-sharp) right into the 19th century) by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven, dedicated to his Serene Highness Prince Lobkowitz.  The composer has kindly consented to conduct the work."

Czerny remembered, and told Jahn, that on this occasion "somebody in the gallery cried out" 'I'll give another kreutzer if the thing will but stop!'"  (Thayer: 375). 

Later, we shall discuss the criticism of these performances in our reception history.  However, before we turn to the publication history of the Eroica, we should perhaps also take a look at Beethoven's general life circumstances during the years 1804 - 1806.