Beethoven around 1803


While we considered the Eroica's conceptual genesis of in our first part of our exploration of the topic of the Third Symphony, in it, we also found references to the >>biographical<< connection of this work to the Heiligenstadt Will.  With respect to this, Maynard Solomon writes:

""Thus I bid thee farewell."  The Heiligenstadt Testament is a leave-taking--which is to say, a fresh start.  Beethoven here enacted his own death in order that he might live again.  He recreated himself in a new guise, self-sufficient and heroic.  The testament is a funeral work, like the Joseph Cantata and Christ on the Mount of Olives.  In a sense it is the literary prototype of the Eroica Symphony, a portrait of the artist as hero, stricken by deafness, withdrawn from mankind, conquering his impulses to suicide, struggling against fate, hoping to find "but one day of pure joy."  It is a daydream compounded of heroism, death, and rebirth, a reaffirmation of Beethoven's adherence to virtue and to the categorical imperative" (Solomon: 121).

William Kinderman appears to basically agree with this viewpoint: 

"The most important written documentation of Beethoven's personal crisis is the Heiligenstadt Testament, dated 6 October 1802, well over a year after his letters to Wegeler and Amenda (we shall return to it below in connection with the Eroica Symphony)" (Kinderman: 61).

On the other hand, in this context, Barry Cooper also points out the connection of this issue to Beethoven's wish to find a >>new path<<:

"'Heiligenstadt, 10 October 1802, thus I take leave of thee-and indeed sadly,'  This is how, in a postscript to his Testament, Beethoven bade farewell to the village of his hopes and ultimate despair.  He returned to Vienna, probably that day, and promptly threw himself into his work--a common means of overcoming grief.  Only eight days later he wrote enthusiastically to Breitkopf & Härtel about his two new sets of variations (Opp. 34 and 35), and about how 'nearly all foreign publishers are continually writing to me for compositions'.(1: A-62)  The return from Heiligenstadt also marked a new beginning, and from this moment there is a distinctive change in the nature of his output.  Of course, all his major works show novel features, and his two new sets of variations exhibit more innovations than most.  Beethoven had also already been consciously exploring new directions, according to Czerny, who reports that between the composition of the Sonata, Op. 28, and the three of Op. 31 Beethoven said: 'I am not very well satisfied with the work I have thus far done.  From this day on I shall take a new way.'(2: Sonneck, Impressions, 31; here Czerny dates the conversation c. 1800, but in Proper Performance, 13, he dates it c. 1803).  Nevertheless, the works written immediately after Heiligenstadt can be seen as more profoundly innovative, pointing in new directions and moving much further away from the legacy of Haydn and Mozart.  The first works conceived after Heiligenstadt are extremely important in this respect:  the oratorio Christus am Oelberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives) and the Eroica Symphony, both of which had deep personal significance, as will be seen.  The new attitude is also reflected in a letter dated 23 November 1802 from Carl to the publisher Johann Andre, who like other publishers had applied to Beethoven for new compositions:

If you should want three pianoforte sonatas, I could provide them for no less than 900 florins, all according to Vienna standard, and you could not have these all at once, but one very five or six weeks, because my brother does not trouble himself much with such trifles any longer and composes only oratorios, operas etc. (3: Alb-49; BB-113)

This last comment may seem absurdly pompous, but it doubtless reflects Beethoven's own desire to move away from sonatas to more elevated types of composition, and the reference to 'oratorios, operas etc.' is not as inaccurate as might first appear.  He had been finishing an operatic due, 'Nei guioni tuoi felici' (WoO 93), as the culmination of his studies with Salieri and with the intention of moving on to a full-length opera (he had been greatly impressed by the French operas by Cherubini introduced to Vienna earlier that year).  And evidently he was already planning the new oratorio which he began sketching that winter.  He was therefore reluctant to write yet more sonatas, which may be one reason why Carl demanded a still higher price than before (equivalent to about 160 ducats in 1803, whereas the three Sonatas, Op. 31 had been sold for only 100 ducats).  When Beethoven did eventually return to sonatas in 1803, he was to produce works of strikingly new grandeur and power--the 'Kreutzer' and the 'Waldstein'.  Thus his new direction after Heiligenstadt is reflected both in new genres (oratorio and opera) and a major advance in his instrumental style as reflected in the Eroica and these two next sonatas.    To suggest that his 'second period' began in 1802, with the two new sets of variations or the works that immediately followed, is an oversimplification, and the idea is now frequently challenged.  But it is undeniable that there was in a short space of time a dramatic change in his style, both in terms of new genres and new approaches to old ones, and the notion that this change marks in broad terms the beginning of the second great period of his oeuvre is likely to survive.  . . . " (Cooper: 122-123).

As we can see from the above comments by Solomon, Kinderman and Cooper, Beethoven appears to have been driven by two different motivations with respect to the Eroica: on the one hand, we might observe what Solomon refers to as the >>Heiligenstadt-prototypical<< impulse of his artistic dealing with his life crisis of the years 1800-18002, on the other hand, we might also observe what Cooper, quoting Czerny, referred to as Beethoven's impulse of finding a "new path" in his compositions.

Kropfinger describes this as follows: 

" . . . Dabei gibt das >Heiligenstädter Testament< im Kodizill selbst Zeugnis von den kontrastierenden Stimmungen dieses Sommers, dem >>Hohen Muth<<, der ihn >>in den Schönen Sommertagen beseelte<<, den er nun, obgleich verschwunden, wieder herbeisehnt - als >>reine Freude<< von der Vorsehung wieder erfleht.  Doch die den Brief beschließende Frage >>Nie? -- nein - o es wäre zu hart<< -- hält sie nicht den Text offen?  Glimmt der gefallenen Hoffnung im Spannungsfeld von Freude des Sommers und herbstlichem Blätterfall nicht doch noch ein >>Licht in der Nacht<< (Th. Mann, Doktor Faustus, GS 4, Ffm., S. 651) - das Licht der schöpferischen Überwindung?  Der aus diesem Kontrast resultierende, der Überwindung sich verdankende kompositorische Schub, der praktisch über ein ganzes Jahrzehnt trug und an dessen Anfang die Eroica mit ihren Satellitenkompositionen, den Variationen op. 35 und 35 steht, hatte freilich ein besondere, zusätzliche innere Antriebskraft, einen >Nachbrenner<, dessen Dokumente lange verborgen geblieben sind und erst in den 1950er Jahren vor die Öffentlichkeit kamen" (Kropfinger: 106 - 107; --

-- Kropfinger writes here that the codicil of the >Heiligenstdt Will< bears witness to the contrasting moods of this summer, of the >high courage> that filled Beethoven >in the beautiful summer days< that, although it had vanished, he was yearning for as >pure joy<.  Kropfinger then asks himself if the question that concludes this text, >Never?--no--o, it would be too hard< does not leave some hope and if, even in the tension between the dreary fall mood of fallen leaves and the vanished joy of summer, there might not still glimmer a nightlight, as Thomas Mann reportedly expressed it in his novel 'Doctor Faustus', namely the light of creative victory?  Kropfinger then refers to the compositional impetus that might have arisen out of this contrast and the fact of Beethoven's having overcome it, at least at his artistic level and that this impetus practically carried him for an entire decade, at the beginning of which we see his Eroica and its satellite compositions, and that this impetus also had a special guiding force, a king of >afterglow<, the documents of which, so Kropfinger, had not been accessible for a long time and which only became publicly known in the 1950's).

If we, in this context, take a look at the end of this year in Beetoven's life, then we can, on the basis of Cooper's report, first come to the conclusion that already eight days after his return to Vienna, Beethoven wrote to Breitkopf an Härtel and offered him his new Variations, op. 34 and 35.  In order to get a better impression of Beethoven's mood at that time, let us take a look at the original text of this letter and at our own translation of it: 

 Beethoven an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig

                                                                                                [Wien, 18. Oktober 1802][1]

   Indem ihnen mein Bruder schreibt, füge ich noch folgendes bey--ich habe zwei Werke Variationen gemacht, wovon man das eine [2] auf 8 Variationen berechnen, und das andere [3] auf 3<8>0--beyde sind auf eine wircklich ganz neue Manier bearbeitet, jedes auf eine andre verschiedene Art, ich wünschte sie vorzüglich bey ihnen gestochen zu sehn, doch unter keiner andern Bedingung als für ein Honorar für beyde zusammen von 50#--laßen sie mich ihnen nicht umsonst den Antrag gemacht haben, indem ich sie versichere, daß diese beyden Werke sie nicht gereuen werden.--jedes thema ist darin für sich auf eine selbst vom andern Verschiedene Art behandelt, ich höre <sonst> es sonst nur von andern sagen, wenn ich neue Ideen habe, <aber> indem ich es selbst niemals weiß, aber diesmal--<kann>muß ich sie selbst versichern, daß die Manier in beyden Werken ganz neu von mir ist.--

Was sie mir einmal <mit>von dem Versuch des Abgang's meiner Werke schreiben, [4] das kann ich nicht eingehen, es muß wohl einen großen Beweiß für den Abgang meiner Werke seyn, wenn fast alle Auswärtige Verleger beständig mir um Werke schreiben, und selbst die Nachstecher, worüber sie sich mit Recht beklagen, gehören auch unter diese Zahl, indem Simrock mir schon einigemal um eigene für sich allein Besizende Werke geschrieben, und mir bezahlen Will, was nur immer jeder andre Verleger auch -- Sie können es als eine Art von Vorzug ansehen, daß ich ihnen vor allen selbst diesen Antrag, gemacht, indem ihre Handlung immer Auszeichnung verdient. --

                                                                                                   ihr L. van Beethowen.

Beethoven to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig

                                                                                                [Vienna, October 18, 1802][1]

   In that my brother is writing to you, I still add the following--I have completed two works Variations, of which the one [2] could be considered 8 Variations, and the other [3} as 3<8>0--both have been treated in a really entirely new manner, and each in a different way, I prefer to see them engraved by you, but only under the condition of receiving 50# for both of them--do not let me make this offer for nothing in that I assure you that you will not regret these two works.--in it, each theme is treated in a manner that is different from the manner in which the others are treated, otherwise, I only hear it from others when I have new ideas, <but> in that I never know it, myself, but this time--I <can> have to assure you, myself, that the manner in both works is quite new, by me.-- 

   What you write [to] me with respect to the attempt of selling my works, [4] I can not see for myself, it must be proof of the salability of my works, that almost all of the foreign publishers constantly write to me and ask me for my works, and even the engravers, about whom you rightfully complain, also belong to this number, in that several times, Simrock has written to me for some works that he would have sole rights to and which he wants to pay for what any other publisher will pay for them--You can consider it as a kind of privilege that I have offered you these works, since your firm always deserves special recognition.-- 

                                                                                                   your L. van Beethowen.


[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 1, Letter No. 108, p. 126 - 127]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus, Bodmer Collection; to [1]: refers to the fact, that this letter had been added to the letter of Karl van Beethoven; to [2]: refers to op. 34; to [3]: refers to op. 35; to 4: refers to Letter No. 92; details taken from p. 127].


From Beethoven's own lines, we can at least see that, after his return from Heiligenstadt, he delved into his compositional matters with full force.  At this point, we should try to find out, when Beethoven began to actually work on his Third Symphony.    




The first chronicler we can turn to is Barry Cooper. As he (p. 129-130) reports, the first sketches to this symphony go back to October 1802, whereby he leaves it open as to whether they were begun shortly before or after Beethoven's writing of his Heiligenstadt Will.  Immediately following the last sketches for his Prometheus Variations, writes Cooper, Beethoven began, on the very next page, a sketch for a great Symphony in E-flat Major (on p. 44-45 of the so-called Wielhorsky sketchbook), however, as Cooper points out,   the details of this sketch were still very different from the later Eroica.  In this sketch, continues Cooper, one finds a slow introduction and the second movement was planned as an Adagio in C-Major, the third movement as a 'menuetto serioso', followed by a Trio in G-Major, and the themes are not recognizable, although some melody fragments reflect ideas from the Eroica.  On the second page of this sketch, writes Cooper, in Beethoven's detailed draft, the similarities to the Eroica are even closer.  Cooper also points out that, remarkably, one does not find a sketch for the finale and assumes that one has to go out from the possibility that Beethoven had already decided to include the theme from Prometheus that he had just used for the variations on the previous pages.  As Cooper writes, also other ideas in these sketches point towards the Eroica.  The slow introduction is based on a triadic theme, as in the first subject of the Eroica, and the first attempt of a main Allegro theme has, in Cooper's view, clearly been taken from the bass line that played such an important role in the Prometheus Variations and that ultimately also found its way into the Eroica finale. As Cooper further points out, the subdominant keys of C-major and g-minor, although they are not used in the main movements, play an important role in the final version.  From this, Cooper concludes that Beethoven's original idea must have been that of a great  Promethean Symphony, whether Napoleon was to play a role in it or not.  

To round off our impression of Beethoven's general life circumstances during the last months of the year 1802, we can report that both Thayer's reports as and the correspondence that is contained in the Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe reflect his arguments and troubles with respect to the edition of his Violin Quintet, op. 29 (with respect to the editions by Artaria/Mollo and Breitkopf & Härtel), while his notes to his friend Zmeskall bear witness to a more whimsical communication, with respect to Beethoven's acquisition of a new piano.   

Returning to Beethoven's progress of his work on his Eroica we can report that Thayer's comments lead us into the year 1802.  As he (p. 327-328) writes, in his letter of February 12, 1803 to Breitkopf and Härtel, his brother Johann wrote that, meanwhile, Beethoven had been engaged by the 'Wiedener Theater' to write an opera.  With respect to this, Thayer comments that Beethoven only began to work on this opera in the fall of this year and that, in the meantime, he turned to working on his Third Symphony.  

Thayer (p. 348) describes the Third Symphony as Beethoven's great achievement of the year 1803 and that sketches to all four movements can be found in the so-called "Eroica" sketchbook which has been described by Nottebohm in his work, Ein Skizzenbuch von Beethoven aus dem Jahre 1803.  According to Thayer, the sketches for the Eroica take up the first third of this sketchbook.  Relying on Max Unger,  Thayer reports that Beethoven was working on these sketches mainly from May to November, 1803.   (With respect to the sketchbooks that Beethoven used during this year, Kropfinger (Time Table, p. 29) refers to the so-called Wielhorsky sketchbook and to 'Landsberg 6'.) 

To this information, we can to add that, from February to the end of May, 1803, Beethoven first was busy with the composition and premiere of his Oratorio, Chris on the Mount of Olives, on April 5, 1803, and that after that, some of his time was taken up by his acquaintance with the British violinist Bridgetower.  Where did Beethoven subsequently spend the warm season?  Let us find out from Thayer: 

"At the beginning of the warm season Beethoven, as was his annual custom, appears to have spent some weeks in Baden to refresh himself and revive his energies after the irregular, exciting and fatiguing city life of the winter, before retiring to the summer lodgings, whose location he describes in a note to Ries (Notizen, p. 128) as "in Oberdöbling No. 4, the street to the left where you go down the mountain to Heiligenstadt."



The Eroica House



Beethoven's quarters consisted of an anteroom (which he used as a kitchen) and three rooms, two of which were on the street side.  It was a simple wine-grower's house on level ground which at the time was the property of the vinegar-maker, Franz Nusser.  For this information regarding the so-called "Eroica house," the editor is grateful to the late Dr. Kurt Smolle of Vienna, who had this to add:  The house--Vienna XIX, Döblinger Hauptstrasse No. 92--still stands, though somewhat changed since in the course of time a story has been added.  It was also less wide than the present street front; in the place of the present front there was a small path through (now Heiligenstädterstrasse).  The street in front of the house was much higher, so that the windows were closer to street level.  The house is known as "Biederhof" after a later owner, and also as "Eroicahaus." -- In 1803 it had gardens, vineyards or green fields in both front and rear.  True, it was half an hour's walk farther than from Heiligenstadt to the scenes in which he had composed the second Symphony the preceding summer; but to comnpensate for this, it was so much nearer the city--was in the more immediate vicinity of that arm of the Danube called the "Canal"--and almost under its windows was the gorge of the Krottenbach, which separates Döbling from Heiligenstadt, and which, as it extends inland from the river, spreads into a fine vale, then very solitary and still very beautiful.  This was the house, this is the summer, and these the scenes, in which the composer wrought out the conceptions that during the past five years had been assuming form and consistency in his mind, to which Bernadotte may have given the original impulse, and which we know as the "Eroica" Symphony.  The history of this symphony will be taken up in the next chapter" (Thayer: 335, in "The Year 1803").

Cooper (p. 129-130) also confirms that Beethoven continued to work on his Third Symphony, in June of this year and that he worked on it intensively during this summer.

With respect to Beethoven's sketches, William Kinderman comments: 

"Further evidence comes from his reported comment to Neate, 'I have always a picture in my mind, when I am composing, and work up to it', and by his comment to Treitschke, 'For my custom when I am composing even instrumental music is always to keep the whole in view'. (15: Cited in Solomon, 'Beethoven's Creative Process:  A Two-Part Invention', Beethoven Essays, pp. 127-8, which demonstrates that the famous account of Beethoven's creative process by Louis Schlösser is trustworthy) This characteristic but paradoxical procedure was recognized by Ernest Newman (in his book The Unconscious Beethoven), who wrote of the first movement of the Eroica:

From the Sketch Books, we get the impression that in some queer subconscious way the movement possessed him as a whole before he began to think about the details; and the long and painful search for the themes was simply an effort, not to find workable atoms out of which he could construct a musical edifice according to the conventions of symphonic form, but to reduce an already existing nebula, in which that edifice was implicit, to the atom, and then, by the orderly arrangement of these atoms, to make the implicit explicit.(16: pp. 115-16)" (Kinderman: 63-64).

This insertion of Kinderman's comments with respect to Beethoven's methods of working on this symphony is only intended to serve as a brief hint at the topic of the musical genesis  of the Eroica which we shall discuss more thoroughly in our next section.  Here, we should return to our creation history.  

With respect to information on Beethoven's activities in the fall and winter of 1803/1804, after his return from Oberdöbling, we can turn to Cooper (p. 129-130),  Solomon (p. 130) and Thayer (p. 348).  

With respect to this, Cooper reports: " It was finished quite quickly, for Ries informed Simrock on 22 October that Beethoven had recently played it to him (on the piano), and that a full performance would make Heaven and Earth tremble.(12: Alb-71; BB-165)"  (Cooper: 129-130).   With respect to this we might wish to take a look at the original text and our English translation of it: 

 Ferdinand Ries an Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn

                                                                                          [Wien, 22. Oktober 1803][1]

  . . . Die Symphonie will er Ihnen für 100 Gulden verkaufen. [7] Es ist nach seiner Äußerung das größte Werk, welches er bisher schrieb.  Beethoven spielte sie mir neulich und ich glaube Himmel und Erde muß unter einem zittern bei ihrer Aufführung . . . 

Ferdinand Ries to Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn

                                                                                          [Vienna, October 22, 1803][1]

  . . . He wants to sell the symphony to you for 100 florins. [7]  In his own view, it is the greatest work that he has written, thus far.  Beethoven played it to me, recently, and I thought that heaven and earth must tremble at its performance . . .


[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 1, Letter No.  165, p. 190 - 192]

[Original:  wherabouts not known, text pursuant to  Erich Herrmann, Beethoven und Simrock, Simrock-Jahrbuch 2 (1929), p. 27f.; to [1]: refers to the dating according to Müller; to [7]: refers to op. 55, the Eroica; details taken from p. 191 - 192].

Solomon reports that in November 1803, Beethoven began with his work on Schikaneder's libretto to Vestas Feuer, that he, however, cast it aside and turned to J.N. Bouilly's French Leonore subject and began to work on the first act of his only opera, until the change in ownership of the theater [which we reported on in more detail in our Fidelio creation history] led to the dissolution of his contract with it, and that this contract would only be renewed in the fall of 1804, so that Beethoven was also forced to interrupt his  work on Leonore.  As Solomon further reports, Beethoven then turned to revising the Eroica in order to have it ready for a private performance at the Lobkowitz Palais.  Also Thayer confirms that Beethoven's final work on his Third Symphony dragged out into the beginning of 1804.   

Thus it is not surprising that the Third Symphony is described by Thayer, on the one hand, as having been composed in 1803 (p. 342), and, on the other hand, as having been completed in 1804 (p. 362). 




As Thayer (p. 348-350), referring to Moritz Lichnowsky's comment to Anton Schindler, in the spring of 1804, a clean copy of the work was to be sent to Paris.   

Ferdinand Ries' report that we already featured in our 'conceptual genesis', refers to a copy of the score on Beethoven's table, with the word 'Buonaparte' at the top and 'Luigi van Beethoven' at the bottom, and to his bringing to Beethoven the news of Napoleon's proclamation as Emperor (see the German original text and our translation of it in the 'conceptual genesis').  According to Thayer  (p. 348-350), Count Lichnowsky  had told Schindler of this event years before Wegeler's and Ries' publication of their 'Biographische Notizen'. 

As Thayer (p. 348-350) reports, the actions of the French Tribunal and Senate that led to Napoleon's proclamation as Emperor took place on May 3, 4 and 17, 1804, and the official proclamation is reported as having taken place on May 20, 1804.  Therefore, a copy of the score must have already existed at least at the beginning of May, since also in those days, such important news did not take ten days to reach Vienna.   That it was a copy, writes Thayer, is confirmed by reliable witnesses such as Ferdinand Ries and Count Lichnowsky.  Thayer further refers to Beethoven's own score, which, in the posthumous sale of his belongings was sold to the Viennese composer Joseph Dessauer for 3 florins 10 Kreutzer, in 1827, which, however, could not have been the above-noted copy.  This original, writes Thayer, featured a great deal of erasures and corrections, right from the beginning, and its title page could not have suited Ries' description.  Here, we can refer to the listing of the content of the title page in our conceptual genesis, which we have taken from Solomon.  

After our determination of the time frame of events in connection with Ries' report, we can refer to Solomon (p. 131) who reports that, although on July 6, 1804, Beethoven had written to a German music lover, Gottlob Wiedebein,  that he would very likely be leaving Vienna in the next winter, from Beethoven's Brunsvik correspondence one can discern that at that time, he no longer wanted to settle in Paris but rather travel there with Prince Lichnowsky.  Solomon writes that Beethoven's decision to stay in Vienna was closely related to the 'dramatic'  event of the year 1804 that Ries had reported on, an event, that would have some influence on his political and ideological outlook. 

After this chronological discussion of all aspects of the actual creation of the Third Symphony, we can turn to its musical genesis.