BEETHOVEN'S CANTATAS OF 1790

Cantata on the Death of
Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87

Cantata on the Elevation of
Emperor Leopold II, WoO 88


CREATION HISTORY




Introduction

In his work, "The Life of Beethoven", the American historian Alexander Wheelock Thayer reported in chapter VII, "The Compositions Written at Bonn, 1786 - 1792", that "the most interesting compositions in the Bonn period are unquestionably the cantatas on the death of Joseph II and the elevation of Leopold II" (Thayer 119), subsequently turning this section into an "all-over-the-place journey" on the subject, while Maynard Solomon, in his Beethoven biography of 1977, dedicates to the "creation history" of both works (which is accomplished in a chronological manner) one entire paragraph and to the further fate of the compositions a further single paragraph, in order to immediately turn to a discussion on the importance of these works.

The study of both texts, as they present themselves to the readers in the above works, may throw them or her into a state of "chronological confusion" (by Thayer) or, as in Solomon's concise biography (with its overall length of 400 pages), out of necessity, into a "hurried sense of briefness" that might not make both works accessible to them in such a way that a "chronological understanding" of them can be derived from this reading material, and that would enable the readers to work on their own understanding of this concept in order to increase their listening enjoyment, while both above "modes of presentation" may very well provide a "first overview" with respect to these works.

Therefore, it is the purpose of this "creation history" to present the history of the creation, performance/non-performance, and further fate of these works in such a "chronological manner" that will assist readers in attaining such a "chronological understanding" of these works before their first listening experience, whether or not they are already familiar with the above overviews or not.

(Before we embark on this overview, we should mention, however, that Barry Cooper's questioning, in his Beethoven biography (published in 2000 in the 'Master Musicians' Series'), the traditionally believed paucity of Beethoven works during the years 1787 - 1789, is mainly based on examinations of the ink and the paper used in Beethoven's production of compositional sketches of the period of 1786 - 1792 and provides us, therefore, with new insights into Beethoven's possible compositional activities during these years.  Cooper also provides a second argument that should be mentioned here in chronological context.)

WoO 87 -- From Joseph II's Death to Beethoven's 'Commission'

News of Emperor Joseph II's death in Vienna on February 20, 1790, reached his brother Maximilian Franz, the Elector and Archbishop of Cologne in Bonn on February 24th.

The Bonn "Reading Society" immediately planned a memorial celebration that was scheduled for March 19th and that subsequently also took place on that day.

For this purpose, a meeting took place on February 28th, at which Professor Eulogius Schneider (1) already had in his pocket a text for a cantata which his protegee, the 20-year-old Anton Severin Averdonk (2), of the corporation of the canons of the Bethlehemite Monastery in Ehrenbreitstein (Wiedtal) and, at that time, aslo a "candidate at the upper school in Bonn" (thus, as Schneider, a monk), had written. Schneider intended to hold the memorial address himself, of course. He might also have provided his protegee with some of the "material" for the writing of the text of the cantata, as the following comparison demonstrated:

From Schneider's "Elegy on the Death of Joseph II"

No sooner had you mounted the throne
Than you boldly attacked
Fanaticism, that unholy being.
Ha! The monster spewed
Sulphurous vapors, and poison and fire,
But you did not vanquish it entirely.

Compared to this, Averdonk's text

"RECITATIVO"
A monster, whose name is Fanaticism,
Arose from the depths of hell
Draped himself between the sun and
the earth
And it became night!

ARIA

Then came Joseph with the strength of God
He tore the raging monster
From his place between earth and heaven
And trod on his head.

ARIA CON CORO

The people then emerged into the light,
The earth revolved more happily around the sun,
And the sun warmed
With the rays of Heaven.

By his suggestion that a cantata should be performed at the memorial celebration, to the already completed text of which one of the 'excellent musicians from among our ranks' might offer their services (with whom he might, out of politeness, have referred to Christian Gottlob Neefe or Reicha), but perhaps also "an outside composer, who will apply himself to his musical task," he might have opened 'the door' for Beethoven to this possibility, since the latter, during this winter semester enrolled as a lay student at the University of Bonn, was not allowed to become a member of the 'Reading Society' ('outside composer' thus referred to a composer who was not a Society member).  Here, we should mention Cooper's second argument with respect to Beethoven's compositional activities of the years 1787 - 1789.  He contends that Beethoven might not have received this commission had he not shown his progress as a young composer in some works that he produced during the previous years. (For more details, please refer to the Section Beethoven's Later Bonn Years of our Biography Pages).

Here it might be interesting to note that Beethoven also purchased Schneider's collection of poetry during that year. In this collection, we can also find the following Schneider writings that are fitting to this subject:

To punish fanaticism with scorn,
To shatter the scepter of stupidity,
To fight for the rights of man -
No princely serf can achieve this.
For this requires free spirits,
Who prefer death to hypocrisy,
And poverty to slavery;
Know that of such spirits
Mine is not the last.

From this context and also from the further fact that Beethoven's most important patron of that time, Count Waldstein, was also a member of the "Reading Society", one could at least arrive at the possiblity or even directly derive it therefrom how Beethoven received his commission to write this cantata.

About the Creation of this Work and About its Initially not Being Performed

Already two days before the planned performance of this work it was obvious that it was 'not' or 'not yet' available. The laconic comment in the protocol of the 'Reading Society' of March 17th reads, "The recommended cantata cannot be performed for various reasons."

It is "very likely" that Beethoven, at the utmost 18 days after having received this commission, "was not yeat ready to deliver." A later report by Clemens August von Schall of June 16th, 1790, sheds a poignant light on the reasons for this:

"As far as the music is concerned, Beethoven has produced such a densely written sonata on the death of Joseph II - the text is by Averdonk - that it can only be performed here by a full orchestra or other similar body."

On the one hand, this "time frame" confirms Thayer's comment that the work "was written between March and June, 1790" (Thayer 119), while the facts mentioned in this report for the "various reasons" hint at the "qualitative character" of the work as a full orchestra work in which Beethoven had left behind the "orchestral possibilities" offered him in Bonn and thereby might also have created his first "master work".

Further, it can be noted that this also meant that the work could certainly not be performed by the number of musicians that were available to the "Reading Society" and that, according to the reports of musicologists, on the basis of their (later) study of the score, "the lack of string players precluded any proper balance between the winds and the strings."

The demands that Beethoven, in the creation of this cantata, put to the musicians are described as "challenging and out of the ordinary" but "in no way unplayable", while Nikolaus Simrock later emphasised that "all of the figurations in that cantata seemed 'most uncommon'," but also insisted "that they could all be executed," and that "the musical substance could not be given its adequate expression because there were simply no models." (All quotations from: Irmen).

To the Creation of WoO 88

The 'Elevation of Leopold II to the Imperial Dignity' on October 9th, 1790, to which Maximilian Franz, but also certain composers of the "First Viennese School of Music" would travel (3), gives us a further "time frame" for the creation of this second cantata. Unfortunately, it can not be determined with certainty as to whether the Elector Maximilian Franz commissioned this work from Beethoven or not. The writing of this text by Averdonk is also more assumed than certain. For a complete listing of both texts, we refer to (4) in our general "notes" to this history, in which the text of the "Final Chorus" of the "Leopold Cantata", a direct quotation from Schiller's "Ode to Joy" with "Stuerzet nieder, Millionen!" (Bough down, you millions), creates an interesting link with this work. To the "general quality" of this text and to its "thematic relation" to the "Ode to Joy" and to the "spirit of the times", we can not provide any further comments in this short chronological presentation.

To the Further Fate of these Works during Beethoven's Bonn Period

At least the "Joseph Cantata" was rehearsed by the Bonn musicians in the fall of 1791 in Mergentheim in order that it could be eventually performed there. That this project had to again be "abandoned" was mainly due to the already mentioned "orchestral difficulties."

From Beethoven's biographical data it is also known to us that he would at least have shown the "Joseph Cantata" to Haydn during the composer's spring/summer visit of Bonn on his return from England and that he might have earned himself his "ticket to Vienna" on the basis of Haydn's impression of this work.

To the Further Fate of the Scores During Beethoven's Liftetime

Both Thayer and Solomon mention that Beethoven did not offer these works to the public during his lifetime and that they were thus, "dead to the world" (Thayer 119).

In spite of this, the material still found its way into the soprano aria with chorus for the first part of the second finale of "Fidelio": sostenuto assai, "O Gott! O Gott! welch' ein Augenblick!"

Later, Nottebohm was at least able to note that manuscript copies of these works were listed in the April 1813 auction catalogue of the library of Baron von Beine. 

Regarding the Re-Discovery of the Manuscript Copies

Perhaps on the basis of Nottebohm's reference to the manuscript copies it was then concluced that these copies might have been purchased by Hummel and that they found their way from his estate into the second-hand bookstore of List and Francke in Leipzig, where Arnim Friedmann of Vienna bought them in 1884.

Once these copies had found their way back to Vienna, the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick made Viennese readers acquainted with them in his May 13, 1884, article in the newspaper "Neue Freie Presse".

Subsequently, the "Joseph Cantata" was performed in Vienna in November, 1884, and in Bonn on June 19th, 1885.

Both works were then included in the "Complete Works of Beethoven."

The Last "Musical Comment"

should be reserved for that composer who was sometimes referred to as Beethoven's successor, Johannes Brahms, who received the manuscript copies from Eduard Hanslick for study and who had this to say on the "musical quality" of the "Joseph Cantata":

"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 outside sections all the characteristics which we may observe and associate with his later works" (Thayer 120).

Link to the full version of Brahms' Letter

Concluding Remarks

This "creation history" did not make any "direct attempt" at comparing these works with Beethoven's soon-to-emerge plans to "write music to every strophe" of the "Ode to Joy" (about which Bartholomaeus Ludwig Fischenich wrote to Charlotte von Schiller on January 26th, 1793).

Whoever finds time to listen to these works carefully, might perhaps discover the "thematic connection" by him or herself.

Notes:

(1) To the "subsequent fate" of Eulogius Schneider, Frida Knight has to report in her work "Beethoven and the Age of Revolution" that the latter, from 1792 on, actively participated in the French Revolution in Strasburg and that he became acquainted with Rouget de Lisle, the writer of the "Marseillaise" and that he even translated its text into German, that he wrote revolutionary poetry and prose, became Vice President of the "Republican Club", was appointed "Public Prosecutor" and "Commissionary of the Revolutionary Army," but that he, under Robespierre, soon fell into disvavor, was arrested by Saint-Just, launched a final desperate appeal to the Paris Jacobins that was incercepted by Robespierre, and that he died under the guillotine on April 19, 1794.

(2) Thayer reports that Averdonk's father was an employee of the Bonn Court an that his sister was that Helene Averdonk who, years before, as student of Johann van Beethoven, performed with the seven-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven at his first concert in Cologne.

(3) Maynard Solomon mentions in his biography, "Mozart - A Life" that Haydn attended the Coronation Ceremony as an invited guest while Mozart had to travel there on his own expense.

(4) Texts:

(a) Cantata on the Death of Joseph II

Text by Severin Anton Averdonk, Canon of the Bethlehemite Monastery in Ehrenbreitstein/Wiedtal

I. CORO

Dead: A moon drifts through the black night,
echoes like a sob against the cliffs,
and you, waves of the sea,
cry it out in your abyss:
Joseph, the Great One, is dead!
Joseph, the father of the immortal deeds,
is dead - dead!

2. RECITATIVO

A monster, whose name is Fanaticism,
arose from the depth of hell,
draped himself between the sun and the earth,
and it became night!

3. ARIA

Then came Joseph with the strength of God
He tore the raging monster
and trod on his head.

4. ARIA CON CORO

The people then emerged into the light
the earth revolved more happily around the sun,
and the sun warmed with the rays of Heaven.

5. RECITATIVO E ARIA

He sleeps now, far from the cares of his worlds,
Silent is the night, only a quivering breeze
touches my cheek like a breath from the grave.
Whoever's immortal soul you are,
gentle breeze, waft, more gently,
For here lies Joseph in his grave
and sleeps the sleep of peace
until the Day of Reward.
When you, happy grave,
will release him to eternal crowns.

ARIA

Here slumbers the great sufferer
in tranquil peace;
He who on earth broke no rose without a wound
who under the burden of his heart
bore the well-being of the world
with pain until his last breath.

6. CORO

Dead! A moon drifts through the black night,
echoes like a sob against the cliffs,
and you, waves of the sea,
cry it out in your abyss:
Joseph, the Great One, is dead!
Joseph, the father of immortal deeds,
is dead - dead!

(b) Cantata on the Elevation of Leopold II to the Imperial Dignity

1. RECITATIVO CON CORO

He sleeps!
Let the great Prince gently rest!
For when he expired,
Death spread grief among the peoples
And Teuton's sons cried up
towards the firmament: Woe!
Jehova looked downwards and took pity,
and the terrors of darkness disappeared.
The heavens attired themselves again in rosy hues,
and from iron jaws came roaring forth jubilation and exaltation
at what came down from Olympus.
Hail! The thunders have roared,
the lightning has seared the skies. the tears of the nations have dried.
Hail! A shining cloud approaches,
It clears and what do I see!
It is he, it is he, Leopold,
our Emperor, Prince and Father, it is he!

2. ARIA

Flow, tears of joy, flow!
Do you not hear the tidings of the angels above you! Germania!
Do you not hear the tidings of the angels
resound more sweetly than the tones of a harps?
To crown you with his blessing
Jehova looked down from Olympus.

3. RECITATIVO SECCO

(accompanied by a contemporary pianoforte)
Are you amazed, peoples of the earth,
that Teutonia's sons were given
the fullness of his blessing?
See him approach, bearing the frond of peace
in his right hand
Germany's peace and happiness in his eyes,
the smile of humanity floating on his lips.
Hail to him!

4. RECITATIVO ACCOMPAGNATO

How my heart pounds with joy!
Nations, cry no longer!
I saw him smile, saw him offering peace,
and how the people's joy rang out in the sky!
Over are the nocturnal wailings,
over the burning tears of the nations,
the storms are over!

5. TERZETTO

You who called Joseph your father,
cry no longer!
As great as the one whom we called father
is he too.

6. CORO

Hail!
Descend, you millions,
to the sacred altar
and look up to the lord of the thrones,
who blessed you with this salvation!
Ring out, you jubilant choruses!
So that the world can hear it loud and clear!
He brought us peace and salvation!
He is great!

(Quoted from Irmen)

Sources:

Irmen, Hans-Josef. (Text booklet to CD), 1995 Koch International GmbH.

Knight, Fida. Beethoven and the Age of Revolution. London: 1973. Lawrence & Wisehart.

Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. New York: 1997. Schirmer.

Solomon, Manyard. Mozart - A Life. New York: 1995. Harper Collins.

Thayer's Life of Beethoven. Revised and edited by Elliott Forbes. Princeton: 1964. Princeton University Press.