MUSIC FOR A RITTERBALLETT WoO 1
(Image: Masced Ball at the Bonn Court)

 



 

INTRODUCTION

 

As we were able to read in our section on Beethoven's friendship with Count Waldstein, Beethoven writers report that "on the side", Waldstein also acted as "maitre de plaisir" of the Bonn Court and that he was able to arrange festivals and parties like hardly anyone else, and that, according to Jan Caeyers, he even wrote his own comedic scenes and vaudevilles and that he amused audiences with inimitable parodies in various French dialects.  For example, his "Oczitanean" was supposed to have been perfect.  Therefore, Thayer-Forbes' following report should not come as a surprise to us:

"The reporter in the Theaterkalender says: "On Quinquagesima Sunday (March 6) the local nobility performed in the Ridotto Room a characteristic ballet in old German costume. The author, His Excellency Count Waldstein, to whom the composition and music do honor, had shown in it 'consideration for the chief proclivities of our ancestors for war, the chase, love and drinking.   On March 6, all the nobility attended the theatre in their old German dress and the parade made a great, splendid and respectable picture. It was also noticeable that the ladies would lose none of their charms were they to return to the costumes of antiquity.

 . . .  

Before proceeding with the history a correction must be made in this report: the music to the Ritterballet, which was the characteristic ballet referred to, was not composed by Waldstein but by Ludwig van Beethoven.   We shall return to it presently" (TF: 98).

Let us first consider the creation of this work.

ON ITS CREATION

 

 

With respect to the time of its creation, Thayer-Forbes reports:

"Turn we now to the instrumental works which date back to the Bonn period.   The beginning is made with the work which, in a manner, first brought Beethoven into close relationship with the stage--the Ritterballet, produced by the nobility on carnival Sunday, March 6, 1791, and which, consequently, cannot have been composed long before, say in 1790 or 1791" (TF: 121).

 

 

ON ITS FIRST PERFORMANCE DURING THE BONN CARNEVAL

 

With respect to this, we can refer to Thayer-Forbes' above report in our introduction.  It also features a favorable comment regarding Count Waldstein in the Court Calendar.

 

ON THE CONTENT OF THE RITTERBALLETT

 

In our above introduction, we featured Thayer'Forbes' report which referred to Beethoven as the true author of the composition, right away.  Here is TF's comment with respect to the content of the work: 

"Of the content of the piece we know nothing more than is contained in the report from Bonn, namely that it illustrated the predilection of the ancient Germans for war, the chase, love and drinking; the music, being without words, can give us no further help.   It consists of eight short numbers, designed to accompany the pantomime: 1) March; 2) German Song; 3) Hunting Song; 4) Romance, entitled "Minnelied" in the autograph; 5) War Song; 6) Drinking Song; 7) German Dance; 8) Coda" (TF: 122).

 

MODERN COMMENTS ON THE MUSICAL CONTENT

 

Since Thayer-Forbes does not provide any details as to the musical content of the ballet, it is certainly interesting to read a few modern writers' reports:

" . . .  A glance at the score might lead one to believe that Waldstein had indeed written it, for it is far simpler than the two cantatas of 1790.   Rhythms are straightforward and mostly in four-bar phrases, the key scheme is unadventurous, being based in and around D major throughout, and the harmony consists mainly of tonic and dominant chords. The work illustrates Beethoven's lifelong tendency to develop his compositional style not in gradual and progressive manner but in an irregular way in which he sometimes seems to take a step sideways or even backwards before advancing in some new direction.

Here he is actually showing his awareness of the varying requirements of different genres.   In all his music for dancing (and he was to write plenty more) he maintained a light and popular style, much closer to other composers than in any other genre, with strong but regular rhythms and simple harmonies.   (The style occasionally infiltrated his more serious music--most notably in the finale of the Eroica and the fourth movement of his String Quartet, Op. 130.)   The Ritterballett is, however, not quite as unsophisticated as it first appears.   The first movement, for example, has a few regular phrase lengths, a rather elaborate accompaniment pattern in the second violins, and a brief but unexpected excursion into D minor towards the end.   The orchestration is also rich, varied, and imaginative; and, most notably, the work concludes with a lenghty Coda, which develops and resolves some of the earlier ideas.   For example, a scale pattern that appears almost incidentally in the middle of the Trio section of No. 6 ('Trinklied, see Ex. 32) resurfaces in the Coda, first in A major and then, with a gesture of finality and resolution, in the tonic at the very end (Ex. 33b)" (Cooper: 35
).

In this context, Jan Swafford's comment is precise and informative:

" . . . The miniatures that make it up, the longest about a minute and a half, reveal that Beethoven knew how to write lilting and attractive dances in traditional style. The score implies he had most of the court orchestra at his disposal. He used it artfully, his scoring full and colorful: string writing in rich octaves, martial effects of winds and brass and timpani, hunting horns in the "Hunting Song," a droll piccolo solo in the "Drinking Song" (the last two pieces in particular echo Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio)" (Swafford: 116-117). 

 

 

COMMENTS ON BEETHOVEN AS AUTHOR OF THE WORK

 

Beethoven researchers and biographers also provided some comments regarding Beethoven's authorship of the ballet.  Let us beging with Thayer-Forbes simpe reference:

"Sunday evening, March 6th, came the performance of Beethoven's music to the Ritterballet before noticed; but without his name being known" (TF: 101i).

     In this context, Thayer-Forbes also refers to Wegeler:

"According to Wegeler (Notizen, p. 16), this work was considered for a long time to be by Count Waldstein, since Beethoven was not listed as the composer, the more so since the Count had organized the ballet in connection with Habich, a dancing master from Aix-la-Chapelle. Schiedermair (op. cit. p. 389. Facing this page is a fascimile of the composer's piano transcription of Nos. 4-7. The autograph of the piano transcription of the whole ballet is in the Beethoven Archives (catalogue No. 74) at Bonn) suggests that the mistake in authorship may have originated from an error in reporting for the theatre calendar.-- . . . " TF: 122).

     Solomon does not see anything unusual in this authorship:

"The incidental music for a Ritterballett ("Knights' Ballet"), WoO 1, is of interest largely for extramusical reasons, for its performance on March 6, 1791 Count Waldstein was named as its composer.   It is unlikely that Beethoven resented this appropriation of his work by his patron; more likely he agreed to act as Waldstein's ghostwriter, in conformity with the hierarchical relationship between patron and artist" (Solomon: 47).

     Lockwood also hints at the fact that this "loan" by Beethoven worked to the benefit of Waldstein's status in Bonn:

"Amongst his patrons at Bonn in addition to Max Franz was Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein, who came to the city in 1788 as a companion of the Elector and was ceremoniously inducted into the Teutonic Order, a social and political organization of German noblemen that gathered periodically. Beethoven wrote a "Knight's Ballet" (WoO 1) for a meeting in 1791 of the Order at Bonn, and let it appear that the author of the music was Waldstein" (Lockwood: 44-45).

     Caeyers attempts at highlighting Waldstein's "noble versatility":

"Außerdem inszenierte er musikalisch-szenische Spektakel, die man als echte <Gesamtkunstwerke> bezeichnen könnte und für die er alles selbst schrieb und entwarf: Texte, Musik - er spielte ausgezeichnet Klavier und konnte ein wenig komponieren -, Choreographie, Kostüme und Bünenbild. Am 7. März 1791 wurde im Bonner Redoutensaal das Ritterballett aufgeführt, ein großes Karnevalsspektakel, bei dem man in altdeutscher Tracht <<die Hauptneigungen unserer Urväter zu Krieg, Jagd, Liebe und Zechen>> wiederaufleben ließ.   Später stellte sich heraus, dass die Musik dazu gar nicht von dem Grafen, sondern von einem Ghostwriter komponiert worden war, seinem Protege Beethoven - in den Augen eines Aristokraten des späten 18. Jahrhunderts eine nur geringfügige Manipulation der Wirklichkeit" (Caeyers: 110-111;--

Caeyers writes here that Waldstein also arranged musical and scenic spectacles that could be described as real "overall art works" and that he wrote and designed  everything, himself:  texts, music--since he played the piano very well and since he was able to also compose a bit--, choreography, costumes and stage design.  On March 7, 1791, Caeyers continues, at the Bonn Redoutensaal, the "Ritterballett" was staged, a large carneval spectacle on the occasion of which, in ancient costumes, the main inclinations of German medieval forefathers, such as war, hunt, love and drinking were revived, and that it was found out later that the music had actually not been written by the Count but by a ghost writer, by his protege Beethoven.  Caeyers describes this as, in the eyes of the nobility of the late 18th century, an only slight manipulation of reality).

    

CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion we might, perhaps, note that Waldstein, with his "noble versatility", in combination with those of his talents that were less reality-based but rather aiming at artistry, himself, commissioned a work from Beethoven that, in the end, also proved Beethoven's musical skills and that, today, remains for us to listen to off and on, as an excellent peace of entertainment.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Caeyers, Jan.  Beethoven.  Der einsame Revolutionär.  A Biography.  2nd Edition.  Munich: 2012.   C.H. Beck.

Cooper, Barry: Beethoven. (Master Musician Series, edited by Stanley Sadie, second edition). Oxford: 2008.  Oxford University Press.

Lockwood, Lewis.  Beethoven.  The Music and the Life.  New York.  London:  2003.   W.W. Norton & Company.

Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. New York: 1979.  Schirmer Books, Paperback Edition.

Swafford, Jan.  Beethoven.  Anguish and Triumph.  Boston  New York:  2014.   Houghton  Mifflin  Harcourt.

Thayer's Life of Beethoven, edited by Elliott Forbes. Princeton: 1964.    New Jersey Princeton University Press.