Monday, January 24, 2011

1/24 Musical Life in Vienna c.1800

Anne-Louis Coldicott wrote probably the best article I ever read on musical life in Beethoven's time.  Originally collected in the book "The Beethoven Compendium" (Cooper, Borders Press), here's a healthy excerpt (I left out the stuff about Bonn):

"BEETHOVEN’S LIFE WAS SPENT in two centres. His formative years were in his birthplace Bonn, in the German Rhineland, and his years of attainment in faraway Vienna, the capital of the Austrian Empire and the musical capital of Europe...The Vienna in which Beethoven found himself in 1792 was without doubt the leading musical city in Europe. All types of music flourished, and opera was probably the most popular. French operas, particularly those by Cherubini (Italian by birth but French by adoption) and Méhul, were the most enthusiastically received. Their popular revolutionary themes appealed to Beethoven and inspired him to attempt an opera of his own, first 'Vestas Feuer', which was not completed, and then 'Fidelio'.

     "A high standard of orchestral and chamber music was attained by the private orchestras and ensembles maintained by the imperial court and members of the nobility. The wealthies nobles, such as the Princes Lobkowitz and Lichnowsky and Count Razumovsky, had concert halls within their palaces. First-class recitals could be heard in salons both in their palaces and in private houses whose wealthy owners patronized individual performers. Touring virtuosi were much sought after, and these occasions also provided excellent opportunities for aspiring new-comers to establish themselves. One of the leading exponents of chamber music was the violinist and conductor Ignaz Schuppanzigh. He led several string quartets in Vienna over a long period. The first, dating from 1796, performed once a week at Prince Lichnowsky’s palace, presenting works by Forster, Haydn and Mozart. Schuppanzigh quickly established a lasting and productive friendship with Beethoven and was to play an important role in introducing his chamber music in Vienna, initially with the first performance of the Op.18 String Quartets. In 1804, he formed another quartet which gave the first public string quartet recitals. In 1808, Count Razumovsky engaged Schuppanzigh to form a resident quartet, which performed the three Op. 59 String Quartets that the Count had commissioned from Beethoven. This quartet was abandoned only in 1816 following the destruction of Razumovsky’s palace, whereupon Schuppanzigh left Vienna. Earlier travels had taken him all over Europe; this time he travelled to Russia, where he promoted the music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. His return to Vienna in 1823 may have had some influence on the composition of Beethoven’s late quartets.

     "Virtuoso performers who visited Vienna were not only popular with their audiences, but served as inspirations to native musicians. In Beethoven’s case the stimulus was two-fold. The effect of the arrival of the pianists Wolffl and Cramer in 1798/9 was to raise the standard of his own playing to new heights. Other instrumentalists inspired him as a composer. For example, he wrote his Mandolin Sonata (WoO 43) for Wenzel Krumpholz, the Horn Sonata Op. 17 for Johann Wenzel Stich (who preferred to be known as 'Punto'), and the Violin Sonata Op. 47 (‘Kreutzer') for George Bridgetower. Less specifically, the playing of his Cello Sonata Op. 5 no. 2 by the virtuoso double-bassist Dragonetti alerted Beethoven to that instrument’s potential and influenced his orchestral treatment of it.

     "Public orchestral concerts had begun to be a feature of Viennese musical life since the 1770s. The Tonkunstlergesellschaft, founded by Gassmann in 1772, was the first independent body to promote concerts, with four annual performances at Lent and Christmas for the benefit of musicians’ widows and orphans. In 1812 the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was founded by Joseph Sonnleithner, and in 1819 Franz Xaver Gebauer, an early member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, founded and became the first conductor of the Concerts Spirituels, modelled on the French series of the same name. Besides these, there were a few subscription concerts (that is, concerts where the audience had guaranteed to subscribe in advance) given by both resident musicians and visiting virtuosi.

     "There were no purpose-built concert halls until 1831, when the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde acquired its own premises. Theatres and halls primarily intended for other purposes were therefore used. Beethoven presented Akademien (concerts) in the two court theatres, the Burgtheater and the Karntnertor Theatre, within the Hoff theater. The most important private theatre was the Theater an der Wien, the venue of the first public performance of a number of Beethoven’s major works. Amongst a number of other private theatres may be cited the Josephstadt Theatre, to celebrate the reconstruction of which Beethoven wrote the overture The Consecration of the House,Op. 124.

     "Of the halls, three were most frequently used: the Zur Mehlgrube (literally ‘At the Sign of the Flour Shop’), the Jahnischer Saal and the Augarten. All three were primarily restaurants where slightly less formal concerts took place, usually during the daytime. Other possible concert venues were to be found within the imperial castle. These were the two Redoutensaal, the Rittersaal and the Zeremoniensaal. Most used was the Grosser Redoutensaal, a ballroom which could accommodate particularly large concerts. One further venue, which was the scene of many Beethoven performances, was the University’s Festsaal, which was used by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde before they had their own hall.

     "The Burgtheater had its own resident orchestra which could be hired for concerts at other venues, but it was more usual for orchestras to consist of adhoc collections of good amateur players, sometimes augmented by a few professionals. Public concerts were usually organized and financed by individual promoters, generally composers, conductors or virtuoso instrumentalists, who assumed control of the entire event: the programmes, the performers, the publicity and the sale of tickets. A translation of a programme prepared in advance by Beethoven may be reproduced here:

Today, Wednesday April 2 1800 
Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will
have the honour to give 
A Grand Akademie Concert
in the Royal Imperial Court Theatre beside the Burg. The pieces which will be performed are the following: 

1. A Grand Symphony by the late Kapellmeister Mozart.
2. An aria from ‘The Creation’ by the Princely Kapellmeister Herr Haydn, sung by Mlle Saal.
3. A Grand Concerto for the pianoforte, played and composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven.
4. A Septet, most humbly and obediently dedicated to Her Majesty the Empress, and composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven for four stringed and three wind instruments, played by Herren Schuppanzigh, Schreiber, Schindlecker, Bar, Nickel, Matauschenand Dietzel.
5. A Duet from Haydn’s ‘Creation’ sung by Herr and Mlle Saal.
6. Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will improvise on the pianoforte.
7. A new Grand Symphony with complete orchestra, composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven

Tickets for boxes and stalls are to be had of Herr van Beethoven at his lodgings in the Tiefen Graben No. 241, third floor, and of the box-keeper.
The admission prices are as usual
The start is at half past 6

     "The length of the above concert would not have been considered out of the ordinary at the time, but a programme consisting of the works of just these three composers was unusual. After the Congress of Vienna the pattern of cultural life changed. Musicians were not supported to the degree they had previously enjoyed, and with less money about there were fewer commissions. Tastes changed too. Italian opera of a very light kind became all the rage with the Viennese public, who clamoured for greater spectacular effects at the expense of the drama and music. This was perhaps an understandable reaction after years of war, but it satisfied only on a superficial level. Beethoven felt himself out of sympathy with the wider public at this time. This and the torment of his current domestic affairs saw a stagnant period as far as his composition was concerned. Gradually it became apparent that more enlightened people were also not satisfied with the trivial nature of the music in fashion. The later works of Mozart seemed to satisfy their deeper feelings, and previously neglected works of Haydn enjoyed a new-found popularity. From around 1818 Beethoven’s compositional inspiration was rekindled and his music displayed a new intensity. He was now seized on as the true artistic apostle of the age, with his music assuming the new values which emerged from the turmoil of war and destruction."

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