Beethoven's Leonore: A New Compositional Chronology Based on May-August, 1804 Entries in Sketchbook Mendelssohn 15

Theodore Albrecht
1989 The Journal of musicology (St. Joseph, Mich.)  
Mendelssohn 15 THEODORE ALBRECHT T 165 e description and chronology of Beethoven's Leonore Sketchbook (Mendelssohn 15) has a long and honorable history in the literature concerning the composer and his creative processes. Discussed briefly by Otto Jahn in 1863, the sketchbook was treated more extensively in a ten-page appendix to the second volume (1872) of Thayer's Leben. While Thayer assigned no date to the sketches in his examination, he elsewhere included them in his discussion for 1805,
more » ... ce the opera had its premiere on November 20 of that year.' Less than a decade later, Gustav Nottebohm also examined the Leonore Sketchbook and put together, in his now-familiar style, an article of some fifty pages, describing and transcribing pertinent material in the volume, and concluded that the body of the sketchbook "belongs, for the most part, to the year i 804."2 Nearly a century had to pass before the Leonore sketches were again subjected to detailed scrutiny, this time resulting in a page-by-page, line-by-line description of Mendelssohn 15's contents published in 1975 by Hans-Gunter Klein, who did not otherwise attempt to date the entries he so clearly and meticulously elucidated.3 Two years later, in 1977, Alan Tyson published a major essay, "Das Leonoreskizzenbuch (Mendelssohn 15): Probleme der Rekonstruktion und der Chronologie,"4 revised and abbreviated for incorporation into The Beethoven Sketchbooks, which appeared eight years later.5 In his 1977 essay, Tyson expertly describes the physical organization of the 346-page tome and its probable assembly from two smaller sketchbooks, as well as from several individual double leaves (bifolia) at an undetermined time. Moreover, Tyson establishes a revised time period for the sketches contained therein, running from late May orJune, 1804, to (at latest) October, 1805.6 When dating the entries within the volume, Tyson relies upon two major items: (a) Beethoven's annotation "June 2" (p. 291), which Thayer had likewise assigned to 1805 a century before;7 and (b) Josephine Deym's letter of March 24, 1805, concerning the song "An die Hoffnung," Op. 32. Tyson's conclusions of 1977 remained essentially the same in 1985: that "An die Hoffnung"may have been a New Year's present for Josephine, and that the pages between its sketching (pp. 166 151-157) and the "June 2" remark (p. 291) provide a chronological window of late-December, 1804 to June 2, 1805, "quite inconsistent with Nottebohm's attempt to restrict the sketchbook proper to 1 8o4."8 In his attempt to correct Nottebohm's dating of the central portion of Mendelssohn 15's contents, however, Tyson may have miscalculated 3 Hans-Gunter Klein, Ludwig van Beethoven; Autographe und Abschriften-Katalog (Berlin, 1875), pp. 231-77. Klein describes the material, housed in the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, in line-by-line detail, with cross-references to Nottebohm's essay. The contents of the Leonore Sketchbook are summarized as SV 67 in Hans Schmidt, "Verzeichnis der Skizzen Beethovens," Beethoven-Jahrbuch VI (1969), 44-45. 4 Alan Tyson, "Das Leonoreskizzenbuch (Mendelssohn 15): Probleme der Rekonstruktion und der Chronologie," translated by Sieghard Brandenburg, Beethoven-Jahrbuch IX (1977), 469-99; original English version ("revised in a few passages to bring it up to date but . .. otherwise unchanged") as "Beethoven's Leonore Sketchbook (Mendelssohn 15): Problems of Reconstruction and of Chronology" in Essays in PaperAnalysis, ed. by Stephen Spector (Washington, D.C., 1987), pp. 168-90o. For citations herein, I have retained the German title and page numbers, but have followed them with the corresponding pagination of the 1987 printing in parentheses, thus: Tyson, "Leonoreskizzenbuch," p. 469 (168). Although the present article may differ with Tyson on certain points of chronology, I accept completely his scrupulous and perceptive investigation into watermarks, paper, pagination, collation and other descriptive elements as provided in both article and book form. For this reason, we shall not discuss the elements of reconstruction further, save when they are germane to a chronological point being made here. 5 DouglasJohnson, Alan Tyson and Robert Winter, The Beethoven Sketchbooks: History-Reconstruction-Inz^entory; ed. by DouglasJohnson (Berkeley, 1985), pp. 146-55. 6 Tyson, "Leonoreskizzenbuch," passim. As can be seen in fn. 22, however, Tyson's inconsistency in establishing a starting date for this volume, and the equivocation in these statements, indicate that some question may remain in his own mind. 7 Thayer, Leben, II, p. 278. 8 Johnson, Tyson, Winter, Beethoven Sketchbooks, p. 150. BEETHOVEN'S LEONORE just as far in the opposite direction, with the truth, as so often happens, lying somewhere in between, but leaning slightly toward Nottebohm in its essence. While the vast majority of the material in the Leonore Sketchbook is of an operatic nature, several divergent entries in the first half of the volume correspond closely to various biographical incidents which occurred during the summer of 1804, and which Tyson seems to have overlooked or misinterpreted in his article. Together with other chronological considerations, they provide substantial (if sometimes speculative) evidence for a revised dating of Beethoven's early work on several prominent compositions, including Leonore itself, as well as further insight into his work habits. This new chronology may be followed easily in the chart which appears as Appendix A. Central to my chronological contention are four incidents ranging from May/June to August, 1804, two of which involve Beethoven's pupil and sometime factotum Ferdinand Ries. The first crucial point is an anecdote well known in Beethoven lore, concerning the Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57 (later dubbed "Appassionata"). As 167 Ries relates: Once we were taking a walk and lost our way so completely that we did not get back to Doblingen, where Beethoven lived, until 8 o'clock. Throughout our walk he had hummed and, in part, howled, up and down the scale as we went along, without singing any individual notes. When I asked him what it was he replied: "The theme for the final Allegro of the Sonata (in F minor, Opus 57) has occurred to me." When we entered the room he ran to the piano without taking off his hat. I sat down in a corner and soon he had forgotten me. Then he raged on the keys for at least an hour, developing the new Finale of his Sonata (which appeared in 1807) in the beautiful form we know. At last he rose, was surprised to see me still there and said: "I cannot give you a lesson today; I still have work to do."9 While Ries does not date this incident, a simple process of elimination indicates that it could only have taken place during the summer of 1804. Although Beethoven did live in Oberdobling in the summer of 1803, he spent those months working on the Eroica Symphony in Sketchbook Landsberg 6. Moreover, he would not begin to work on Leonore until January, 1804, by which time he had abandoned the projected libretto for Vestas Feuer. The summer of 1805 can likewise be ruled out of contention, since Beethoven spent these months in Hetzendorf, while the 9 Franz Gerhard Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries, Biographische Notizen uber Ludwig van Beethoven (Coblenz, 1838), p. 99.
doi:10.2307/763767 fatcat:4ezvty4bwzhoxoesqvuafdfgqe