A disgruntled Beethoven writes of the second performance of his 9th Symphony and his Missa Solemnis.
Beethoven writes in full; translated from German: Dear Friend You would really do me great injustice were you to suppose that negligence prevented my sending you the tickets. I assure you that it was my intention to do so, but forgot it like many other things. I hope that some other opportunity will may occur to enable me to prove my sentiments with regard to you. I am, I assure you, entirely innocent of all that [Louis-Antoine] Duport has done, in the same way that it was he who thought fit to represent the Terzet [OP. 116] as new, not I. You know too well my love of the truth; but it is better to be silent now on that subject, as it is not everyone who is aware of the true state of the case, and I though innocent, might incur blame. I do not at all care for the other proposals Duport makes, as by this concert I have lost both time and money. In the greatest haste, your friend Beethoven
After a symphonic silence of nearly twelve years, the aging German composer Ludwig van Beethoven began work on a new grand symphony in D minor, based on a choral setting of Schiller’s An die Freunde (“Ode to Joy”) which was to be, according to the master, “a pious song in a symphony in the ancient modes.” The nature of this work combined several diverse elements that had been stirring in his imagination for many years, as he remarked, “For some time I have been thinking about three other great works. Much is already planned; in my head, that is. I must first get them out of the way; two great symphonies, each one different the ideas of which he fused into one, the 9th and an oratorio which became the Missa Solemnis. But it will take a long time; you see, it’s not easy for me to bring myself to do any writing for some time now. I sit and think; I’ve had the ideas for quite a long time; but they refuse to be committed to paper. I’m terrified of starting such great works. Once I’m inside them, all will be well…” Much of the work on this new symphony was completed in 1823, and finishing touches were added in February of 1824.
On May 7, 1824, the premiere of this seminal work (and the one for which Beethoven is best remembered), the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op.125, took place at the Karntnertor-Theatre in Vienna, as arranged by Duport (who Beethoven derisively referred to as an “ex-dancer”). In addition, the concert showcased parts of his Missa Solemnis, Op. 123- the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei- as well as another overture, that of The Consecration of the House. [A note: Beethoven himself considered the Missa Solemnis his greatest work, intending it to be his legacy and the crowning achievement of his life-long musical output, much in the same way that Mozart left his Requiem and Haydn, The Creation. Beethoven labored over it for three years, and signed the score “Bitte für inneren und ausseren Freiden” or “prayer for inner and outer peace” - a fitting epitaph, and a summation of his troubled life.
The first performance of the 9th Symphony must have been a remarkable sight. According to violinist Joseph Michael Bohm, “Beethoven himself conducted, that is, he stood in front of a conductor’s stand and threw himself back and forth like a mad-man. At one moment he stretched to his full height, at the next he crouched down to the floor, he flailed about with his hands and feet as though he wanted to play all the instruments and sing all the chorus parts. The actual direction was in Duport’s hands; we musicians followed his baton only.” The symphony was met with great enthusiasm by the breathless Viennese. Many years later, the pianist Thalberg, who was among those present, recalled that after the scherzo had ended Beethoven stood turning over the leaves of the score, quite unaware of the thunderous applause (he was by this time almost completely deaf), until one of the singers pulled him by the sleeve and pointed to the audience behind him, to whom he then turned and bowed.
Two weeks later (May 23), Beethoven gave a second performance, the one for which, in the present letter, he has expressed regret in not procuring complimentary tickets for Haslinger. Duport was not only the conductor of the orchestra for this and the first performance, but also played a vital part in their organization. At the second performance, Duport scheduled the Kyrie from the Missa Solemnis, and also a vocal trio for soprano, tenor and bass, Tremate, empi, tremate (Op. 116), that was announced by Duport as a “new” work, which it was not: it had been written over twenty years before, and was purchased by Haslinger but not yet published. Thus, Duport managed to enrage both the composer (whose mercurial temper was legendary) and the owner of the music. It is interesting to note that Beethoven mentions in this type of concert, I have lost only time and money. Indeed, these first two performances of the 9th Symphony did not result in the windfall that would justify the time and effort the great composer had given to these two works; he had made a paltry 420 florins on the first concert, and 500 at the second, due primarily to the pleasant weather and the many “open air” patrons those who did not pay to enter the theatre but remained outside to enjoy the music. Yet, despite this original disappointment in receipts, over 150 years later his great symphony remains one of the most beloved and often performed of any in the entire repertoire of classical music.
An extremely rare and significant letter concerning the second performance of the 9th Symphony and the Missa Solemnis––his two greatest works––with the disgruntled tone that so perfectly embodies this musical icon.
References: Published in The Letters of Beethoven ed. Emily Anderson, volume 3, number 1294, page 1130 (London: Macmillan, 1961), where the autograph manuscript is noted as not traced, but lists the letter as appearing in the sale catalog of G. Charavay in May, 1890. Translation herewith by Lady Grace Wallace from Dr. Ludwig Nohl’s Beethoven’s Letters (ca.1866).