Beethoven and the Habsburgs -
'... infectious zest ...'
Beethoven had early contact with the Habsburgs. He was thirteen when he
petitioned for an official position and salary at the electoral court of
Cologne, where he had already made a distinctive musical impression. That
same year, 1784, Maximilian Franz, youngest brother of the Holy Roman
Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, became prince-archbishop of Cologne
and granted Beethoven's request. While at Bonn, he wrote a funeral cantata
for Joseph and for Leopold an accession cantata. Countless times he must
have played in the electoral palace at Bonn (now the university) and gazed
admiringly at Balthasar Neumann's ingenious staircase, crowning glory of
the summer residence at Brühl.
A more modest offering from the Bonn years was a G major rondo, which
Beethoven sent for copying to his slightly younger contemporary, Eleonore
von Breuning, daughter of the Helene who acted as a substitute mother
for Beethoven. The main theme is catching enough to have persuaded Fritz
Kreisler to make his more Viennese Rondino out of it
[listen -- track 5, 1:50-2:33].
More significant are the Variations on Figaro's aria from an opera
Beethoven played at Bonn as leader of the violas. Three of the other
orchestral musicians, Reicha and the Romberg brothers, wrote variations
on the same aria, perhaps a playful challenge among the young men.
Beethoven already showed his searching spirit in Variation VI, cast in
a very thoughtful minor mode [listen --
track 12, 0:00-0:53].
Copyright © 29 October 2003
Robert Anderson, London UK