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Beethoven and the Habsburgs -
explored by

'... infectious zest ...'

Beethoven Explored Volume 1. © 2003 David Lefeber, Metier Sound & Vision

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].

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Copyright © 29 October 2003 Robert Anderson, London UK


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