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BEETHOVEN'S LETTERS

John Hurt reads from Beethoven's letters, taking us into the life and character of the composer, and his relationships with friends and family. The extracts are from the translation by Emily Anderson.

NB The audio on this page is no longer available.


Sunday 5th June


  • Rob Cowan: 0900-1300


    Letter 373: The "Immortal Beloved" letter.

    One of the most famous, mysterious and romantic stories attached to Beethoven concerns a series of letters that the composer wrote in the summer of 1812. The letters are addressed to a unnamed woman whom Beethoven refers to as his "Immortal Beloved". There have been several theories as to the identity of this lady, and even today she provokes controversy. John Hurt takes us back to that July morning, to what must have been one of the happiest periods in Beethoven's troubled life..

     Sarah Walker: 1300-1630

    Letter 53: To Carl Amenda 

    Beethoven struggled a lot with the composition of his first set of string quartets - his Opus 18 - in fact the first quartet in the series was re-written completely - you can hear the first version later on today in Sean Rafferty's programme. Beethoven dedicated the original quartet to a very close friend in Vienna, the violinist and theologian, Karl Amenda - A man whom Beethoven clearly trusted and confided in -particularly during the troubling time when he began to first notice troubles with his hearing.  

    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letters: 28/65/14/30

    One of Beethoven's long standing friends was the count  - or Graf - Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz - an official in the Hungarian Chancellery in Vienna and it is said, a good amateur cellist. Beethoven wrote  a great many letters to Zmeskall, and looking through them it's possible to glean a little of the composer's relationship with those close to him. Many of the letters include short musical quotes - often humorous and sometimes even quite cruel. In one letter to Zmeskall Beethoven sketched an impromptu three part canon based on the words "Graf, Graf, Graf - most excellent sheep!"  John Hurt reads a short selection of the Zmeskall letters

    Verity Sharp: 2130-2400

    Letter 1097:(1822)
     
    Beethoven was obviously in a very buoyant mood during the period that his King Stephen music was first performed - even allowing for his constant poor health - as John Hurt recollects, in another extract from Beethoven's letters.

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Monday 6th June


  • Susan Sharpe: 0000-0700

    Letter 845

    Beethoven constantly sought ways to make his musical intentions clear and unambiguous. One of his big frustrations was the subjective nature of Italian tempo markings. Then the Viennese-based inventor Johann Maelzel hit on the idea of the metronome. John Hurt reads from a Beethoven letter to the conductor Ignaz von Mosel.

    Penny Gore 0700-1000

    Letter 634: To Countess Erdödy (1816)

    The Countess Anna Marie Erdödy, a great admirer of Beethoven's music, was one of the composer's inner circle, a talented pianist and the dedicatee of Beethoven's Op70 Piano Trios. For a while Beethoven even lived with the Erdödy family. John Hurt reads, from a letter Beethoven wrote to the Countess in 1816, shortly after the death of Beethoven's brother - when he'd taken custody of his nephew Karl - and when the countess herself was grieving for the loss of a child.

    Rob Cowan: 1000-1300

    Letters 1136 / 380: To and about Goethe.

    John Hurt reads from Beethoven's letters and recalls the composer's admiration for the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. However, Beethoven's admiration for Goethe wasn't without bounds, as he suggested to his publisher after meeting the poet. - Goethe obviously had a penchant for the aristocratic life.

    Sarah Walker: 1300-1700

    Letter 18: To Johann Streicher (1796)

    Johann Streicher along with his wife Nanette, established one of the most important piano building companies in Vienna during Beethoven's lifetime. Their musical salon was for many years at the centre of Viennese musical life. In 1796, Beethoven heard one of  Streicher's piano pupils, the 13 year old Fraulein von Kissow, perform the adagio movement from his first Piano Trio. John Hurt reads from Beethoven's letter recalling the composer's reaction to the performance.

    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letter 17: To Streicher.

    Beethoven maintained a close and constant friendship with the Streicher family since he first became acquainted with their work in the late 1790s. John Hurt reads from Beethoven's correspondence.

    Fiona Talkington 2100-2400

    Letter 87a:  (1804)

    Even though he only composed one opera, Beethoven wrote a great deal of music for the theatre, and he was constantly on the lookout for new libretti. Poets and would-be writers of the day often felt the compunction to send the great man some of their verse. But as we gather from Beethoven's letters, he had a very clear idea of the kind of thing he was after. Not even Schikaneder, the librettist of Mozart's The Magic Flute could please. John Hurt reads from a letter written at the time that Beethoven began work on what would eventually become Fidelio -  a letter addressed to the editor of a famous Leipzig musical journal.

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Tuesday 7th June


  • Susan Sharp: 0000-0700

    Letter 130:

    Beethoven was often frustrated, and in many of his letters we hear him giving vent to his feelings. One particular complaint was not hearing his music performed the way he wanted. John Hurt reads from a letter to one of the singers in an early production of Leonore

    Letters 1067/1366/1366a/1366b:

    In his many letters to friends, Beethoven often included little musical  greetings, jokes or puzzles. More often than not these would take the form of a canon, featuring puns on the name of the recipient. John Hurt reads from a selection of these letters, beginning with one to a close friend and tutor to the Prince Lobkowitz's sons.

    Penny Gore 0700-1000

    Letter 553: (summer 1815)

    Tidiness was never one of Beethoven's virtues - as we can learn from his letters. John Hurt reads from part of letter to a local Viennese poet and botanist. Beethoen did eventually manage to find the second version of the song - written for vocal duet - and you can hear it later on in this morning's programme. (ie Merkenstein Op 100)
      
    Rob Cowan: 1000-1300

    Letter 48: Letter to publisher B&H.

    So what was Beethoven's attitude to his critics? John Hurt reads from a very telling letter that Beethoven wrote to one of his publishers in 1801, after the appearance of his First and Second Piano Concertos. The Musikalische Zeitung was one of the foremost musical journals of the day.

    Sarah Walker: 1300-1700

    Letter 51: To friend Wegeler (1801)

    Although Beethoven spent most of his life in Vienna and was eventually buried there, he was originally from the Rhine lands, and he often looked back on his childhood years growing up there with affection. John Hurt reads from a moving letter Beethoven wrote when he was in his early thirties, to a close friend and confidant, the physician Franz Wegeler.

    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letter 57: (Hoffmeister 1802)

    It goes without saying that Beethoven was born into a politically volatile age - a time of revolution, of war, of great social upheaval and of Bonaparte! Beethoven's music is often associated with change and revolution, so when an aristocratic lady suggested to Beethoven's publisher (Hoffmeister, in 1802) that the composer might like to compose a new sonata for the pianoforte, inspired by the Revolution, you might have thought, like her,  that Beethoven would have jumped at the chance. But as we gather from Beethoven's letters, nothing could be further from the truth!

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Wednesday 8th June


  • Susan Sharp: 0000-0700

    Letter 1275: Peter Gläser 1824

    Beethoven was incredibly fastidious when it came to publication of his music and a lot of his correspondence consists of letters to publishers complaining about mistakes and - by his standards - poor work. John Hurt reads from a letter to one of the five copyists charged with writing out the score of the Ninth Symphony.

    Rob Cowan: 1000-1300

    Letter 1056:  (first part) Haslinger - the "canon letter".

    Tobias Haslinger was an Austrian composer and music publisher and a close friend of Beethoven's who seemed especially adept at drawing out the comoserer's humorous side. Along with the publisher Anton Steiner, Beethoven created an imaginary army in which he appeared as the Generalissimo; Steiner the Leieutenant-General; and Haslinger the Adjutant. They would refer to money as their "little army"! As with many of his friends, Beethoven would often include little musical jokes in his letters to Haslinger, canons that often pun on his friend's name. John Hurt reads from the celebrated "Dream Canon" letter.

    Canon WoO 182

    Letter 1056: (second part)

    Sarah Walker: 1300-1700

    Letter - Heiligenstadt Testament.

    One of the most famous letters in the entire history of music is that which Beethoven wrote, in depths of despair, to his brothers Carl and Johann from the small village retreat of Heiligenstadt, about an hour's carriage ride from Vienna. John Hurt reads from the famous Heiligenstadt Testament
     
    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letter 376: (1812)

    Admiration for Beethoven's music in his own day came from far and wide. In 1812 he  wrote a letter to a young eight year old girl - Emilie - who probably came from Hamburg. She had sent the maestro a little wallet that she had made for him herself along with a letter expressing her great love of his music - for her, the greatest composer in the world!

    Letter 610: Karl Czerny

    The pianist and composer Karl Czerny enjoyed a special relationship with Beethoven. He studied piano with the composer and he performed much of Beethoven's music, often with guidance from the compose. But even Czerny's performances could exercise the great man's wrath as John Hurt recalls from a letter describing Czerny's performance of the Quintet for piano and winds.

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Thursday 9th June


  • Susan Sharp: 0000-0700

    Two letters to friends containing examples of his musical jokes or puzzles

    Letters 1427: (1825) Kulhau

    Friedrich Kuhlau was another contemporary of Beethoven's, he spent many years working in the Danish court and was popular for his operas and simple piano pieces. In 1825 he and Beethoven met in Vienna at what must have been a very jolly dinner party. The following day Beethoven wrote to Kuhlau enclosing a short piece of music - a canon, which true to form, punned on Kuhlau's name. Kuhl means "cool" in German while "lau" means lukewarm. The text of the canon therefore is "Cool not lukewarm". Interestingly Beethoven used the "B-A-C-H" motif that Bach used in his music as the basis for his canon. The reader is John Hurt.

    Letter 1433: (1825) Schlesinger

    Another of Beethoven's letters to his friends, this time containing a musical puzzle. Beethoven would sketch one line of music in a letter and his friend had to work out how he or she might create a canon from it. This particular one is for a publisher friend. Incidentally, "Herr Marx of Berlin" was a musicologist - one of the first people to make an analytical study of Beethoven's music.

    Penny Gore 0700-1000

    Letter 611: Cajetan Giannatasio del Rio (1816) 

    Following the death of his brother Caspar Carl, Beethoven fought through the courts and for a time actually won the custody of his nephew, also called Karl - over and above the boy's mother, whom Beethoven couldn't stand! The whole affair makes for a very sorry episode in Beethoven's life and created such stress on poor Karl that he tried to take his own life. John Hurt reads from one of Beethoven's letters to the man to whom he entrusted the education of his nephew - the headmaster of a local boarding school.

    Rob Cowan: 1000-1300
      
    Letter 325

    Beethoven's Sonata in E flat Opus 81a is nearly always referred to as "Les Adieux" - but is this right? John Hurt reads from one of Beethoven's letters to his publisher, written at the time of the composition of the sonata.

    Sarah Walker: 1300-1700

    Letter 12:  Early letter to publisher Simrock. (1794) 
     
    John Hurt reads from Beethoven's correspondence, this one an early letter to his publisher offering an interesting insight into life in Vienna during the last years of the 18th century.

    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letter 783: To Erdödy. (1817)

    Beethoven spent a considerable part of his life suffering with poor health - John Hurt reads from a moving letter Beethoven penned at the age of 47 to a very close friend and supporter.

    Petroc Trelawney: 1930-2130

    Letter 595: To singer of the Berlin performance of Fidelio.

    Anna Pauline Milder-Hauptmann was one of the outstanding sopranos of her day. She took the title role in the first performance of Beethoven's opera, Leonore and later she performed the same role in the revised Fidelio. In 1810 she had married a wealthy jeweller, Peter Hauptmann (the word hauptmann means "captain" in German) but at the time the following letter was written, the marriage had broken down. What's clear is that Beethoven admired her a great deal - he included in the letter a few lines of music, setting the words: "I kiss you - you are pressed to my heart! I the captain, the captain". Sadly Beethoven never did create a grand opera especially for Anna Milder. The reader is John Hurt.

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Friday 10th June


  • Susan Sharp: 0000-0700

    Letters 1371: (1825) Letters to his doctor.

    Despite his constant state of illness, Beethoven did at times manage to find some humour in his ailments. John Hurt reads from a letter Beethoven wrote to his doctor. In it Beethoven refers to two fashionable methods of treatment at the time, that by the Scotsman John Brown and by the German Max Stoll who advocated the exact opposite to Brown!

    Penny Gore 0700-1000

    Letter 884: (1818)

    Not least because of his infirmity, Beethoven relied a great deal on his friends for the day to day running of his affairs. He lived with a sort of paranoia that anyone who wasn't a close friend was in some way taking advantage of him - he was especially suspicious of his servants. There are several letters to friends asking for advice on choosing staff for his home. John Hurt reads from a letter in which Beethoven formulates a plan to bring to book his two servants Nanni and Baberl.

    Rob Cowan: 1000-1300

    Letters 1542/1541: (1826)

    John Hurt reads from two of Beethoven's letters written late in his life the first to one of the composer's oldest friends, Franz Wegeler who would later publish a collection of reminiscences of Beethoven; the second to Karl Holz who was the second violinist in the Schuppanzigh Quartet which gave the first performances of most of Beethoven's late string quartets. He was a very close friend of Beethoven's and had the honour of being the recipient of Beethoven's last music thought. A little canon which sets the words "Wir irren alle samt, nur jeder irret anderst -  "We all err, but each one errs in a different way".

    Sarah Walker: 1300-1700

    Letter 1463: (1825)

    Ferdinand Wolonek was a Bohemian copyist whom Beethoven employed to copy parts of his Missa Solemnsis. Wolanek's poor workmanship was the occasion for frequent quarrels with Beethoven. In the end Wolanek had had enough and he returned the composer's manuscript with the work unfinished. He included a covering letter which thanked Beethoven for the opportunity to work on the score, but which also alluded to Beethoven's emotional temperament and the "dissonances" between the two of them. Wolanek's letter concluded with the thought that had Mozart or Haydn copied for Beethoven he would no doubt have abused them in precisely the same way. Beethoven was clearly not one who pulled his punches. John Hurt reads the composer's response.

    Sean Rafferty: 1700-1930

    Letter 1168/143

    One name that turns up again and again on Radio 3, especially when talking about the string quartets is the Ignaz Shuppanzigh, one of the most eminent violinists in Beethoven's Vienna, and the man who gave many first performances of Beethoven's music. It's clear from the descriptions of Schuppanzigh that he was a man who enjoyed a hearty meal - and at considerable expense to his waist-line. He and Beethoven enjoyed a long friendship, but in those less politically-correct times, Shuppanzigh often found himself the subject of Beethoven's cruel sense of humour. In kinder mood, Beethoven used to refer to him as "Falstaff". John Hurt reads from some of correspondence to and about Shuppanzigh, including some of those which feature some of the composer's musical jokes.

    Rob Cowan 2130-2400 - Recreation of 1808 concert.

    Letter 192: (1809)

    Whether rightly or wrongly, Beethoven often felt the victim of conspiracies aimed against him and his music; and the situation surrounding the organisation of his famous 1808 concert at the Theater auf der Wieden was no exception to this. John Hurt reads from a letter Beethoven wrote to his publisher shortly after the concert.

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