Beethoven's fortune at La Scala

Sketches for String Quartet op. 18 no. 2 and other treasures at the Teatro alla Scala Museum

By Teatro Alla Scala

FidelioTeatro Alla Scala

Awareness of Ludwig van Beethoven and instrumental music in general had a slow start in 19th-century Italy, where the public's admiration was mostly aimed at opera. The first performance at the Scala of Fidelio—his only ever opera—took place as late as 1927, to mark 100 years since his death. Musicians were, of course, aware of the greatness and profound depth to Beethoven's music.

However, performances in Italy of his symphonies and sonatas only began in the late 1800s.

The Fifth Symphony's first performance at the Scala was in 1887.

The 20th-century revival is owed mainly to Arturo Toscanini—the conductor who loved German music possibly even more than Italian music. The uncompromising maestro of the Scala contributed significantly to its spread, even ushering in a sparse, but vibrant, Italian performance tradition for his music.

FidelioTeatro Alla Scala

Italy's great conductors—Victor De Sabata, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly—all took on Beethoven's pieces, starting with his perfect tempo.

FidelioTeatro Alla Scala

Even Fidelio became a stable part of their repertoire. The production under Herzog's direction, with Muti conducting, during the opening show of the 1999–2000 season

Fidelio (2014)Teatro Alla Scala

as well as the production directed by Deborah Warner, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, on December 7, 2014,

Fidelio (2014)Teatro Alla Scala

Fidelio (2014)Teatro Alla Scala

were very much admired. As a matter of fact, along with the Italian masters, conductors at the Scala have often been brought in from across the border (or across the seas), such as Karl Böhm and Leonard Bernstein, in addition to Barenboim. Like Maurizio Pollini before him, Barenboim has also performed Beethoven's entire set of piano sonatas at the Scala.

Fidelio (2014)Teatro Alla Scala

Sinfonia n. 9 in re min. op. 127 (2020)Teatro Alla Scala

The funeral march in the Eroica symphony has become the background music for the solemn funerals of great musicians in Milan. The Ninth symphony—whose universal Ode to Joy symbolizes Europe—is also performed at the Scala for certain occasions.

Chailly conducted the symphony in September 2020 for an orchestra of health workers who had selflessly helped treat COVID-19 sufferers in the preceding summer and spring.

Copy of the bust of the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) (First half of XIX century) by Anton Dietrich (1799-1872)Teatro Alla Scala

The bronze bust displayed in the Museum's fifth hall is a bronze copy of the original marble by Anton Dietrich, made based on the original in 1821. Dietrich sculpted two very similar busts.

The first is on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the other is at the Vienna State Opera.

A further copy can be found at the Wiener Musikverein.

Ludwig van Beethoven, sketches for op.18 n" 2 string quartet (1800/1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)Teatro Alla Scala

The Manuscript

The score with Beethoven's signature, kept at the Teatro alla Scala Museum, came from a notebook of sketches from the summer of 1800. It was torn out following the composer's death.

On the staff, annotations can be seen referring to the second and fourth movements of String quartet op. 18 no. 2.

The annotations "Adagio" and "G quartett" are not by Beethoven, but very probably by Anton Graeffer.

These notes can be compared—with eye-opening results—with those for the same piece published in Beethoven's Sketchbook from the Summer of 1800, published in Bonn in 1996 and edited by Richard Kramer under Beethoven-Haus.

Ludwig van Beethoven, sketches for op.18 n" 2 string quartet (1800/1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)Teatro Alla Scala

On these manuscripts, which are held as part of the Dreesman collection in Stockholm (Stiftelsen Musikkulturens Främjande, New York Public Library), are Graeffer's same pencil annotations and the composer's workings. These are mostly focused on the manuscript covering the second movement (the Allegro section following the Adagio Cantabile section), which had almost all their notes on a single page of the score.

Colored engraving depicting F. J. HaydnTeatro Alla Scala

The op. 18 quartets were dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn. The original manuscripts for all six pieces have been lost.

No. 2 is also known as the Compliment Quartett (Komplimentier-Quartett), even though Beethoven was not known for being very gentlemanly—or musical—in his manners.

Letter from Beethoven to unknownTeatro Alla Scala

The Letters

Within its archives, the Teatro alla Scala Museum also keeps in its care two of Beethoven's letters—neither with a date nor an addressee.

Letter from Beethoven to unknownTeatro Alla Scala

The first contains the following:
I am not sending you the score manuscript. I have not seen it—it most likely contains mistakes. My opinion is that if parts must be taken out, it should be done on these draft prints and sent back to me filled out. Please tell me where to find pure gray powder. I have no more, and neither Enrico nor Mrs. Krummer can find any more.

Letter from Beethoven to unknownTeatro Alla Scala

The second makes reference to the composer Gioachino Rossini

Portrait of the choreographer Salvatore Viganò (1769-1821) (First half of XIX century) by Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1851)Teatro Alla Scala

Beethoven and the Scala

There is an important connection between Milano, the Scala, and Beethoven. In fact, the composer wrote the ballet music The Creatures of Prometheus (Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus), choreographed by Salvatore Viganò, one of the most influential and respected figures in early 19th-century dance.

From 1813 until his death, he was maître du ballet (ballet master) at the Scala, where he performed his most famous ballets, which Rossini and Stendhal were so thrilled by. Large crowd scenes were his specialty.

PrometeoTeatro Alla Scala

Prometheus first went on stage in 1801 at Vienna's Hoftheater, but it went on to the Scala in 1813 with only four of Beethoven's original pieces, accompanied by musical inserts by other composers, in line with the musical style and taste of the time.

Liebig advertising figurines depicting some episodes from the life of L.V.BeethovenTeatro Alla Scala

Curiosities in the Archives

Prometheus first went on stage in 1801 at Vienna's Hoftheater, but it went on to the Scala in 1813 with only four of Beethoven's original pieces, accompanied by musical inserts by other composers, in line with the musical style and taste of the time. and Goethe kneeling before nobles and Beethoven not noticing them.

Finally, before dying, Beethoven welcomes Rossini and, without thinking about it too much, advises him not to write serious operas, but instead to write more good opere buffe (comic operas) like The Barber of Seville.

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