Review: "Beethoven Facsimiles” by Richard Kramer


Reprinted with permission from 19th-Century Music Vol. 6, No.1, Summer 1982. Copyright, Regents of the University of California Press

British Library Music Facsimiles, III. Ludwig van Beethoven. Violin Sonata in G major, op. 30, no. 3. With an Introduction by Alan Tyson. London: The British Library, 1980.

Scolar Press Music Manuscripts in Facsimile (Alan Tyson, general editor), I and II. Beethoven: String Quartet Opus 59 No.1 (First "Razumovsky" Quartet, in F major) and String Quartet Opus 59 No.2 (Second "Razumovsky" Quartet, in E minor). Introductions by Alan Tyson. London: Scolar Press, 1980.

An autograph is like a snapshot, catching its subject in a private moment, in the midst of an act, spontaneous or posed. The facsimile of an autograph makes the act public and guarantees its longevity. These moments are not all equally revealing. When the subject is camera-conscious, he is not likely to betray any secrets. Wolfgang Hildesheimer detected that kind of pose in the Mozart autographs, and he tested the idea against the autograph of the (his words) "rätselhafte und hintergründige" Adagio in B Minor for Piano, K. 540:

Here as elsewhere the manuscript gives evidence that the act of writing down was a purely technical one, the accomplishment of perhaps no more than a half hour of acute, yet relaxed concentration, in which it is a question above all of clarity and legibility: a wonderfully erect and nevertheless affecting notational image, without even the slightest correction; a calligraphic masterpiece as well! Here too, then: nothing divulged.[1]

Everyone knows that Beethoven's handwriting "divulges" in a way that Hildesheimer claims Mozart's does not. But what exactly is divulged? How would we know when we'd stumbled upon those "Spuren spontaner Emotionen" which Hildesheimer was after in the Mozart autographs? For we come away from a Beethoven autograph with the curious sense that the explicit evidence of creative struggle very often attends not those moments where the substance of the work gives off portentous signals, but rather the details of a counterpoint, of orchestration, of the rthythm of an inner voice. We want our facsimiles to preserve the noble agony of creation. They rarely do.

Hildesheimer suggests that the handwriting itself—not the sense of what is written—might divulge the temper of the author in the midst of creation. For Hildesheimer, the "aufrechtes und dabei bewegtes Notenbild" is a kind of posture: Mozart putting some distance between the emotions that are expressed in the work and the author who commits all this to paper. The writing out is of course the one tangible, concrete act in the creative process, and it catches the author at a most vulnerable moment.

If Mozart strikes a pose, Beethoven seems virtually to forget that he is writing. And that, I think, is why his autographs have always attracted so much attention. The barriers are down. The calligraphic façade falls away, and the act of writing becomes personal, indeed autobiographical. We catch Beethoven in a state of distraction. The refusal to pose, to cover up the spontaneity of the moment, seems now and then as conscious a posture as Mozart's.

This illusion that we are present at the moment of creation has surely much to do with the innate value ascribed to the autograph document. The greater the illusion—and it is very great with Beethoven—the more cherished the document. And the greater the work, the more exaggerated the illusion.

But such documents are valuable for other reasons as well. They establish a crucial, and very often the final, stage in the gestation of the work. There are two kinds of information that are of interest here: the external facts—the quality of paper, the ink, quirks of hand, and so forth, all of which help to fix the date of the manuscript in a circular equation with the facts that have been assembled from outside the document; and the substantive internal evidence—how the document fixes the text of the work. The latter furnishes a kind of critical commentary on the composing of the piece, but a commentary from inside.

The autographs offered here in facsimile editions are essentially of two kinds: the one a so-called Reinschrift—a clean copy, or as close as Beethoven ever comes to that ideal; the other a sort of working manuscript which hovers between the calligraphic reproduction of a work more or less complete in concept and a rough draft in which ideas are tried for the first time. Not that there is a categorical distinction here. For Beethoven, composition is not the lucid vision in which the end is glimpsed at the beginning, nor the programmed exercise in which such a vision is realized.[2] Beethoven may begin a score as though it were clean copy. Nearly all his scores look as though they were begun in that way, and so, too, is the impulse visible in more than a few initital sketches. Whether, and for how long, the score will sustain this picture of final clarity is apparently a function of the extent of preliminary thought—of improvisation, sketches, a rudimentary score, and the like.

This general hypothesis, difficult as it may be to prove or disprove, seems to work here. Methodical, systematic sketching for the Violin Sonata in G, op.30, no.3, is preserved in the Kessler Sketchbook.[3] The autograph, though not without its share of emendations and revisions, is a relatively secure document. The continuity of the work is never in doubt.

We know of no similar body of sketches for the opus 59 quartets.[4] Perhaps as a consequence, the autograph of these quartets stagger under the weight of countless revisions of every magnitude. While most of these emendations affect local matters—of scoring and so forth—several of them cut deeply enough into the very continuity of the music to have forced radical surgery on the manuscripts themselves. Pages are scissored out of their original gatherings and sewn or sealed against other, deleted pages. Marginal notes to a copyist tell us that portions of a manuscript were parcelled out while Beethoven continued to work on the rest. The evidence, in short, is that much of the composition of these quartets seems to have gone on during the preparation of the autograph, which is both preliminary and final copy at once.

For those inclined to engage the mysteries of compositional process—to gaze into the eye of the creation itself—these are luminous documents.[5] But if we expect visions of some Orphic muse in the clutches of sublime dictation, we shall be disappointed. A figure is conjured, but it is closer in purpose to the mechanic at his bench, tinkering incessantly with this and that recalcitrant system. For Beethoven, each new piece requires its own technology; each has its own system. It is wrong, I think, to believe that Beethoven by 1806 has achieved a perfect and final mastery of technique. True technique is that refined sense of hearing which renders the idea coherent, which invents a grammar and a syntax unique to the idea. For Beethoven, idea and technique are ever locked in symbiotic embrace.

If by the time the autograph is prepared, the most radical acts of composition have been decided, the decisions recorded at this final stage may tell us something about the utimate refinements of technique. Consider the opening measures of the Quartet in E Minor, op.59, no.2, whose hortatory chords were originally to have extended an octave deeper in the bass. Now while that original disposition may be perfectly reasonable on the grounds that it opens a register in the bass which will be continually associated with those chords, the change seems to work at a deeper unfolding. To put it differently, the register of the bass is made an issue at the outset, played out over the entire course of the movement, feeding smartly into such moments as the double-take at the point of recapitulation. (ex. 1)

Ex. 1

Something similar happens in the first movement of the Quartet in F, op.59, no.1. The refracted music at mm. 85-90 has much to do with registral dissociation. Syntax is momentarily bent at mm. 85-86 and 87-88—two contiguous and parallel root-position dominant sevenths are the cause—and then unbent at mm. 89-90, where the ellipsis is fleshed out. Refraction in both register and syntax is coincident. The one justifies the other.

And we are meant to retain the purity of registral strata as the piece unfolds. At the last of these passages, the clinching cadence was originally disposed in this way (ex. 2):

Ex. 2

The first impulse was to retain the closed position of the neighbor motion in the bass just as it is described in the two analogous cadences. But the regularity of it is disturbed in the revision—and for good reason. The D♭ now has more ring. Its distance from the deep C keeps it alive, and consequently sustains the action through through the ecstatic cadence around m. 362 and following. A deep D♭ at m. 357 would cut off a sense of registral unfolding in the bass—would diminish the significance of the cadence at m. 364, whose resolution comes, almost unnoticed, at the F in the bass at m. 374. Here, too, as in the example from the first movement of the E-Minor Quartet, it is a question of keeping the two bass registers in play until the end.

The page which records the earlier form of those chords at mm. 335-36 survives through sheer accident. Cut out from the original manuscript when its verso was evidently blank, and sewn recto down against an earlier page, it was meant to cover and conceal much of an original version of the fugue which consumes the expansive development (having ruined the design of the bass to finish a cadence in Db). The blank verso of the cover leaf would eventually accommodate the revision of the fugue. But the concealing threads were long since undone, and we now have a clear view of the repudiated version.

The revision, incisive and powerful, attacks the problem of fugue in all its dimensions. The subject is made more responsive to its context; counterpoints are uncluttered; the tonal answer is reshaped, indeed reconceived; and the invocation of the fugue itself—the way of articulating it within the continuity of the movement—is readdressed.[6] If there is a single text which, by example and implication, more trenchantly illustrates these issues, it does not come to mind.

These quartets, like most other works of Beethoven, early and late, test the outer and inner limits of given formal postulates against the propensity of an original idea to insinuate its own formal imperatives. There is a dialectic in this opposition, but it is not always manifestly audible. One looks for symptoms. Such a symptom seems to me the quality of the articulatory hinges by which large formal areas are defined. There is a tendency in op.59. no.1 to obscure these hinges, to absorb them into the continuity of the work.

In the last movement, the close of the exposition is elided with what at the outset is equivalent to a repetition of the exposition. But the new music in the cello at m. 107, and the B♮/G♭ at m.108 explode that illusion.[7] To repeat the exposition would be to rob the music beginning at m. 103 of all its illusionary power, for we would then expect some bold deflection around m. 105. Now it is not commonly known that the autograph records Beethoven's explicit intention—an intention which he seems to have held until the very late minute—to repeat the development and recapitulation, though not the exposition. "La seconda parte due volte," Beethoven writes.[8]

What was to be gained from such a repetition? The psychology of it seems lodged in the repression of a true articulation at the end of the exposition. The repetition clarifies the form; its function is essentially articulative.

Nor is it commonly known that Beethoven intended—again, until the last minute—to repeat a very large portion of the second movement: mm. 155-391, plus two measures of first ending. Here, too, the repetition would affect only what corresponds roughly to a development and recapitulation (not the exposition]. But here, it seems to me, the repetition elucidates in a way quite different than in the first movement. There is a sense of parody about the Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando, squibbing the heroic formal events of the first movement. One feels this especially at the point of recapitulation, where the tonic is confirmed not through a reprise of the initital idea, but through the dolce theme first heard at m. 23—just as in the first movement, the tonic returns not with the open theme, but with music that was first heard at m. 19. The impression of great length in the Allegretto is due largely to a massive formal design which is essentially under-articulated. The infrastructure is not clearly delineated in the surface, and it is the attack on the coordination of these two levels which evokes a sense of parody.[9]

One other thought concerning these rejected repetitions: they are end-weighted. The form is clarified as a final act of revelation. In the Allegretto the effect contributes to the sense of parody: form as surprise. But the first movement is all business. Repetition of the development and recapitulation would violate the drama, trivialize the meaning of those events—a high price to pay for a conventional formal clarity that Beethoven must have seen, finally, to be inappropriate to the work.

The autograph confirms that yet another repetition, this one at mm. 285-324 in the finale, was contemplated and then repudiated. Here it seems simply to have been a kind of self-indulgence at the end, an unwillingness to let go of the the exquisite Adagio harmonization of the theme. The urge to repeat it is repressed.

Revisions as massive as these are bound to generate their own critical literature. We shall no doubt hear more about them, and also about the tortured efforts at counterpoint in the Maggiore of the third movement of op.59, no.2; about the curious deletion and subsequently understood reinstatement of a very long passage in the finale of the same quartet; of the original cast to the final measures of its Molto adagio; and much else.

The autograph of op.30, no.3 is not equally interesting. There are no deep mysteries to be plumbed, no philological puzzles to be solved. Yet the publication of the facsimile is à propos, for it is a valuable pendant to the recently published Kessler Sketchbook, fifteen pages of which are given to the only known preliminary work  on the sonata.

This is not to suggest that everything had been settled before the writing out of the autograph. The second movement, a lethargic Tempo di Minuetto ma molto moderato e grazioso,[10] spins out its opening phrase seven times in literal repetition, and once again (somewhat broken) in the coda. Now while the fine detail of that phrase and the extended continuity of the piece had been worked out in the sketches, the variety of the accompaniment had not. The fixing of it was left to the autograph, and constitutes perhaps its must instructive aspect. For those who will want to study the earlier phases of gestation, the sketches in Kessler are prolific yet easily controlled. Final continuity is mapped out at fols. 74v-75r, and invites the contemplation of its proximity to the autograph, now close, now somewhat remote.

Alan Tyson's introductory notes are illuminating on the history of the works in question and peregrinations of the manuscripts since Beethoven's death, less so on the problems of the manuscript structure. The sonata autograph is a manuscript comprising paper of three different types; only a part of one watermark is reproduced (and that in a lucid beta radiograph illustration). The convoluted manuscripts of both quartets deserve sturdy schematic reconstructions. Tyson tells us less than he knows. The reader who wants to understand how these works were composed will need to determine how the manuscripts were put together. For this he must turn elsewhere.[11]

But in every other respect these are splendid productions. The photography of the quartet manuscripts is of a multicolor process which shows the red of Beethoven's editorial crayon and the gray of his pencil, and can distinguish the texture of a pale brown ink used for late entries from the crayon superimposed on it. The facsimile of the sonata is not quite so lavish in that respect but the photography is sophisticated enough to show the manuscript paper in sepia and to portray the notation in various grades of contrast.

That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.... The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.[12]

The notion that the manuscript may produce an aura distinct from that which, for critics like Walter Benjamin, emanates from the work itself is worth considering for a moment. For Benjamin, the authenticity of the work, its quality of genuineness, is a function of its history.[13] He is concerned here primarily with works of visual art: the Gothic cathedral seen on film and not in its authentic milieu—the work torn from its context. The authenticity of music is not quite so simple to factor out. How do we know ourselves in the presence of the geniune article? The very concept of a work composed for performance is predicated its reproducibility.[14]

Regardless of its context and the details of its reproduction, the work of art will convey its own history, define its own style, and establish its unique aura. To fall prey to the easy accessiblilty of the work is to jeopardize not the work, but our own sensibilities.

The authenticity of the manuscript is another matter entirely. It would be absurd to contend that the autograph conveys the text of the work in some hallowed sense denied any other text. We cannot know the work any better, nor be more genuinely moved, from having the author's hand before us as we perform the work or study it. We may, of course, inadvertently learn things about the work which the autograph as text happens to contain and no other text of the work has taken up. But such things are accidents in the faulty transmission of the text.

The autograph is authenticated differently than the work, and it has its own aura. For those who value the study of the conceiving of the work, the immeasurable richness of the autograph rests in the illusion it creates that we are at the scene of the action—the illusion of "being there." The aura of the original, its patina of authenticity, cannot be duplicated, and consequently it cannot be diminished or cheapened by photographic reproductions of the manuscript. Like all representational art, photography produces a limiting view of its subject. It distorts and exaggerates, in spite of itself. It fixes itself in time as a kind of "partial" of the original. The photograph invokes the original and certifies it as genuine much as the partial presupposes its fundamental. It freezes a moment in the continuum of that aura which itself emanates from the frozen moment at which art is born.

Richard Kramer teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His Distant Cycles: Schubert and the Conceiving of Song won the Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society and an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Prize. His large list of publications include studies of composer's handwriting and compositional process, as well as reviews of important facsimile editions.

[1] 1. Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Mozart [Frankfurt, 1977], pp. 93-94 (my translation): " ...hier wie überall ergibt die Handschrift den Beweis, dass der Akt der Niederschrift ein rein technischer war, der Vollzug von vielleicht nicht mehr als einer halben Stunde scharfer, doch entspannter Konzentration, in der es vor allem auf Klarheit und Leserlichkeit ankam: ein wunderbar aufrechtes und dabei bewegtes Notenbild, ohne auch nur die winzigste Korrektur, auch dies ein kalligraphisches Meisterwerk. Auch hier also: Nichts verraten."
[2] 2. Maynard Solomon, "On Beethoven's Creative Process: A Two-Part Invention," Music & Letters, 61 [1980], 272-83, attacks the credibility of Louis Schlösser's Persönliche Erinnerung an Beethoven. Schlösser's well-known account of the creative process—[Beethoven:] "I hear and see the picture as a whole take shape and stand forth before me as though cast in a single piece, so that all that is left is the work of writing it down. This goes quickly..." (Thayer-Forbes, p.851)—may now be expunged from the documentary literature.

[3] 3. Now published in transcription and facsimile as Kesslersches Skizzenbuch, ed. Sieghard Brandenburg, 2 vols. (Munich 1976-78).

[4] 4. The complicated evidence is described by Alan Tyson in "The Razumovsky Quartets: Some Aspects of the Sources," Beethoven Studies 3, ed. Alan Tyson (in press).

[5] 5. And, astonishingly, the very first of the quartet autographs to be published in facsimile editions. The publication of the C-Major Quartet announced in the series by Scolar Press, is, I am told, to be delayed until 1983 at the earliest.

[6] 6. For more on these matters, see my "Das Organische der Fuge: On the Autograph of Beethoven's String Quartets in F Major, Opus 59, No.1," The Strings Quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven: Studies of the Autograph Manuscripts, ed. Christoph Wolff, Isham Library Papers III (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), pp.223-65.

[7] 7. Two canceled measures in the autograph show that the original thought was to continue the opening theme for a while longer verbatim.

[8] 8. The inscription will be familiar from the finale of the Piano Sonata in F Minor, op.57, which provoked Donald Francis Tovey, in the notes to his edition of the Piano Sonata, to this insight: "In the Coda the new presto theme would gain enormously by having been delayed.... What [Beethoven] overlooked was the enormous power of the collapse and slow return in bars 176-210, a passage as impossible to go through twice as the death of a hero." Beethoven may have played through a similar dialectic in the quartet, for the issues are roughly the same, but now Tovey's counter-argument (among those others suggested below) carries the day.

[9] 9. For another interpretation of the form, and a summary of still others, see Joseph Kerman, The Beethoven Quartets (New York, 1967), pp. 105-09. Kerman, too, senses the play with events in the first movement: "There, a sense of cummulative growth, here of discontinuous transformation."

[10] 10. The designation itself, like nearly all the others in these autographs, had a contorted history: it grew up from a simple Andante.

[11] 11. Just where is something of a problem. On the structure of most of op.59, no.1, see my "Das Organische der Fuge." Tyson, "The Razumovsky Quartets," addresses the sketches primarily. Paul Mies's edition of the middle quartets for the Bonn Beethoven-Archiv—Beethoven: Werke, VI, no.4 (Munich, 1968)—ignores the autographs, or seems to, for a critical apparatus has never been published. Descriptions in two standard reference works are necessarily abbreviated:Hans-Günther Klein, Ludwig van Beethoven. Autographe und Abschriften (Berlin, 1975)—for op.59, nos. 1 and 2—describes the manuscript structure without reference to watermarks, and Hans Schmidt, "Die Beethovenhandschriften der Beethovenhauses in Bonn," Beethoven-Jahrbuch 7, Jg. 169/70 (1971), item 544—for no.3—talks of watermarks but not of foliation.

[12] 12. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York, 1968), p.223.

[13] 13. "At the time of its origin a medieval picture of the Madonna could not yet be said to be 'authentic.' It became 'authentic' only during the succeeding centuries and perhaps most strikingly so during the last one." Benjamin, ibid. p.245.

[14] 14. But it goes without saying that each work encodes its own instructions for its reproduction, we call the study of those instructions "performance practice." That aspect of its authenticity has in fact to do with the text of the work, and not its content.