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1 - Of Deserters and Orphans: Beethoven's Early Exposure to the Opéras-Comiques of Monsigny

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2020

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Summary

As a member of the electoral court orchestra in Bonn from 1783 through (most of ) 1792, the adolescent Beethoven participated in performances of a wide variety of theatrical works, both spoken and lyric. His first stint in such a capacity was as rehearsal harpsichordist for the theatrical company directed by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann (1743–96). Hired by Elector Maximilian Friedrich in 1778, Grossmann had quickly assembled a versatile troupe, mainly out of Abel Seyler's disintegrating company (of which he had been a member). Grossmann appropriated Seyler's music director, Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748–98), after Seyler disbanded his troupe for good in August 1779. Neefe soon became court organist as well, and gave lessons to Beethoven; Beethoven assisted him in both the chapel and the theater. The earliest document relating to his participation is an endorsement by court steward Count Sigismund von Salm-Reifferschied (dated February 23, 1784) of a petition by Beethoven to receive a regular appointment—that is, to be paid for services he had been rendering for some time on a probationary basis: “The petitioner has been amply tested and found capable to play the court organ as he has done in the absence of Organist Neefe, also at rehearsals of the plays and elsewhere, and will continue to do so in the future” (my emphasis). After Max Friedrich's death in April 1784, Grossmann's troupe was let go with four weeks’ salary (Neefe remained as court organist), and for several years Maximilian Franz, the next elector, hired various theatrical troupes for Carnival seasons only. For Carnival 1785 the troupe of Grossmann's rival Johann Heinrich Böhm was engaged, but we know little about what it performed, in which town it performed it, or whether it used the court orchestra. For Carnival 1786 Maximilian Franz engaged a “Französisches Hoftheater” formed from remnants of the French-language troupe that had been resident in Kassel. A Hoftheater presumably used the Hoforchester, which meant that Beethoven was probably playing. For Carnival 1787 Maximilian Franz seems to have hired Grossmann, but the engagement was quickly hamstrung by legal disputes between Grossmann and his partner, Christian Wilhelm Klos. Finally, in January 1789, Maximilian Franz reorganized the court theater under the musical direction of Joseph Reicha, and Beethoven played not harpsichord but viola in the orchestra, presumably until he left for Vienna in November 1792.

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The New Beethoven
Evolution, Analysis, Interpretation
, pp. 9 - 36
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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