Complete edition of Beethoven's correspondence (continuation)

Beethoven's correspondence provides an unusual level of insight into his person and contains a wealth of information on his daily life and the genesis of his works, which cannot be found in other sources. In the nineteenth century biographical works resulted in collections of his letters being made both in handwritten and printed form, but up till now a really comprehensive and reliable edition in the original language - predominantly German - has not been produced.

The Beethoven-Archiv started work on its edition of the correspondence in 1984. It was conceived as a complete edition and comprises all known letters, written by or to ("letters received") Beethoven. Letters written on his behalf or concerning his interests or those of his correspondents have also been included "third party letters"). Regardless of form and content, any document which conveys a message to an addressee is considered to be a letter.

The complete text of the letters is rendered in a diplomatic transcription, i.e. following the original spelling. This means that the originals must be traced - they are scattered and many are still privately owned. Older publications are generally not adequate sources. They often modernized spellings, contained mistakes caused by difficulties deciphering Beethoven's handwriting and the texts were very often abridged. Aside from the actual communication, the Bonn edition of the correspondence also counts form of address, salutation, place, date (if given) and the address of the recipient as being part of the letter. In this respect it differs from most of the previous editions. The new edition also includes (and appropriately marks) deleted passages and drafts which were almost always omitted from previous publications. If the original letter is not available, has disappeared or been destroyed, the most reliable text sources in either handwritten or printed form are consulted following philological rules.

A difficult problem encountered by the Bonn edition concerns the chronology of the letters. As a high percentage of Beethoven's documents are not dated or are incomplete and dated incorrectly, the correct date has to be worked out by examining the appearance of the original document and the contents - a process which involves enormous attention to detail. This is also an important difference to the previous versions.

Each letter is followed by a commentary which is divided up into a critical apparatus and an explanatory section. The critical apparatus provides information on the sources consulted (where it was found, appearance and condition, facsimile reproductions) and also sometimes variant readings and drafts as well as notes by the recipient and postal markings. The explanatory section deals with questions regarding chronology and content and puts the letter into its biographical context. The editorial guidelines for the Bonn edition of Beethoven's correspondence and its aims are laid out in full in the introduction to Volume 1. The older German and English editions of Beethoven's correspondence are also discussed.

Between the years 1996 and 1998 seven volumes of the Bonn edition were published by G. Henle Publishers in Munich under the title "Ludwig van Beethoven. Briefwechsel. Gesamtausgabe" (Volumes 1-6: Letters from 1783 to 1827, Volume 7: Index). Volume 8 (documents and subject index) is in preparation. An Italian translation by L. Della Croce under the auspices of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is underway, the first volumes have been published by Skira Editore in Milan (the first volume in 1999).