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Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonate für Klavier (A-Dur) op. 101, Autograph

Beethoven-Haus Bonn, NE 219

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Unusual note

"Truly, here in his 101st composition admiration and renewed respect take hold of us, when we wander along strange, never trodden paths with the great painter of the soul," the journalist for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig wrote exuberantly, going on to enthuse about the most beautiful colours and pictures in Beethoven's new Piano Sonata op. 101. Beethoven had once again crossed new boundaries and set new standards, not only stylistically. He extended the range in the composition down to bottom E, the lowest note that was possible on the pianos of the time. Only the most modern instruments allowed playing the "very low" E.
In order to be able to write this note, another four leger lines are necessary, written beneath the usual five line stave. For the untutored eye bottom E is really a very difficult note to read! Beethoven also had his difficulties with the notation and practised it: at the bottom of the title page (image 1) in pencil, on leaf 5r (image 9) in red crayon, and on leaf 16r, the last page of music, (image 31) in pencil and ink. On leaf 13r (image 25) Beethoven made a note of the "Contra E-Problem" (bottom E problem) in pencil on the full lowest stave, giving each note an additional letter, adding a comment for the engraver, "Nb: die Buchstaben auch im Stechen drunter gesezt" (NB the letters added underneath also in the engraving). On the same page following a correction in the 12th stave he had already added "bottom E" in ink to the musical text, insisting on this for the original edition and also for publication. In January 1817 (after the 9th and before the 23rd) he wrote to the publisher Tobias Haslinger, requesting a correction, "In the last movement in the passage where the low E appears in the 4 chords, I should like the letters to be added" (from the translation by Emily Anderson, 1961). This wish was not granted in its entirety. The plates had already been engraved. There was not enough space on the plate in question for all the letters, it would have had to be completely redone. So in the end, the publisher made do with adding "bottom E" the first time the low note appears. (J.R.)

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