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Ludwig van Beethoven, Variationen für Klavier (Es-Dur) mit einer Fuge op. 35, Autograph

Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H. C. Bodmer, HCB Mh 6

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Variations in "quite a new manner"

The title page of the autograph score of the "Prometheus" Variations op. 35 certainly immediately catches one's eye. Beethoven crossed out the central inscription several times, rendering it almost illegible. Behind the crossings out there are two versions of an explanatory note, "As I have diverged from the up to now usual method with these v[ariations], I did not want them to continue as my earlier ones, and instead of indicating them like my previous ones by means of a number I have included them in the proper numerical series of my greater musical works, the more so as the themes have been composed by me."
Beethoven corrected the first half of the explanation as follows, "As these v[ariations] are distinctly different from my earlier ones, I did not want them to continue in their manner and instead ... [continues as above]".
Both times he stresses the new manner of the composition. In a letter to his Leipzig publisher Härtel on 18 October 1802, Beethoven also pointed out the "quite a new manner" in which he had written the Variations. In so doing he refers to the fugues of his fellow composer Anton Reicha, who had added the following to the title "Composés d'après un nouveau système" (composed after a new model). Beethoven condemned this new method in the harshest terms, as can be seen in a further letter to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig on 18 December 1802, in which he consciously distances his variations from them, "Instead of making a great clamour about a new method of writing v[ariations], like our worthy neighbours the Gallo-Franks would make, such as, for instance, when a certain [crossed out: Reicha and replaced with:] French composer presented me with fugues après une nouvelle methode, the method amounting to this, that the fugue is no longer a fugue, and son on - I have wished to draw the attention of those who are not connoisseurs to the fact that at any rate these v[ariations] are different from all others." (From the translation by Emily Anderson, 1961). For this reason, Beethoven asked the publishers in the same letter to put his introductory note on the title of the printed edition, as an explanation. However, this was in vain as the Leipzig publishers could not be persuaded to do so. If the composer was so concerned about having this explanatory note on the title page, why did he cross it out so adamantly? The autograph score was the engraver's model for the Breitkopf & Härtel edition. Perhaps Beethoven had not decided on the final formulation when he sent the manuscript to Leipzig. It is more likely that he was only concerned with the content of the explanatory note, not the actual words themselves, and that he wanted to allow the publishers the freedom to formulate it as they saw fit. Or as Beethoven himself added as a postscript to the same letter of 18 December 1802, "Should you consider it necessary to alter or correct anything, you have my full permission to do so." (from the translation by Emily Anderson, 1961). (J.R.)

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