Join the Clinton Symphony Orchestra in Morrison, IL on Saturday, February 15th, 7:30 pm, for our winter concert. It features our Young Artist winner, Kevin Lemus, and celebrates Beethoven’s birthday. Enjoy the following program notes about Wellington’s Victory, and the Symphony No 7 which premiered on the same tour in 1813-14.
The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits.
– Ludwig van Beethoven, 1812 to an 8-year admirer
The premieres of Wellington’s Victory, or The Battle of Vittoria, Op 91, and the Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92, premiered on the same program in the auditorium of the Old University in Vienna on December 8, 1813. The composer himself, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), conducted from the podium. The concert, a program for the benefit of the families and orphans of Austrian and Bavarian veterans who were killed or injured in the loss to Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Hanau, was a huge success for the composer and subsequent performances brought him rewarding financial gains. Up to this point, none of his concerts had prompted the public to demand a repeat, but this program proved quite exceptional. While both the Seventh Symphony and the Battle Symphony were well received by the public, it was the Battle Symphony that engaged a good many otherwise reluctant Viennese to patronize the concerts on December 8 and the three repeat concerts that followed.
A new symphony by Beethoven was always eagerly awaited by a certain musical class in Vienna and, thus, the composer had a ready audience for his Symphony No 7; but the excitement generated over Wellington’s Victory at Vittoria was unprecedented for a Beethoven musical event, for it was to feature an improved mechanical device – or contraption – called the Panharmonicon. This machine, invented by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772-1838) in 1805, could simulate the sounds of most musical instruments as well as produce effects such as gunfire and cannon shots. A few composers had already written works that utilized Maelzel’s ‘musical instrument.’
Maelzel arrived in Vienna the same year as Beethoven, 1792. Over the course of nearly fifteen years, he built his reputation as a maker of mechanical devices to the point that he was appointed imperial court-mechanician at Vienna, and drew the admiration of Beethoven and other noted composers. When the French army took Vienna, Maelzel was forced to move his workshop from the palace grounds to a piano factory. Beethoven visited him there frequently and the two men became fast friends. Both men were inspired by the English victory over the French forces in Spain at Vittoria. The “mechanician” made the proposal and the composer quickly agreed. Maelzel is credited by Ignaz Moscheles with coming up with the basic plans for the symphony and for weaving “Rule Brittania” and “God Save the King” into the framework. To Maelzel, the Battle Symphony by the renowned Beethoven would make the perfect promotion for his Panharmonicon, or Trumpeter.
Beethoven, for his part, was just coming out of a woeful period in his life. In 1812, he had renounced in a letter to his “Immortal Beloved” any hope of achieving happiness with her and consigned himself to a life without love. Then, his brother Caspar Carl sought out Beethoven; he was seriously ill and at death’s door. Caspar Carl beseeched his composer brother to take over responsibility for his son Carl. Beethoven agreed, and in less than a year, after brother Caspar Carl had died, Beethoven had a new care – the well being of his nephew Carl to worry about. His hearing continued to deteriorate, and his deafness was becoming quite noticeable not only to himself but to those around him. In addition, friends began to counsel him about his future; he should begin saving and setting aside money for his old age – and now with the new responsibility for his nephew, it seemed not only wise, but imperative. Maelzel’s offer hit the composer at the right time.
Wellington’s Victory was completed in short order – by Beethoven’s standards. He began work on the composition in August 1813 and had a two-piano arrangement by the end of September. As the composer himself acknowledged, “It is certain that one writes most prettily when one writes for the public, also that one writes rapidly.” He delivered the completed manuscript to Maelzel in early October.
Two things transpired between Beethoven’s completion of the manuscript and its actual premiere on December 8, 1813. Maelzel suggested, and Beethoven agreed, that the two men should undertake a tour of the music to England as a promotion for both Maelzel’s machine and Beethoven’s symphonies, with the hope of making a healthy sum of money along the way. Where better to promote Wellington’s Victory than in the homeland of the Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington? Too, Beethoven hoped to garner the favor the King of England as support for their enterprise. Maelzel, additionally, thought that the premiere in Vienna could increase their ‘traveling money’ if the Battle Symphony were presented in an orchestrated concert version, thus attracting more patrons. Consequently, Beethoven rewrote the Panharmonicon score with his usual creative zest.
While Beethoven wrote, Maelzel looked for a suitable opportunity to showcase the Battle Symphony, and drew on a previous benefit concert for widows and orphans of the campaigns against Napoleon. He and Beethoven would themselves sponsor a benefit concert fashioned around Wellington’s Victory and the Symphony No 7, as well as couple of marches by other composers that were written for the Panharmonicon. At Maelzel’s request, musicians of note who were in Vienna at the time volunteered their services – Louis Spohr, J. N. Hummel, Antonio Salieri, and Giacomo Meyerbeer, among others. Some musicians and some of Beethoven’s patrons in Vienna, however, felt Beethoven betrayed his higher calling by stooping to compose such an obvious potboiler.
When rehearsals got underway, Beethoven ran into some performance problems. One involved the violinists who
…refused to play a passage in the symphony and rebuked him for writing difficulties which were incapable of performance. But Beethoven begged the gentlemen to take the parts home with them – if they were to practice it at home it would surely go. The next day at the rehearsal the passage went excellently, and the gentlemen themselves seemed to rejoice that they had given Beethoven the pleasure.
Louis Spohr provides a vivid picture of Beethoven’s physical exertions conducting during rehearsals for the Symphony that deserves an extended quote:
At piano he crouched down lower and lower as he desired the degree of softness. If a crescendo then entered he gradually rose again and at the entrance of the forte jumped into the air. Sometimes, too, he unconsciously shouted to strengthen the forte. It was obvious that the poor man could no longer hear the piano of his music. This was strikingly illustrated in the second portion of the first Allegro of the Symphony. In one place there are two holds, one immediately after the other, of which the second is pianissimo. This, Beethoven had probably overlooked, because he began again to beat time before the orchestra had begun to play the second hold. Without knowing it, therefore, he had hurried ten or twelve measures ahead of the orchestra, when it began again and, indeed, pianissimo. Beethoven to indicate this had…crouched clean under the desk. At the succeeding crescendo he again became visible, straightened himself out more and more and jumped into the air at the point where according to his calculations the forte ought to begin. When this did not follow his movement he looked out in a startled way, stared at the orchestra to see it still playing pianissimo and found his bearing only when the long-expected forte came and was visible to him. Fortunately this comical incident did not take place at the performance.
Maelzel drew the wrath of Beethoven when he at first advertised Wellington’s Victory as his property; the composer objected vehemently, and the promoter changed the advertisement to show that Beethoven was indeed the author and owner of the work and that he had composed the piece out of friendship for Maelzel and to finance their trip to England.
The playbill for the concert listed the following works:
I. “An entirely new Symphony” by Beethoven (the Seventh in A major).
II. Two marches played by Maelzel’s ‘Mechanical Trumpeter’, with full-orchestral accompaniment—one by Dussek, the other by Pleyel.
III. “Wellington’s Victory”.
The benefit concert on December 8, 1813, was a rousing success with the public, as was the repeat concert on December 12. Press reports were favorable for the most part and confirmed the enthusiasm of the audience. In fact, the audience was so enthused that the first part of the Battle Symphony and the Allegretto movement from the Seventh Symphony had to be repeated.
Beethoven knew that Wellington’s Victory did not merit the adulation that early audiences lavished on it, But he recognized the monetary value of the work and pushed for its performance at least, according to his letters, through 1815. There were several concerts featuring this two symphonies throughout 1814 – each a financial windfall for the composer, such that the grand tour to England was called off. Maelzel, however, took his Panharmonicon and Beethoven’s score on the road, bound for England. Beethoven contested in the courts Maelzel’s right to use the orchestrated version, and the dispute temporarily ended their relationship. Maelzel carried on with his tour, using the early two-piano score. Maelzel returned to Vienna in 1817 and immediately he and Beethoven resumed their friendship, with the master endorsing Maelzel’s latest invention, the metronome.
Of the two symphonies presented on that initial concert in December 1813, the Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92, has stood the test of time as the more mature and masterful work. Beethoven himself considered to to be his “most excellent” composition to date. The Battle Symphony, Op 91, after its novelty wore off, settled into somewhat obscurity, performed infrequently, until the modern age of recording revived it by employing actual sound effects, instead of Maelzel’s Panharmonicon.
~Program notes written by William Driver.