Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Ferdinand Ries in Vienna: New Perspectives on the Notizen

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Ferdinand Ries in Vienna: New Perspectives on the Notizen

Article excerpt

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I. Introduction

"... I myself now have such a superb teacher. Beethoven takes more pains with me than I would ever have believed. Each week I have three lessons, usually from 1:00 to 2:30."1

THESE LINES ARE FOUND IN A LETTER THAT FERDINAND RIES WROTE IN VIENNA TO NIKOLAUS SIMROCK IN BONN SOME TIME AFTER RlESS ARRIVAL FROM MUNICH, WHERE HE HAD BEEN STUDYING. The young man had few prospects when he arrived in Vienna and was virtually broke. His only hope for support in this unfamiliar city was a letter of recommendation written by his father and addressed to Beethoven. The impact of this letter was far greater than Ries had expected. Not only did Beethoven become his teacher with three lessons a week, as Ries himself states, he did much more to advance Ries's career, such as providing financial assistance and introducing him to aristocratic circles.

The lines cited above deserve special attention because a critical interpretation of their implications may contribute to the unraveling of a problem that has lingered in Beethoven biography since the early nineteenth century, a problem that has never been settled to satisfaction. It is the much debated topic of the date of Ries's arrival in Vienna.

How much time would have passed, it may be asked, between the appearance of Ries in Vienna and the letter he wrote to Simrock about his lessons with Beethoven? Or to put it more generally: when does a student, living far from his native town, inform friends at home about his new surroundings, his weekly classes, and his teachers? Obviously it would take some time for such a young student to get settled-it might take weeks, possibly even months. However, would it be realistic to expect it to take a whole year or even eighteen months? Would it make sense to provide detailed information about studies that had begun over a year before?

Ries's letter to Simrock was dated "6 May 1803."2 Yet today it is generally believed that Ries came to Vienna as early as 1801.

II. Critical Consensus

This date was introduced by Alexander Wheelock Thayer in the second volume of his standard Beethoven biography. He even narrowed it down, writing: "As for the writer, he has no hesitation in accepting September or October 1801 as the date of Riess arrival in Vienna."' Herewith Thayer corrected an earlier date of 1800, which, as he wrote with a touch of indignation, "was offered to the public for thirty years without having been challenged."4 This was a reference to Anton Schindler, who in the three editions of his Beethoven biography had consistently asserted a date of autumn 1800.'' Thayer s conclusion, as will be shown, was based on the corrected dating of a letter by Beethoven to Wegeler.

Thayer s dating of Ries s arrival in Vienna ("September or October 1801") was widely accepted and subsequently echoed in virtually all Beethoven literature, although the date was frequently qualified with "probably's," "presumably's," and "possiblys." Elliot Forbes, when editing Thayer's Beethoven biography in 1967, was among the cautious ones; he inserted a paragraph stating, "just when the young man arrived in Vienna is not clear."6 However, Forbes offered no alternative to Thayer s date, nor did Donald W. MacArdle provide one in his 1963 study "Beethoven and Ferdinand Ries."7

Thayer's date for Ries's arrival in Vienna found its way into The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), where, in the entry on Beethoven, Joseph Kerman and Alan Tyson proposed a date of "the end of 1801." In the same encyclopedia in the entry on Ries, Cecil Hill was even more specific with "October 1801." These dates, although they sometimes vary by a few months, are maintained in modern Beethoven literature and are included in publications that may be regarded as authoritative. To mention only three: Barry Cooper's widely consulted Beethoven Compendium ("October 1801"),8 Peter Clive's painstakingly correct biographical dictionary Beethoven and His World ("late 1801 or perhaps early 1802"),9 and Sieghard Brandenburg's collected edition of Beethoven's correspondence ("late 1801/early 1802"). …

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