Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Making It in the Big City: Beethoven's First Decade in Vienna

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Making It in the Big City: Beethoven's First Decade in Vienna

Article excerpt

WHEN BEETHOVEN ARRIVED IN VIENNA IN NOVEMBER OF 1792, HE FACED THE young musician's perennial problem: how to make it in the big city. Unlike his native city of Bonn, where the court dominated the cultural landscape, Vienna offered a more diffuse musical scene that posed more challenges but also offered more opportunities. The Hapsburg monarchs maintained a respectable musical establishment, and a royal appointment carried both prestige and a measure of financial security, but the court did not hold all the cultural cards. In fact, the vitality of the city's musical life resided in its theaters, its myriad public concerts, and in the private musical performances sponsored by the city's musical and social elite. Success required not only musical talent, but a good deal of political savvy, organizational skills, and dogged determination. Connections did not hurt, of course, and Beethoven arrived with the best of credentials: He bore a letter of introduction from one of his patrons in Bonn, Count Ferdinand Waldstein, Haydn had already accepted him as a composition student, and his reputation as a fine fortepianist had preceded him.1 But like all other musicians, he needed to prove himself, and the path to Viennese success led first through the realm of the private concert.2

The institution of the private salon was woven securely into the city's social fabric, for both the aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeoisie:

In some homes [salons] are given three times a week, in others twice, and sometimes only every two weeks; in a very few - every day. The entertainment at them is different: In some, everyone has to play cards; in others, only if one wants to; some have music, others dancing; and again in others the evening is spent in friendly conversation.3

Even those devoted to music had a strong social component, and observers sometimes complained about the audience's tendency to rattle teacups and talk through the opening piece, though such chatter was discouraged at the homes of serious music lovers.4 Not everyone who attended the musical salons could be counted as a serious music lover, however; the high aristocracy in particular often considered them to be merely a social obligation. Most of our information about Vienna's elite salons, in fact, comes from the diary of a profoundly unmusical aristocrat, Count Karl von Zinzendorf, and his accounts generally pay more attention to the ladies in the audience than the performers or the music. Zinzendorf maintained a dizzying social calendar that would have defeated a lesser man, and it was not at all uncommon for him to attend a private concert, a theatrical performance, and two or three different parties or receptions all on the same evening. During 1793, Beethoven's first year in Vienna, he regularly frequented the musical salons of the Prince Golitzin (the Russian ambassador) and Prince Lobkowitz, later Beethoven's patron. If Beethoven performed on any of those evenings, Zinzendorf did not mention it. Not until 1795 does he laconically report that Beethoven played at the residence of Prince Lobkowitz (on March 2), and later at Prince Rasumovsky's (on April 23).5 Although Zinzendorf wasted not a drop of ink commenting on the performance, that Lobkowitz appearance (apparently) marked Beethoven's entrance into Vienna's musical world.

Beethoven established important musical and social connections by appearing at such private salons and could even earn a little money as well, a not unimportant consideration after the Elector in Bonn had cut off his stipend in March of 1794.6 Still, even a steady stream of private bookings would not have provided a secure income, for the fee any performer received depended entirely on the largesse of the aristocratic patron. An advertisement placed in the Wiener Blättchen by a group of musicians offering to perform at private salons made that point quite clear: "It will be left entirely to the judgment of the gentlemen music lovers to determine the remuneration according to the service. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.