Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Beethoven in the Eyes of the Harmonicon

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Beethoven in the Eyes of the Harmonicon

Article excerpt

(1823-1833): The Reviews of the Philharmonic Society Concerts

I. The Harmonicon

The Harmonicon (1823-1833)1 was the most important and influential English musical periodical in the early part of the nineteenth century.2 The Harmonicon and its contemporary The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review were the only two long-running English periodicals at a time when most musical periodicals appeared and disappeared within the span of a few years.

The periodical consisted of two parts. Part I was the literary portion and contained, as indicated on the title page of its first volume of 1823, "Essays, Criticism, Biography, and Miscellanies" (see Illustration no. 1). These included articles on theory, history, aesthetics; reviews of music, operas, concerts, festivals and musical literature; musical news; correspondence from abroad; translations from foreign publications, and letters from readers. Part II contained instrumental and vocal scores "selected from the production of great masters" and also one work per issue commissioned by an eminent composer. The breadth and quality of the contents made The Harmonicon the outstanding English music journal of its time.

From its inception to its demise, the editor of The Harmonicon was William Ayrton (1777-1858), a prominent figure on the British musical scene. Though not a practicing musician, he was a good organizer and a talented journalist, and in these capacities made an important contribution to musical life in London. Among his many activities special mention should be made of his musical criticism for The Morning Chronicle, The Examiner, and The Musical Library, among others. He was a founder and director of the Philharmonic Society, which gave him intimate knowledge of the Society's affairs and afforded him access to the concert rehearsals. He was also a member of the Royal Institution and the Athenaeum Club. At different times he served as Director of the Italian Opera at the King's Theater where, to his everlasting credit, he premiered Mozart's Don Giovanni. At The Harmonicon he served not only as its editor but also wrote many articles and reviews, including almost all the reviews of the Philharmonic concerts. His articles and reviews, knowledgeable, intelligent and impartial, resulted in The Harmonicon's high standing among the professional musicians and enlightened amateurs who were its readers.

The first four years of The Harmonicon's publication overlapped with the last four years of Beethoven's life. England had a special relationship with Beethoven. The Philharmonic Society concerts during this period included almost without exception a Beethoven opus. Through its editor, The Harmonicon reviewed these concerts and helped shape public opinion about Beethoven. Articles concerning Beethoven included news items, a biographical "Memoir" (November 1823), news about Beethoven's final illness and death (including letters by Beethoven and Anton Schindler to Ignaz

Moscheies, and by Johann Andreas Streicher to Johann Andreas Stumpff), as well as a detailed report of his funeral (1827). In 1828 the sale of Beethoven's manuscripts and musical library was also reported and the Heiligenstadt Testament of October 6, 1802 was published.

It is the purpose of this article to investigate the opinions expressed in The Harmonicon about Beethoven's works through its reviews of the Philharmonic concerts.

II. The Philharmonic Society

The history of the Philharmonic Society has been treated by several authors: George Hogarth (1862), Myles Birket Foster (1912), and Robert Elkin (1947). The latest and the most comprehensive book is by Cyril Ehrlich.3 Here I can only give a concise description of the Society's beginnings, from 1813 through Beethoven's death, including The Harmonicon publication years.

The Philharmonic Society was launched in London on January 24, 1813 by a group of professional musicians. According to their manifesto, their purpose was to promote the performance "in the most perfect manner possible, of the best and most approved instrumental music, consisting of Full Pieces, Concertantes, for not less than three principle instruments, Sestetts, Quintetts and Trios, excluding Concertos, Solos and Duets; and requiring that vocal music, when introduced, shall have full orchestral accompaniments, and shall be subjected to the same restrictions. …

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