Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

"I Was Now in the Birthplace of Beethoven": The First European Research Expedition of Alexander Wheelock Thayer, 1849-1851

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

"I Was Now in the Birthplace of Beethoven": The First European Research Expedition of Alexander Wheelock Thayer, 1849-1851

Article excerpt

"In April, 18491sailed for Europe. From May to October I was in Bonn studying German and collectingjdcts on Beethoven. Isupported myself in part by writing lettersfor American newspapers. In October I went to Berlin where I was most of the time until the spring of1851. That year I went to Viennafor a short time and afterwards to the great London Exhibition. As I had no more money to remain in Europe, I returned to America in a sailing vessel from Bremen, arriving in New York in November 1851."

- AWT to Hermann Deiters, August 1,18781

"I had come to Europe [in 1849] to study the German Language, not so muchfor its noble literature, as in the hope of finding new matter to add to Schindler's, Wegler's and Ries' writings upon Beethoven, the whole to be digested into a modest and concise volume of biography for American readers."

- AWT to die President and Committee of the Verein Beethovenhaus, May 23,18892

I. Introduction

LEXANDER WHEELOCK THAYER (October 22,1817-July 15, 1897) traveled from America to Europe on three separate occasions with the express purpose of gathering information for his projected biography of Beethoven: ( 1 ) April 1849-November 1851 ; (2) July 1854-May 1856; and (3) July 1858-December 1861.' Each of the latter time periods is meticulously detailed in the pages of Dwight'sJournal of Music, a Paper of Artaud Literature, published in Boston from 1852 to 1881. Thayer began writing for Dwight sjournal from its inception, and was-with the exception of the editor himself, John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893)-its most prolific-contributor. From Thayer s numerous articles, particularly those that appear under the "Diarist" pseudonym, it is possible to place his whereabouts-at times even daily-during these two extended periods. Conversely, details concerning Thayers first research trip (April 1849-November 1851) have languished in obscurity. Beyond his own skeletal chronology, given above in his 1878 letter to his editor Herman Deiters, and several brief recollections that he subsequendy published in various and sundry Dwight'sJournal articles, precious few details of this important and formative period in the life of Beethovens most important biographer have come to light.

In the following article I will document Thayers first research expedition, about which little has been known. The primary source material for this study is the Cambridge Chronicle, published from 1846 to 1923. As it turns out, Chronicle editor John Ford hired Thayer to write a travel column, in which he was to colorfully detail his European adventure for the hometown readers. "We regard the Chronicle as one of the best weekly newspapers in New England," wrote the editor of the Pathfinder, "especially the letters from Europe of our old friend, A.W.T.'"4 Thayer's letters to the Cambridge Chronicle constitute a brilliant synthesis of travel writing, general history, and musical criticism, and provide hitherto unknown biographical information concerning the writer himself. Beyond this, I have included valuable Thayeriana mined from period journals and newspapers, Thayer's personal letters, and the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Collectively, this new documentary evidence casts light on a heretofore starless chapter in the "Life of Thayer."

II. "In April, 18491 sailed for Europe"

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME, GREETING: I, George N. Briggs Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the United States of America, do hereby Request all whom it may concern, to permit safely and freely to pass Alexander IV. Thayer of Cambridge, a Citizen of the said Commonwealth, going to Antwerp, Germany &c and in case of need, to give him all lawful aid and protection.6

This travel permit or passport, signed by Governor George Nixon Briggs (1796-1861) and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Barron Calhoun (1795-1865), was granted to Thayer on April 18, 1849. According to this document, he was five feet, five inches tall, with grey eyes, light hair, and a "florid" complexion. …

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