The Abbé Vogler, Beethoven and the "Waldstein" Sonata

By McKay, Elizabeth Norman | The Beethoven Newsletter, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

The Abbé Vogler, Beethoven and the "Waldstein" Sonata


McKay, Elizabeth Norman, The Beethoven Newsletter


IN THE PRESTISSIMO FINAL SECTION OF THE LAST MOVEMENT OF THE "WALDSTEIN," TWO PASSAGES APPEAR WHICH PRESENT PARTICULAR PROBLEMS FOR PERFORMERS. These are the series of rapid pianissimo octave scales in measures 465-75, which would have been playable as glissando scales on the shallowaction fortepianos of the time, and the trills found in measures 485-514. Were there any precedents to this kind of keyboard writing to which Beethoven may have had access? The answer could lie in the music of Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814), or, as he is best remembered, Abbé Vogler.

I

Vogler's Standing in Vienna in 1802-04

By the end of 1802 Vogler had arrived in Vienna for a visit which would last until he moved on to Munich in 1805.1 Soon after he arrived, probably in the spring of 1803, he was invited by Schikaneder, the manager of the recently opened Theater an der Wien, to write an opera for the theater. It was at that time that Vogler's name became linked with Beethoven's, for on April 5 Beethoven organized his own benefit concert at the same theater featuring his own music. The event was described by August von Kotzebue in his periodical Der Freymüthige:

... he [Beethoven] has, together with the celebrated Abbé Vogler, obtained an engagement at that theater. He will compose one opera while Vogler will write three. For this they will receive free lodging as well as 10% of the receipts of the first ten performances.2

Beethoven's projected opera was Vestas Feuer, with a text by Schikaneder. Unhappy with the libretto, Beethoven could work up little enthusiasm for this opera and finally, early in January 1804, laid it aside in order to start on a new opera, Leonore, also for the Theater an der Wien.3

Vogler wrote only one new opera for Vienna, Samori, and not the three as suggested by Kotzebue, although an earlier opera, Castore e Polluce, which had already been performed in Munich in 1787 and Prague in 1797 and 1801, was revived in a benefit concert performance on December 22, 1803.4 Vogler was certainly engaged in the composition of Samori when Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), the composer, conductor, fortepianist, and critic, began studying with him in October 1803. Very shortly after Weber arrived in Vienna, intending originally to study with Joseph Haydn, he wrote on October 8 to his friend Ignaz Susann of a "stack of music" which Vogler had produced during one of his lessons, containing his new opera. After Weber swore "an oath of solemn silence,"5 Vogler played him several numbers at the fortepiano. The opera was received with "some enthusiasm" at its premiere on May 17, 1804, but quickly fell from the repertory at the Theater an der Wien because, according to Vogler's first biographer Joseph Fröhlich, the subject of the play did not conform to popular Viennese tastes for brilliant plots with elaborate stage effects.6

In 1803 Vogler's reputation "was at its height."7 Twenty-six years earlier in 1777, however, Mozart, visiting Mannheim, had little time for Vogler and his music, pouring scorn on the man and his gifts in often-quoted letters to his father. In his replies, Leopold's response seems to have been one of some concern at his son's disrespectful attitude to an established colleague whose reputation was undoubtedly growing. In the following year, on June 2, Leopold, an avid collector of treatises of other teachers, requested that his son send him a copy of Vogler's latest book, Kurpfälzische Tonschule, which, according to Leopold, the "Government of the Palatinate has prescribed for the use of all clavier teachers in this country, both for singing and for composition" (Leopold's underlining).8

In the 1770s Vogler was already attracting attention as a fortepianist, organist, music theorist, pedagogue (he later founded several music colleges), and composer. But it was as a teacher that he was to have most influence. His pupils were to include Meyerbeer, as well as Weber, for fortepiano performance and composition, and also the less well-known Austrian conductor and composer Johann Baptist Gansbächer (1778-1844),9 whose unpublished but sometimes quoted autobiography includes useful information on the first recorded meeting of Vogler and Beethoven in 1803 at a soirée in Vienna at the house of Joseph Ferdinand Sonnleithner. …

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