12 April 2022
Of the exhibits in our current Beethoven exhibition, no fewer than 12 come from the collection of autograph manuscripts assembled by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, and generously bequeathed to the British Library by his heirs in 1986.
Stefan Zweig as a collector
Zweig was a keen collector of autographs from an early age and built up one of the finest collections of its kind. He particularly sought out examples which he felt showed the process of creativity in the writers, composers and other historical figures he most admired. Beethoven was certainly one such, and fitted Zweig’s image of the true creative genius, but most of Zweig’s Beethoven material in fact comprised not music manuscripts that show Beethoven the genius composer at work, but items such as letters and notebooks that shed light on Beethoven the man.
This was no doubt in part because Zweig had an equally wealthy and eager rival when it came to collecting Beethoveniana, the Swiss bibliophile Martin Bodmer, but Zweig also had a liking for ‘relics’ of great men as well as actual examples of their work. One of his happiest moments as a collector came in 1929 when he was able to purchase Beethoven’s writing-desk and various other realia once belonging to the composer, such as a lock of hair, a violin and even a compass, from the descendants of Beethoven’s friend Stephan von Breuning. (These were later acquired by Bodmer and are now in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.)
Exhibits from the Zweig collection in the Beethoven exhibition
Two of the items from the BL Zweig manuscripts currently on display show a very humdrum side of Beethoven’s life: a laundry list and a page of kitchen accounts. The latter gives a glimpse into Beethoven’s diet: a lot of meat, bread and potatoes, spiced with mustard and horseradish, and washed down with wine and rum. Vegetables do feature, but usually lumped together as ‘Zuhspeis’ (literally a ‘side-dish’). Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his frequent ill health, referred to with a dash of self-deprecating humour in a letter of 1817 inviting his friend Johann Bihler to visit and mentioning that ‘Dr Sassafras’ will also be in attendance – a reference to the diuretic sassafras root.
Other items show more ‘elevated’ aspects of Beethoven’s life. A notebook from the early 1790s lists expenses from his first months in Vienna, including a series of composition lessons with Joseph Haydn, the main reason he had come to the city. Another collection of notes from 1815 contains transcriptions of poems by Johann Gottfried Herder with some snatches of music and some reflections on nature by Beethoven. By this time Beethoven’s loss of hearing loss was very advanced, but he writes that this seems not to trouble him in the countryside and that “every tree seems to speak to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’” Despite a number of health and personal problems at this time, another piece from 1815 strikes a similar note of optimism: a short three-part canon written in the autograph album of fellow-composer Ludwig Spohr sets words from a play by Friedrich Schiller, “Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude” (“Pain is brief and joy is eternal”).
Beethoven’s admiration for Schiller’s work would culminate of course in the setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’ in his Ninth Symphony, but he also set works by the other literary giant of the age, Goethe. Zweig was particularly pleased to acquire the manuscript of the song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ (‘The drum is beaten’) from Beethoven’s incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont as it combined the work of both men. In the play the song is sung by Egmont’s mistress Clärchen, who dreams of dressing as a soldier to follow her beloved to war. It is one of the pieces that forms the soundtrack to the exhibition, along with another work owned in manuscript by Zweig and on display, the 1808 Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major.
The last Zweig items displayed relate to Beethoven’s death and funeral. A book of sketches by Josef Teltscher includes two studies of the composer on his deathbed. Teltscher was in attendance and his moving images of an exhausted Beethoven are no doubt more realistic that the legend that Beethoven died shaking a fist in defiance. A list of expenses for Beethoven’s funeral shows what a costly affair it was, with details of money spent to pay the priests and to provide candles and roses. It was one of the most lavish funerals ever granted to a commoner in Vienna and the streets were packed with onlookers. Access to the service was by invitation only; the invitation on display is thought to have belonged to Stefan von Breuning. Finally there is a list of donors to a fund to help Beethoven’s servants after his death, something that brings us back to the household accounts and laundry list and reminds us of the people behind them who ran Beethoven’s various households in Vienna.
Some of Zweig’s contemporaries – and more recent critics – may have been cynical about the relic-hunting aspect of Zweig’s collecting, something nowhere more obvious than in his Beethoven holdings. But these items can help us to see a more rounded picture of Beethoven and his world rather than just the genius at work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Arthur Searle, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection: Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts (London, 1999).
Oliver Matuschek (ed.), Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig, mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005).
Oliver Matuschek, Three Lives: a Biography of Stefan Zweig (London, 2011).
Michael Ladenburger, Das “kollektive Sammler-Empfinden”: Stefan Zweig als Sammler und Vermittler von Beethoveniana: Begleitbuch zu einer Ausstellung des Beethoven-Hauses Bonn, 12. Mai-4. Oktober 2015 (Bonn, ) (A brief PDF guide to the exhibition that this book accompanied can be found here:)
08 December 2020
We are pleased to announce a new Discovering Music space on 19th-century music, which launches now with an exhibition celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.
The exhibition features 27 collection items, including several manuscripts in Beethoven’s own hand, as well as articles written by experts in the field, and much related content!
Find out more about the composition history and context of some of Beethoven’s most celebrated works, including his ‘Pastoral’ and Ninth symphonies, his violin concerto, and several of his piano and chamber music works.
The space also features collection items reflecting Beethoven’s career as a keyboard performer, personal items such as his tuning fork; as well as collection items reflecting both the inspiration and consolation he found in nature and the mental and physical struggles arising from his debilitating loss of hearing.
19 December 2019
Earlier this month we published a blog on Prince Albert the composer to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. To celebrate his bicentenary further we have digitised a number of his music manuscripts in the Royal Music Library. The following manuscripts can now be viewed online: R.M.18.a.5; R.M.18.a.10; R.M.21.e.24; and R.M.21.e.26.
R.M.18.a.5 and R.M.18.a.10 are sources for Prince Albert’s cantata Invocazione all’armonia; R.M.21.e.24 a source for his Te Deum; and R.M.21.e.26 a source containing miscellaneous vocal compositions.
A music notebook
From the above manuscripts R.M.21.e.26 is of particular interest: the manuscript contains sketches, drafts and finished works primarily of Prince Albert’s songs written in his own hand. The volume also contains some sketches for his anthem ‘Out of the deep’, his Te Deum and his Invocazione all’armonia.
Apart from being a volume with autograph compositions, the manuscript is also interesting for revealing the private side of Prince Albert the composer: we can see how some of his musical ideas originated and how he worked on these developing them into finished works. In this respect, the volume resembles a music notebook.
The papers Prince Albert used to write the music in this volume are of different types, as evident from the slight variations in paper sizes, the colour of the paper, and the different number of staves per page; some leaves also show marks of having being folded. This suggests that the leaves were bound in a single volume at a later stage.
Prince Albert’s music handwriting
The manuscript R.M.21.e.26 is also an interesting source for the study of Prince Albert’s music handwriting. The appearance of his handwriting is not consistent in the volume, reflecting the different compositional stages of individual pieces as well as the different times and circumstances the music was being written.
Some works are neatly copied in ink and are in finished form, whereas others are copied in a hasty manner and often lack the accompaniment or have it only partially filled in; other leaves contain mere sketches in pencil. The differences in handwriting appearance can be seen in his notation of certain elements, such as clefs, especially the G clef as can be seen in the following snippets:
Fragments from R.M.21.e.26, f.1r, f.10r, f.54v, f.13r and f.8r respectively showing Prince Albert’s notation of treble clefs
Apart from music by Prince Albert the Royal Music Library includes numerous printed and manuscript volumes with music either collected by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria or presented to them. Although it is difficult to establish the exact volumes that originally formed part of the royal couple’s music collection, the bindings of certain volumes, dedications, inscriptions, or letters kept inside volumes can serve as proof that these formed part of their music collection, as the examples shown below:
One important volume that formed part of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s music collection is a volume that was presented to them by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy during one of his visits to London where he had also met the royal couple.
The volume includes arrangements from his Sieben Lieder ohne Worte op.62 and op.67 for piano four-hands in Mendelssohn’s autograph which he composed for the royal couple. The volume also contains a letter to Prince Albert from the composer, dated 9 June 1844, where he writes ‘[...] May Your Royal Highness occasionally play from these pieces and consider them as an earnest of sincerest gratitude for the gracious reception and the unforgettable hours in which you have allowed me to participate once again during my present visit in the past weeks.’ .
The Royal Music Library contains many more valuable sources for the study of Prince Albert’s music, as well as his and Queen Victoria’s musical tastes and collecting practices. It is hoped that the bicentenary anniversary of their births will spark further interest and research into their music collection and activities.
. Quoted in O.W. Neighbour, ‘An unknown Mendelssohn autograph’, The British Library Journal, 4 (1978), pages 200-201.
Loukia Drosopoulou, Curator, Music
03 December 2019
‘A holy blessed day, which we hail with gratitude & joy.’
Thus began Queen Victoria’s journal entry on Christmas Day, 1843. A few sentences later she continued, ‘Albert was occupied that whole evening in composing a Te Deum which is a very difficult thing & it gave him great trouble.’
Prince Albert (1819-61) is most frequently memorialised for his contribution to various aspects of British life in the mid-19th century, and, perhaps more so, for his early death in 1861 at the age of 42. This year, the joint 200th Anniversary of his and Queen Victoria’s birth, has revived interest in both him, and the lives and works of the royal couple. Amidst a diverse programme of activities celebrating the anniversary, Prince Albert has been the focus of a substantial collaborative digitisation project to make a large body of materials related to him available to the public.
Having received a broad education in his youth, Prince Albert sustained many interests, amongst which was a devotion to music, whether as a listener, an organiser, a singer, or an instrumentalist. He achieved some distinction in each of these categories, with even Mendelssohn commending his skill at the organ. It is, however, to Prince Albert the composer that this post is dedicated.
In the early years of their marriage, Queen Victoria wrote not infrequently that Albert was ‘occupied in composing’ some new piece. However, by the end of 1845, Prince Albert was writing music ever less regularly. A leaf from a sketch for one of his last pieces, the Invocazione all’Armonia, reveals the extent to which his work began to intrude into his time composing, with rubbed out notes about another matter appearing in the margins of the page. As Theodore Martin, author of Prince Albert’s somewhat hagiographic official biography, The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, noted:
‘The Prince’s life, after he came to England, was too crowded to admit of his indulging freely his love of musical composition. The Muses are exacting mistresses, and will not send their best inspiration to a merely casual worshipper. But he produced enough to entitle him to a very high rank among amateur composers.’
This assessment is in many respects a fair one: in his short and rather busy life, Prince Albert found time to write a not insubstantial number of songs, as well as a handful of instrumental and choral works. The most complete published collection of his music (The Collected Compositions of His Royal Highness The Prince Consort) contains forty pieces, written before the commitments of his public life occluded further work in this area.
The genesis and material cultures of Prince Albert’s composition can, to some extent, be explored in the Royal Music Library at the British Library, though some relevant items remain in the Royal Collection. These collections reveal much, though far from all, about the journey from sketch to completion that the Prince’s pieces followed, and are well-supported by evidence from sources, including Queen Victoria’s journals, that include reference to performances of the works, and their reception.
From its beginnings on Christmas Day, 1843, the Te Deum underwent several developmental stages, though their ordering is not entirely clear. It appears in skeletal form twice: once sketched out in pencil, occasionally underlaid, work clearly ongoing; and again, with underlay inked out in a hand quite different to Prince Albert’s own, the melody sketched-in, in pencil; both are noted with occasional indications of harmony. Another, rather more complete, draft exists in the Royal Collection, as does a manuscript fair copy in a beautifully bound collection of his compositions; later versions include an appearance of the Te Deum as part of a compilation of Prince Albert’s church music in reduction for piano. Whether the two melodic sketches encapsulate the earliest work on the piece is uncertain, though it seems likely.
Whatever the case, the piece was written quite quickly, and, on the 27th of December, Queen Victoria wrote that ‘Albert sang over his beautiful Te Deum, which is quite finished now.’ It was clearly sent to be written out in fair copy almost immediately, for on the 30th of December, Queen Victoria wrote that, ‘Just as [Michael] Costa had left the room, Albert’s Te Deum, properly written out, arrived & we called him back, & sang it with him.’ Queen Victoria was herself an accomplished singer, and a few days later the couple sang the piece again with Costa (a prominent conductor, who also arranged Prince Albert’s Invocazione for orchestral forces) and another friend. Two weeks later, the Te Deum was sung in full for the first time by the choir at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and George Elvey had worked up the elements of a morning service from the material; Queen Victoria noted that the solo parts were ‘unsatisfactorily sung’.
The piece was performed at regular intervals thereafter, becoming a feature of important services attended by the Queen. It was sometimes given orchestral treatment, and a version for chorus and orchestra appears in the Royal Music Library, orchestrated by Ernst Lampert, the Kapellmeister of Prince Albert’s brother Ernst’s court at Coburg.
Amongst the most prominent performances of the Te Deum, for Queen Victoria at least, must have been the one given at the thanksgiving service for her Jubilee, on the 21st of June, 1887, in a version revised for chorus, organ, brass, and drums by the then organist of Westminster Abbey, John Bridge. The following day, it was described in The Times as a ‘fittingly impressive work’. Queen Victoria herself, writing at the end of a ‘never to be forgotten day,’ was more effusive.
‘The Te Deum by my darling Albert sounded beautiful’.
Dr Andrew Cusworth
The Prince Albert Digitisation Project
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Royal Collection Trust; Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.
References and links
Theodore Martin, The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, Vol. I.