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A Four Hour Concert in an Unheated Hall

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On this day, over two hundred years ago, a historic concert took place.

It was in Vienna, in the middle of the Advent season, and Beethoven needed some money.

“But, Beethoven,” you would say, “surely he was doing fine! He is Beethoven! Everyone loves him!”

However, in Vienna in 1808, just because everyone loved you and your musical talents, it did not mean you were getting a steady income. Therefore, Herr Beethoven decided to put on a benefit concert—for himself.

There were many problems, however. The first of which being that it was the middle of December in Vienna, and the concert took place in an unheated Theater an der Wien. Beethoven was also restricted in his choice of musicians, as many regular Theater an der Wien musicians were playing another gig, and he was forced to hire some amateurs for the performance. There was also an under-rehearsed and inexperienced soprano chosen to sing the aria Ah! Perfido, after Beethoven had offended his first pick, Anna Milder-Hauptmann, by quarreling with her betrothed.

So why is this a memorable concert, since everything seemed to go wrong? Well, Beethoven premiered a number of his most famous works, including Symphony No. 6 and Symphony No. 5, (which were both written a good while before the concert), Choral Fantasy, op. 80 (which was hastily finished right before the concert), Piano Concerto No. 4, op. 58 (also written a while before the concert), and an improvised fantasia, which was later published as the Fantasia in G minor, op. 77.

The total length of the concert was four hours, consisting of two 2 hour sets. The concert has become well-known over the years for its length (although not uncommon for that time period), famous premieres, and strange mishaps. There have been quite a few recreations of the concert in recent years, including the Vienna Radio Symphony in 2008, the San Francisco Symphony in 2015, and the BBC Scottish Symphony this year.

A handwritten page from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. Public Domain.
A handwritten page from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Public Domain.

If you’d like to re-create this epic concert at home, NLS has the materials for you to do so. Thus follows the order of the original concert:

Symphony No. 6, op. 68, “Pastoral”
Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68: full orchestral score (BRM35201)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68: piano arrangement for four hands (BRM26508)

Talking Book
Beethoven: The “Pastoral” Symphony by Jeremy Siepmann (DBM03419)

Ah Perfido!
Unfortunately, we don’t have this concert aria in the collection. However, perhaps these Beethoven arias will satisfy your needs:

O wär, ich schon mit der vereint, Soprano aria (BM34689)

Gloria from the Mass in C Major, op. 86
Mass, C major, op. 86: Vocal score for soprano (BRM36088)

Talking Book
The Mass (DBM00230)

Piano Concerto No. 4, op. 58
Piano Concerto, op. 58, bar over bar, piano solo only (BRM08363)
Piano Concerto, op. 58, bar over bar, arr. for two pianos (BRM34055)

Talking Book
The Concerto I (DBM00095)

Symphony No. 5, op. 67
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67, open score (BRM35188, 6 vol.)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67, arranged for two pianos, bar over bar (BRM00061)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67, bar over bar (BRM24665)

Talking Book
Leonard Bernstein Discusses Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Eroica Symphony, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, the Music of Charles Ives (DBM00705)

Sanctus from the Mass in C Major, op. 86
Mass, C major, op. 86: Vocal score for soprano (BRM36088)

Talking Book
The Mass (DBM00230)

Fantasia in G minor, op. 77
Fantasy in G minor, op. 77, bar over bar (BRM22812)

Choral Fantasy, op. 80
Fantasie, op. 80, für Klavier, Chor, und Orchester (BRM34661, 6 vol.)
Fantasie, op. 80, piano part only (BRM36247)

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