Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Beethoven piece is discovered after 192 years [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

A piece of music composed by Beethoven 192 years ago has been discovered and will be performed, for perhaps the first time, on 25 October 2012.

Professor Barry Cooper - one of the world's leading experts on the composer - found the work, which Beethoven composed in about 1820...
Beethoven piece is discovered after 192 years
A piece of music composed by Beethoven 192 years ago has been discovered and will be performed, for perhaps the first time, on 25 October 2012.

Professor Barry Cooper - one of the world's leading experts on the composer - found the work, which Beethoven composed in about 1820, written alongside some original sketches of the famous Mass in D, known as the Missa Solemnis, in a sketchbook now in Berlin.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa Solemnis) and songs. This is quite an achievement considering he started to lose his hearing at the age of 26 yet continued to compose, conduct and perform music, even after becoming completely deaf. By the time he turned 50 Beethoven was known throughout Europe as the greatest living composer.

The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to typhus, auto-immune disorders (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake.

The discovery of an entirely new piece by Beethoven is extremely rare, according to Professor Cooper, an academic at The University of Manchester - School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. He says, 'Like the Missa Solemnis, the music was probably written for Archduke Rudolph of Austria. If it was ever performed, it would have probably been at the ceremony where he was made Archbishop of Olmütz - now Olomouc in the Czech Republic.'

Professor Cooper goes on to say: 'This piece is surprising because it doesn't sound like Beethoven. If I hadn't seen it in his own handwriting, complete with corrections, I wouldn't have believed it was by him. I suppose it's likely that no one had noticed this before, because as the first line is sung without accompaniment, it isn't written down, which makes the tune much less easily recognised. It's quite telling that Beethoven wrote what is after all a simple piece of functional liturgical music - and must in some way indicate his devotion.'

In total, Beethoven composed 138 pieces throughout his lifetime, which were numbered by Opus numbers in order to identify a composer's work. There are an additional 205 works composed by Beethoven which do not have Opus numbers; these were published after his death and were numbered with WoO numbers (Works without Opus number).

The discovery of this rare piece of music also reveals that it was the first time Beethoven used his famous slow chorale style. This was exemplified in the Opus 132 string quartet written in 1825 - and regarded by music lovers as a masterpiece. The tune resembles a version of Pange lingua, which is still sung in churches today.

Professor Cooper compares this latest classical find to another of Beethoven's pieces, defined by an Opus number. He says, 'Gregorian chant was sung much slower in those days, so it's striking that he used the same slow chordal style for the Opus 132 quartet written in 1825. I believe this is the first time he did this.'

The Professor concludes: 'My hunch is that it was written to be performed during the liturgy, after the Missa Solemnis, to complete the service. But Beethoven wasn't averse to writing a simple harmonisation to a popular melody - and had done it a couple of times before, though not for a Gregorian chant. The only comparable work is a 1791 score he wrote for The Lamentations of Jeremiah.'

The first known performance of Beethoven's Pange lingua setting will take place at The University of Manchester on 25 October. A performing version of the piece is to be published next spring in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association.
Source: The University of Manchester

Related information

Subjects

Social Aspects
Record Number: 35175 / Last updated on: 2012-10-25
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC