November 29 1814: Beethoven at the Congress of Vienna

”On 29 November, at the personal invitation of the composer, he and the other sovereigns attended Beethoven’s musical academy in the great Redoutensaal. The programme included his 7th Symphony, his occasional orchestral work commemorating the battle of Vittoria, Wellington’s Victory, and the cantata Der glorreiche Augenblick, specially composed for the occasion, all conducted by the composer himself. The audience particularly liked Wellington’s Victory, with its simulated cannon-shots and special effects.”

—  Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski.

”On Tuesday, November 29,  Beethoven was finally able to hold the Gala Concert at the Redoutensaal. The program promised a full afternoon of music, and tickets cost only 3 gulden, or 5 gulden for the better seats upstairs. A stellar audience filled the auditorium, including the Russian tsar, the king of Prussia, and many other princes and princesses. The concert began with “Wellington’s Victory” (also known as “The Battle Symphony”), a triumphant celebration of the Battle of Vitoria, with its creative sampling from “Rule Britannia” and “God Save the King,” packed with drumrolls, trumpet fanfares, cymbal crashes, and veritable cannon blasts that re-created the “horrors of battle” and the joyous celebration of the victory over the Napoleonic beast. It was an explosive extravaganza quite unusual for classical music at the time. Beethoven had originally written the music for an instrument called the panharmonicon, a small handheld box designed to reproduce mechanically the wind, brass, and string sections of a large orchestra. The device had been invented by Beethoven’s collaborator, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, the “Court Mechanician,” whose inventions included an ear trumpet and a “Mechanical assistant, Ignaz Umlauf. As historian Ingrid Fuchs rightly shows, Beethoven was no longer capable of directing complicated pieces. Less than a month later, the musician, Ludwig Spohr, heard one of Beethoven’s rehearsals and testified to the decline: Beethoven’s pianoforte was “badly out of tune,” and “the poor deaf musician hammered the keys so hard in forte that the strings rattled.” Beethoven made countless mistakes, and the visitor left, as he put it, “gripped by profound sorrow at such a miserable fate.” Beethoven’s patron, the Russian ambassador Count Razumovsky, looked on loyally with admiration, claiming that the “world is too small for him.” Others were less impressed, prone to judge Beethoven’s compositions as too loud, too long, and too heavy, “like Hercules using his club to kill flies.” Indeed, just as the congress had split in Russian and Austrian factions, police spies reported that “anti-and pro-Beethoven factions [were] forming.” Sure enough, since Beethoven had been supported by a Russian patron and the tsar, the Austrians stayed away from the concert, and the English were not much in evidence there, either. Entertainment, it seemed, was echoing diplomacy. That night, Beethoven was exhausted, he confessed, by the many “fatiguing affairs, vexations, pleasure and delight, all intermingled and interflicted or bestowed upon me at once.” He also complained about the measly tips he received. The king of Prussia, who left halfway through the concert, gave only a “very paltry” 10 ducats, whereas the Russian tsar generously paid some twenty times that. AS BEETHOVEN CONDUCTED “The Glorious Moment,” the congress it celebrated was still no closer to resolving its disputes. The Russian tsar was increasingly viewed as a villain.”

— Vienna, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna by David King.

The image above is of Beethoven in 1814 by Louis-René Létronne.

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