UK Professor 'Reconstructs' Lost Beethoven Piece

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 06:02 PM

A composition by Beethoven that was discarded and unheard for over 200 years has been reconstructed, a British university said Wednesday.

The piece - the original slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in G, Opus 18 Number 2 - was composed in 1799, but was discarded a year later. The composer then wrote a completely different movement that is now known to classical musical fans, said Barry Cooper, a music professor at the University of Manchester.

Scholars have studied incomplete sketches of the original piece of music for years, but for a long time no one realized the sketches form a complete movement, Cooper said.

It is only now that the 74 bars of music have been put together to a state that is close to its original form, he added.

Cooper said he has tried to make the movement - which lasts about four to five minutes - playable by filling in missing instruments and adding harmony in places.

"The prospect of hearing a Beethoven work that has been absent for over 200 years should be of much interest to anyone who loves his music, even if my reconstruction may differ slightly from what the composer wrote," Cooper said.



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Comments [6]

Michael Meltzer

For a century-and-a-half, the Mozart Rondo in A for Piano & Orchestra, K.386 was a museum piece in fragments only. In the 1930's, musicologist Alfred Einstein did a reconstruction, filling in quite a bit with well-selected past practices of Mozart in comparable contexts. The result was a good piece: pianists learned and performed it, audiences enjoyed it.
In 1962 Paul Badura Skoda discovered and published most of the missing body of the piece. In 1980, Alan Tyson found the missing final pages. The reconstituted original Mozart is substantially different from the Einstein reconstruction, and no one is terribly surprised. Einstein could not interpolate anything done for the very first time, that would make it his own composition. Mozart was under no such restriction and did quite a bit for the first time.
It doesn't mean that reconstructions are not worthwhile at the time they are attempted, they just have to be understood for what they are and are not.

Nov. 04 2011 11:46 AM
Theodore from Yorkville

I agree with M. Meltzer. Keep WQXR *on air* innovative in their programming.

Sep. 28 2011 10:00 PM
Jay Eisenberg from Maplewood, NJ

I too agree with Michael Meltzer. I would also note the incessant programming of Beethoven overtures, especially in the morning, when some of the piano sonatas are not much longer. Who wouldn't want to hear Sonata No. 25, which clocks in at around 10-11minutes, rather than another go round of the Egmont or one of the Leonores?

Sep. 28 2011 07:00 PM
Neil Schnall

I remember Professor Reconstructs from my student years. He was always losing things.

Sep. 28 2011 04:55 PM
Margaret from Hackensack, NJ

I agree totally with Michael Meltzer!

Sep. 28 2011 01:16 PM
Michael Meltzer

Of course it will be interesting to hear at least once or twice, and to ponder on why Beethoven put it in a drawer never to see the light of day during his lifetime.
The same was true of the 3 student-composition piano trios he wrote when he was sixteen, which WQXR airs (one at a time, thankfully) with some regularity. These were also withheld from publication by Beethoven.
What I wish someone would explain to me is why it is preferable to hear these pieces repeatedly, when much of Beethoven's output is never aired at all? Pieces he was quite proud of - many of the piano sonatas, a few of the violin sonatas, the Scottish and the Irish Songs with instrumental obbligato - these are yet to be heard on the new WQXR for the first time. I don't think we have heard either the Mass in C or the Missa Solemnis more than once. Again , one hopes you are not steering toward "novelty" over musical content.
Either one summer or two before the changeover, I believe it was Nimet who offered a different Beethoven Piano Sonata every night until we had heard all 32. There was an interesting variety of performers, too.
I suppose if you had a website at that time, the approvals that certainly would have poured in, might have moved you to continue the practice. Perhaps it is time to open your Grove's Dictionary, look over the complete list of Beethoven compositions, and make a few checkmarks. You'll make some happy listeners, guaranteed!

Sep. 28 2011 02:07 AM

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