Nearly everyone recognises Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its Ode to Joy. But have you seen the original handwritten score that the great man poured out of his fevered imagination in 1820s Vienna? You can now…at a special exhibition in Austria’s National Library.
- Features autograph manuscripts of various classical pieces, as well as original letters written by Beethoven
- Runs Dec 19, 2019 to Jan 10, 2021
- Just requires a normal entrance ticket to the library’s State Hall
- See also: Library State Hall ticket and visitor info
Relationships and inspiration
(The entrance to the state hall of the National Library)
Breathe in deeply in Vienna and your lungs will fill with the strains of a thousand sonatas and symphonies. (Possibly.)
Musical giants of the past like Mozart and Haydn remain very much alive in the city, thanks to various museums, monuments and concerts. The same can be said of Beethoven, particularly in 2020, when the city dedicates itself to the music and memory of this legendary composer.
Among the various Beethoven events and exhibitions is the one in the State Hall of Austria’s National Library. The library’s Prunksaal is an astonishing early 18th-century court library, but this special exhibition might even outdo the glorious surrounds.
Beethoven. Menschenwelt und Götterfunke (English: Beethoven. World of the Man and Spark of the Gods) presents original documents from the archives that offer a direct connection to the great man.
“Original documents” sounds fairly bland and uninspiring until you realise what this innocent description means.
For starters, it includes Beethoven’s autograph manuscripts (or excerpts from them) for such classical masterpieces as:
- The Ninth Symphony (on loan for the first three months of the exhibition from the Berlin State Library)
- The Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61, which premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1806
- The Spring Sonata (Frühlingssonate) in F Major Op. 24
- The String Quartet in F Minor Op. 95, written in the early 1810s
Other highlights includes various letters written by Beethoven to colleagues, students, sponsors and others that dispel the myth that he was a lone wolf.
There is something peculiarly magical about seeing Beethoven’s own handwriting, particularly where he has corrected music, added some pithy comment to a manuscript, or revealed his somewhat irascible character.
I enjoyed, for example, his note complaining that the post office can’t seem to read the addresses he puts on letters. And on the Spring Sonata there’s the delightful addendum:
NB The copyist who inserted 3 and 6 here was a donkey
(Don’t. Mess. With. Beethoven.)
But the words that left the greatest impression were written by a hand other than Beethoven’s.
One of the most poignant quotes concerning the great composer (or any composer for that matter) is the following from Count Ferdinand Waldstein, written in an album of good wishes given to Beethoven in 1792 on his departure from Bonn for Vienna:
Through assiduous labour, you will receive the spirit of Mozart through the hands of Haydn(Translation from the German)
The exhibition has that very album, open to the page where Count Waldstein wrote those far-sighted words. He underlined “the spirit of Mozart through the hands of Haydn”.
(Incidentally, the 2020/2022 exhibition at the Mozarthaus is on the triumvirate of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that defined the classical music of the time.)
Dates and tickets
The exhibition runs from December 19th, 2019 to January 10th, 2021. Remember that the handwritten extracts from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony go back to Berlin early.
The State Hall opens Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm (9pm on Thursdays). The hall closes early on December 24th and opens on two special Mondays: December 30th and January 6th.
There is no extra fee for this special exhibition – just buy a normal entrance ticket or use, for example, a Vienna Pass (my review).
How to get to the Beethoven exhibition
The National Library is in the Neue Burg building on Heldenplatz. But the State Hall is reached from around the side on a majestic square within the Hofburg complex. See here for general info on the magnificent Prunksaal and how best to reach it.
Address: Josefsplatz 1, 1010 Vienna