The Progeny: Beethoven as a Teacher
Two Easy Sonatas for the Pianoforte, Opus 49,
Most of Beethoven’s sonatas for fortepiano are full of technical and musical challenges, but he did write some easier works intended for students. Among these works are his two so-called “easy” sonatas, which he probably composed mostly for his friends and students and not for wider circulation. However, his brother Carl took it upon himself to offer the sonatas to several publishers, first to Johann André in Offenbach in 1802 and then to the firm Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig 1803. Finally, in January 1805 the Viennese firm, the Bureau d’Arts et d’Industrie, published the two sonatas for sale to the public for 2 florins, a price roughly equivalent to the fee for a 2-hour fortepiano lesson. Since then, countless thousands of piano teachers have assigned these sonatas to their students.
Ferdinand Ries and Archduke Rudolph
Ferdinand Ries (1784-1856). Portrait lithograph, ca. 1830
Ferdinand Ries was the son of Franz Ries, Beethoven’s violin teacher in Bonn. Ferdiand was very young when Beethoven left Bonn but they became acquainted after Ferdinand moved to Vienna in the winter of 1801/1802. Beethoven immediately accepted him as a fortepiano student, giving him three 90 minutes lessons every week! Ries progressed rapidly and made his public debut in 1804 playing Beethoven’s Third Fortepiano Concerto t with his own cadenza. Ries became a successful composer and dedicated his first Fortepiano Sonatas, Opus 1, to Beethoven.
Fortepiano Sonata in C Major, WoO 51, composed by Beethoven in 1791-1792 and dedicated to Eleanor von Breuning. First edition, published by F.P. Dunst in Frankfurt am Main, ca. 1830.
Another friend from Beethoven’s youth was Eleanor von Breuning (1771-1841), whom Beethoven met around 1782 when he was hired to give piano lessons to her and her brother Lorenz. Beethoven became very close to the entire family, spending many days and even nights at their home. Beethoven was quite fond of Eleanor and dedicated a few of his early compositions to her, including this relatively simple, two movement Sonata in C Major. Beethoven wrote to Eleanor from Vienna, promising to send the sonata to her, but explained that it was “practically only a sketch” so he would need to do the copying himself. After Beethoven’s death in 1827, the sonata was published for the first time based on Beethoven’s incomplete manuscript. Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries, by then a respected composer, added eleven measures to complete the work.
Archduke Rudolph (1788-1831)
Perhaps as early as 1803, Beethoven met the man who would become one of his most important patrons as well as a student. Rudolph was the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II and lived in the imperial palace in Vienna. He took minor vows in the Catholic Church, eventually becoming Archbishop and then Cardinal of Ölmutz, but his passion was music. By the time he began his studies with Beethoven, he was already performing as a fortepianist at private concerts at the Lichnowsky Palace. His playing improved under Beethoven’s guidance, and he premiered Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Fortepiano, Opus 96, with the violinist Pierre Rode. An observer at that concert wrote that “the performance as a whole was good, but we must mention that the piano part was played far better, more in accordance with the spirit of the piece, and with more feeling than that of the violin.” Although Rudolph was forced to reduce his playing activities due to arthritis and other physical problems with his hands, he did continue to practice when possible. Until about 1824, when he left Vienna for Olmütz, Rudolph received regular instruction from Beethoven in music theory and composition. He wrote several works for fortepiano, including Forty Variations on a Theme by Beethoven published in 1819.
Beethoven’s Female Fortepiano Students
Dorothea Ertmann (1781-1848)
Dorothea Graumann married Baron Stephan Ertmann in 1798 and the couple settled in Vienna around 1803. Dorothea was already a skilled fortepianist when she met Beethoven at a music store where she was sight reading some of his sonatas. By that time she already owned copies of several of Beethoven’s published works and was one of his greatest admirers. Reports on her playing of Beethoven’s fortepiano music are full of superlatives for both her technical skill and sensitive interpretations. On hearing her playing, one musician referred to her as Beethoven’s “Dorothea Cäcilia,” calling up the patron saint of music. Her insights into these often difficult works were likely partly shaped by her lessons with Beethoven during her years in Vienna from 1803-1817.
Fortepiano Sonata in A Major, Opus 101, dedicated to Dorothea Ertmann
In 1817,Dorothea Ertmann moved from Vienna to the nearby village of St. Pölten, where her husband’s army regiment was stationed. In her honor, Beethoven dedicated his Sonata in A Major, Opus 101 to her. The second movement of this Sonata has a march-like character (perhaps an association with Dorothea’s husband). The third movement, which is very expressive and extraordinary in its delicacy, is to be played with the una corda pedal held throughout. After recalling the main theme of the first movement, the third movement leads directly into a triumphal finale, where Beethoven weaves the theme into a fugal passage.
Three of Beethoven’s Female Piano Students
These three women were amateur pianists who took fortepiano lessons from Beethoven. Countess Julie Guicciardi was 15 or 16 and Beethoven nearly 30 when they first met. He described her as an “enchanting girl” and may have wished to marry her. When her mother sent him a purse with coins to pay for his teaching services, he was insulted by the reminder that he was not of their class and was regarded more as an employee than a friend. Beethoven dedicated his Sonata quasi una fantasia, Opus 27, no. 2 (known as the “Moonlight” Sonata) to Julie. The sketchleaf owned by the Beethoven Center (on display in the lower drawer of the center display case) was once in the possession of her family.
Therese von Brunsvik was the eldest of the Brunsvik siblings, Hungarian aristocrats who befriended Beethoven during their frequent trips to Vienna. In 1799 their mother asked Beethoven to give Therese and her sister Josephine fortepiano lessons during their two-week stay. He was so taken with the young ladies that he agreed to come to their hotel every day. He even wrote for them a set of variations for piano duet on a theme set to the first stanza of “Nähe des Geliebten,” (“Nearness of the Beloved One”), a beautiful love poem by Wolfgang von Goethe. Here is a translation of the entire poem:
I think of you when I see the sun's shimmer gleaming from the sea.
The other Therese was the niece of Beethoven’s doctor Johann Malfatti. She met Beethoven in 1810 when their mutual friend Baron von Gleichenstein introduced him to her family. He greatly enjoyed their company, especially the beautiful Therese who was 18 at the time. He not only gave her lessons on the fortepiano but also loaned her manuscript copies of some of his unpublished works. One of these may have been the little piece now known as “Für Elise.” Some Beethoven scholars believe that Beethoven actually wrote this piece for Therese, whom he may have hoped to marry.
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