Beethoven, Reicha, and the Eroica

The place of Beethoven's Third Symphony within the musical, and more specifically the symphonic culture of early nineteenth-century Vienna has attracted the attention of several scholars in the last few years, including David Wyn Jones (The Symphony in Beethoven's Vienna, Cambridge, 2006), John David Wilson ("Of Hunting, Horns, and Heroes: A Brief History of E-flat before the Eroica," paper read at the New Beethoven Research Conference, New Orleans, 2012), Timothy Jackson ("Anton Eberl's Symphony in E flat and Beethoven's Eroica: Towards a 'New' Sonata Form?," paper read at the Seventh International Conference on Music Theory, Estonia, January 2014), Vasili Byros ("Topics and Harmonic Schemata: A Case from Beethoven," The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory, ed. Danuta Mirka, New York, 2014, 381–414), and me ("Vienna in the Napoleonic Era," the final chapter in my Music in the Eighteenth Century, New York, 2012). This seems an appropriate time to contribute to the dialogue an expanded and updated version of papers I gave at the conference "Czech musical culture and its influence on European classicism in music" (Prague, 18 May 1984) and at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Philadelphia in October 1984.

"Nous avons passé quatorze ans ensemble; second Oreste et Pilade, nous ne pouvions nous séparer dans notre jeunesse." (We spent fourteen years together: like Orestes and Pylades, we could not stay apart in our youth.) This statement in Anton Reicha's autobiography is intriguing, in light of the paucity of other evidence that Beethoven and Reicha were indeed close friends. One's first reaction to Reicha's statement might be to dismiss it as empty boasting; that conclusion is supported by Reicha's seemingly untenable claim that he and Beethoven spent fourteen years together, when they could have spent seven years at the most together in Bonn. Reicha arrived there, at the age of fifteen, in 1785; Beethoven departed for Vienna in 1792. But perhaps Reicha included Vienna in his calculation. He lived in Vienna from 1802 to 1808; these years, together with the Bonn years, would make fourteen in all. If Reicha is telling the truth, he would be one of the very few important composers whose relations with Beethoven were both close and long-lasting. This alone makes the possibility of such a relationship worth investigating.
    Reicha was born in the same year as Beethoven, 1770. Having spent his earliest youth in a village near Prague, he left home at the age of about eleven and went to live with his uncle Joseph Reicha, a musician at the court of Oettingen-Wallerstein, in southern Germany. In 1785 the elder Reicha moved his family, including Anton, to Bonn, where he joined the orchestra of the Elector Maximilian. Joseph was soon appointed Kapellmeister, and his nephew gained a place in the orchestra as a flutist. Presumably it was around this time that Anton Reicha became acquainted with another member of the orchestra who was almost exactly his age, a violist named Ludwig van Beethoven. The first documentary evidence suggesting that Beethoven and Reicha were friends comes from 1789. The names of Beethoven, a friend of his named Carl Kügelgen, and Reicha appear together in the register of Bonn University; all three enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy on May 14, 1789.
    Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in November 1792. The farewells of many of his friends and acquaintances are recorded in an album; but Reicha's name is nowhere to be found. Reicha stayed in Bonn until the French invasion of the Rhineland in 1794, when he moved to Hamburg. We know little about Reicha's years in Hamburg (1794–99), except that he wrote several operas, none of which were performed. He moved to Paris in the fall of 1799, hoping to have his operas performed, but his luck there was no better. After three years he was off to Vienna.
    The dating of Reicha's arrival in Vienna has recently been revised by Martin Smith in his dissertation on Reicha's theories on the composition of dramatic music. Although scholars, starting with Thayer and continuing down to Peter Eliot Stone in his article on Reicha in the New Grove, have consistently dated Reicha's arrival in Vienna to late 1801 or early 1802, Smith convincingly argues for a later date, October or early November 1802; that is, shortly after Beethoven wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament.
    The first reference to Reicha in Beethoven's correspondence is in a letter of November 1802 to Count Zmeskall. There is talk of trying out new pianos, of a dinner with friends to which both Zmeskall and Reicha are invited. "You need not don a black coat," wrote Beethoven, "for we will be a party of men only." Reicha seems to have been accepted, for the time being, into Beethoven's circle—what the composer called "Beethoven's kingdom."
    The situation does not seem to have lasted. In a letter of December 1802 from Beethoven to Breitkopf & Härtel is the second—and last—reference to Reicha in Beethoven's surviving correspondence. He wrote of his Piano Variations Opus 34 and 35:

Instead of making a great clamor about a new method of writing variations, like our worthy neighbors the Gallo-Franks would make, such as for instance, when a certain French composer presented me with fugues après une nouvelle méthode, the method amounting to this, that the fugue is no longer a fugue [daß die Fuge keine Fuge mehr ist], and so on—I have wished to draw the attention of those who are not connoisseurs to the fact that at any rate these variations are different from all others.

The "gewisser Fr[anzöscher] Componist" must be Reicha; the fugues "après une nouvelle méthode" his Trente-six fugues pour le piano-forte composées d'après un nouveau système, which he published in Vienna shortly after his arrival there, and of which Beethoven had a copy in his library.

Beethoven's letter to Breitkopf & Härtel, December 1802. Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

    The hostility in Beethoven's letter may signal the end of a friendship. About his reunion with Beethoven in 1802, Reicha said in his memoirs: "After eight years we met again in Vienna, and discussed the things we were doing." That does not make Beethoven and Reicha sound like Orestes and Pylades. Although he lived in Vienna for seven years, Reicha made no further mention of Beethoven in his autobiography. In 1808 Reicha returned to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life, highly successful as a theorist, composer, as teacher of Berlioz, Gounod, and Frank: a signifcant force in the evolution of nineteenth-century French music.
    An article on Reicha by Berlioz, published in 1836, goes a long way toward explaining Beethoven's apparent hostility toward Reicha, and the strange silence that ensued after 1802. Berlioz called Beethoven's Reicha's ami d'enfance:

The friendship between the two great musicians does not seem to have lasted long, and probably it was the complete divergence of their ideas on certain important aspects of the poetics of their art that caused their friendship to end. I believe this because I heard Reicha express himself rather coldly about the works of Beethoven, and to speak with ill-concealed irony about the enthusiasm they stirred up.

Berlioz's testimony on this last point is corroborated by the complete absence, in all of Reicha's theoretical and pedogogical treatises, of any musical examples drawn from Beethoven's works.
    For the aesthetic "divergence" that led to end of the friendship between Reicha and Beethoven, Berlioz blamed Reicha's musical personality, which he described in the course of the same passage:

Love of abstract combinations and musical jeux d'ésprit, the real pleasure that he found in the resolution of certain thorny problems, which have no purpose but to distract art from its proper course, make one lose sight of the goal toward which one should unceasingly strive: have not these things damaged his works a great deal? Have these works not lost, in melodic and harmonic expressivity, in purely musical effect, all that they have gained in complex contrivance, the conquest of difficult compositional problems, strange efforts made more for eyes than for the ears? 

    Such a description by Berlioz of his counterpoint teacher at the Conservatoire must be taken with a grain of salt; it may well have been a tradition of nineteenth-century winners of the Prix de Rome to criticize their conservatory education. But Berlioz is backed up by Reicha's music.
    It was around 1802, around the time of Reicha's arrival in Vienna, that we see the emergence of what Berlioz called Reicha's "amour des combinaisons abstraits," in such works as the thirty-six fugues: a systematic, speculative exposition of the possibilities inherent in the idea of fugue (first edition on IMSLP). They reveal a strong historical consciousness, which may be related to Reicha's growing pedagogical interests; he took many of his fugue subjects from earlier masters—Frescobaldi (No. 14), Handel (No. 15), Bach (No. 5), Mozart (No. 7), Haydn (No. 3), Domenico Scarlatti (No. 9). The fugues reveal too that jeu d'ésprit of which Berlioz wrote: the use of irregular meter—5/8 (No. 20), measures of cut time alternating with measures of 3/4 (No. 24); strange relationships between subject and answer—one fugue has a subject beginning in A major and an answer in F (No. 12, Youtube). Elsewhere Reicha set out to solve what Berlioz called propositions épineuse: a fugue with six subjects (No. 15), a subject consisting entirely of rapidly repeated thirty-second notes (No. 18), the beginning of Mozart's Haffner Symphony as subject (No. 7, Youtube).

    It was about these works that Beethoven said, in 1802, "Die Fuge keine Fuge mehr ist." If Berlioz is correct in connecting the end of the friendship between Reicha and Beethoven with a "divergence" in musical aesthetics, then 1802 was probably when they began to drift apart.
    It is an attractive scenario; but I would like to suggest that something more complex happened. Comparing the music composed by Reicha and Beethoven during the first few years of the nineteenth century, I am struck more by the similarities than the differences. I would like to suggest that it was not so much a divergence but a convergence of musical thought that pushed these musicians apart.
    The years around 1802 saw the beginning of Beethoven's heroic phase, characterized by a preoccupation with French music, by a new interest in theme and variations as a form suitable for sophisticated and complex musical thought, and by a fascination with counterpoint.
    Reicha arrived in Vienna from Paris just as Beethoven began to move toward this new musical aesthetic. From Reicha's works of this period we can see that he was interested in many of the musical values and techniques that define Beethoven's heroic style. After three years in Paris, Reicha not surprisingly shared with Beethoven an interest in French music. He wanted just as much as Beethoven to raise variation form to a higher artistic level. Around 1804 Reicha published his L'Art de varier, a set of fifty-seven variations on a theme of his own invention: a didactic compendium of variation techniques that prefigures Beethoven's Diabelli Variations in its encyclopedic conception and grandiose scope. In its use of both funeral march and fugue it recalls the use of both these musical types in Beethoven's Opus 34 and 35 respectively. With the Trente-six fugues Reicha showed that his ambition to explore and expand fugal techniques equaled Beethoven's.
    That Beethoven and Reicha were thinking along the same lines is hard to deny; but the extent to which they influenced each other is harder to guage, partly because the dating of much of Reicha's music is uncertain.
    Beethoven's heroic work par excellence, the Sinfonia eroica, was conceived in 1802 and largely written in 1803. It has an intriguing counterpart among Reicha's works. Beethoven composed his symphony, according to the title page of the first edition, "per festeggiare la memoria d'un grand uomo." Reicha wrote a work, the date of which has unfortunately not yet been established, with an almost identical aim in mind. The Musique pour celebrer la memoire des grands hommes is scored for woodwinds, brass, percussion, and four cannons. Like the Sinfonia eroica it includes a funeral march, commemorating, according to the manuscript score, "la mort des héros et des grands hommes qui auront bien merié de la Patrie."
    In the evolution of Beethoven's Marcia funebre we may be able to see an early stage in the development of his heroic phase. As Lewis Lockwood has reminded us, the Wielhorsky Sketchbook of 1802 shows that Beethoven's original plans for the symphony called for a slow movement in compound meter and the key of C major. By some time in early 1803, when Beethoven started what is now known as the Eroica Sketchbook, his plans had changed. He now envisioned a great funeral march in the French style in C minor. The French influence has been most thoroughly documented by Claude Palisca, who has pointed out similarities between Beethoven's march and music by Gossec, Catel, Pleyel, and other composers active in Paris in the 1790s. The intense emotional expressivity and monumental rhetoric are also typical of Beethoven's heroic phase and so is the extended fugal passage at the center of the movement.
    In January 1803 Beethoven's brother Carl, acting as his agent, wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel. After offering them several of his brother's works, he informed them that Reicha had recently arrived in Vienna, and that he had several compositions that he wanted to publish. Among these works, which Carl van Beethoven said were "recht schön," were three symphonies. Within a year or two Breitkopf issued two symphonies by Reicha under the opus numbers 41 and 42. If Carl knew these works it is more than likely that Ludwig knew them as well.
    In the middle of the slow movement of Reicha's Symphony in E flat, Op. 41, is a contrapuntal passage that in some ways resembles the fugal episode in the Marcia funebre (Musical example below; Youtube). It features the same style of contrapuntal writing, with a constant stream of staccato sixteenth notes, that dominates Beethoven's polyphonic episode. This style of counterpoint was far from new, of course; composers would have learned it, above all, from Fux's third-species exercises, which find echoes in such passages the very brief contrapuntal episode in the finale of the Haydn's Military Symphony (Youtube).

Anton Reicha, Symphony in E flat, Op. 41, second movement, mm. 33–59 (based on the edition by Vratislav Bělský in Musica Antiqua Bohemia 76)
    Reicha took this style of contrapuntal writing and used it as the basis for a large middle section, the center of gravity of the slow movement and its emotional climax. Many slow movements of Mozart and Haydn have contrasting middle sections; but such self-contained, formal displays of counterpoint, so strongly unified by the constant use of a single rhythmic unit, are difficult to find.
    Against the sixteenth notes Reicha wrote countermelodies with dotted rhythms, dissonant linear intervals and trills. His contrapuntal passage ends with a dominant pedal arrived at through diminished-sixth harmony, as the sixteenth-note pattern finally gives way to to shorter notes repeated above the pedal-point, which culminates in a dissonant chord sharply accented and followed by a diminuendo, which leads (after some delay, not shown in the musical example) to a return of the movement's opening theme in the tonic.
    Within months of the publication of Reicha's Symphony in E flat, Beethoven completed the Sinfonia eroica, with a fugal episode in the slow movement for which the preceding paragraph can serve as an accurate description. It need hardly be said that Beethoven's contrapuntal episode is stronger than Reicha's. Partly because we are so familiar with Beethoven's passage, we feel disoriented when Reicha, after his promising fortissimo opening, breaks off his counterpoint with what may seem to us a rather clumsy half cadence. With his momentum dispelled, Reicha begins anew, now piano, only to conclude the contrapuntal episode without much further development eighteen measures later. The augmented-sixth chord leading to the final dominant pedal is not as effective as it would have been had Reicha not already used the augmented sixth to set up the disruptive half cadence earlier in the passage. No similar criticism can be made of Beethoven's masterful fugal episode.
    A vast gulf separates these passages, but difference is not so much in musical means as in compositional skill. That difference has obscured the similarity in aims and methods. There is little evidence here of the "divergence" to which Berlioz referred and on which he laid the blame for the end of the friendship between Reicha and Beethoven. On the contrary: it was more likely the similarity in interests and ambitions that put strain on their relations. Beethoven may have seen Reicha, newly arrived from Paris, and full of musical energy, excitement, and new ideas, less as a friend than as a rival.
    Tia DeNora has shown how skillfully Beethoven, in his relations with patrons and publishers, projected the image of musical greatness. Part of that effort involved positioning his image in relation to that of other composers: Beethoven was great to the extent that he surpassed (or was perceived to surpass) his musical contemporaries. This helps to explain the nasty tone of his letter to Breitkopf & Härtel of December 1802, in which he emphasized the novelty of his own works by claiming Reicha's innovations were false. Yet perhaps there is hidden admiration behind Beethoven's disdain. His sudden interest in the novelty of his own works (the Variations Op. 34 and 35 were "different from all others") may have come partly in response to Reicha's innovations, and to Reicha's self-consicious claims of novelty. Reicha's boasting of a nouveau système seems to have contributed to Beethoven's recognition that he too was entering a new stylistic phase. With the realization that he and Reicha were working toward similar goals by similar means came the hostility that his letter reveals.
    Maynard Solomon shows that what he calls "exaggeratedly romantic friendships" with other men were typical of Beethoven's early adulthood in Bonn and Vienna. It is said that Beethoven and Friedrich Amenda "became such inseparable companions that when one was seen alone the people would call out, 'Where is the other one?'" That fits nicely in with Reicha's memory: "Like Orestes and Pylades, we could not stay apart in our youth." Beethoven's exaggeratedly romantic friendships rarely lasted very long; we can see why one of them would have come to an end around 1802. As he entered his heroic phase, Beethoven's kingdom
 could have only one ruler: Beethoven himself.