Musicology

“Beethoven and his Copyist: Written Dialogues”

Thursday morning, November 1, 2012, Bayside A
Jens Dufner
Beethoven-Archiv, Bonn

“Beethoven and his Copyist:  Written Dialogues”

Within Beethoven research, the importance of revised copies is unquestioned. However, the reason that they are valued lies almost exclusively in the composer’s contribution. In contrast, the copyist’s notation is often regarded as a worsening of the original text. The formulation in a lexicon article from 2008 seems to be symptomatic: Beethoven did not accept “any form of intervention” in his works by any copyist.

But a closer look shows that Beethoven committed the musical text to the copyist not only for the mere process of copying, but instead actually tied him into the compositional process. The copyist was not only expected to follow Beethoven’s instructions, but also to interpret the composer’s manuscript, which in terms of notation was sometimes ambiguous. For example, the copyist had to expand abbreviations like colla parte or come sopra, which often allowed different interpretations (especially at the beginnings or ends of abbreviated sections). Furthermore, the copyist sometimes amended a corrupted text by correcting wrong clefs, adding arco or pizzicato or correcting wrong or adding missing notes within the musical context.

The sources of symphony no. 6 show real dialogues between Beethoven and his copyist Joseph Klumpar. Klumpar interpreted the musical text as well as correcting matters that were obviously wrong. But the communication between composer and copyist was not always smooth, as we can see in the disparities between different copies made by Klumpar from the same autograph. Sometimes the differences cannot be explained as copyist’s mistakes but rather as different interpretations of ambivalent notations by Beethoven.

Just as the copyist was part of the compositional process, Beethoven often became a copyist himself. When revising the symphony, he added supplements and corrections to several manuscripts. These additions were to be transferred from one manuscript to others, which means that Beethoven, just like any other copyist, sometimes made mistakes at this transfer.

The copyist’s role within the work genesis has to be reflected more thoroughly than hitherto. Furthermore, it proves that the linearity of dependencies within the traditional source stemma is not compatible with the dynamics of the copying processes.