Musicology

“Beethoven’s Handel and the Messiah Copies”

Abstracts:  New Beethoven Research Conference
New Orleans, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2012
Wednesday morning, October 31, 9 – 12 noon, Bayside A
Bathia Churgin
Professor emerita, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

“Beethoven’s Handel and the Messiah Copies”

Beethoven considered Handel to be the greatest composer who ever lived.  His profound admiration is documented in letters and conversations, as well as by copies of Handel’s music in his library and copies that he made himself.  For centuries composers learned their craft by copying music of their contemporaries or of older masters, a traditional procedure of self-education also practiced by painters and sculptors.  In music, the most famous example is J. S. Bach, but Beethoven also copied many works from his early years in the 1790s to late in life.  Most extant copies are of music by J. S. Bach, Handel, and Mozart. However, Beethoven copied music by many other composers as well as theorists, including C. P. E. Bach, W. F. Bach, Byrd, Cherubini, Alessandro Cornet and Karl von Doblhoff-Dier (students of Salieri), Carl Heinrich Graun, Joseph Haydn, Gottlieb Muffat, Palestrina, and Salieri. Canons, fugues, and a chorale setting were also copied from treatises by J. J. Fux and J. P. Kirnberger.  Among vocal works are extensive copies from Handel’s oratorio Messiah, Mozart’s  Don Giovanni, and Salieri’s opera Les Danaïdes (Paris, 1784).

Beethoven deeply admired Handel’s Messiah, a work he knew only in Mozart’s arrangement, published in early 1803, until he was presented with the complete Handel edition by Samuel Arnold a few months before his death. He jotted down the beginings of many numbers and made complete copies of four numbers, all in all over 36% of the numbers in the oratorio. His copies and excerpts will be identified and dated according to their watermarks. The copies can be found in  four sources: two in Berlin, one in London, and one in Santa Barbara, at the  Karpeles Manuscript Library, and the dates range from 1806 to 1820-21.  The copy of the choral fugue, “And with His stripes,” found in Santa Barbara, may well have been made when Beethoven was concerned with the fugal conclusion to the Credo of the Missa solemnis.   A clear quotation from the Halleluja chorus, otherwise omitted from the group of quotations and copies, appears in the Dona nobis pacem of the Mass.

The brilliant neo-Baroque overture, “Die Weihe des Hauses” (1822), may also be viewed as a homage to Handel. In addition, its slow introduction seems to contain a reference to the Dead March from Handel’s Saul.