“Beethoven’s Sketches for Vestas Feuer and their Relationship to the ‘Eroica’ Symphony and Leonore”

Thursday morning, November 1, 2012, Bayside A
Alan Gosman
Associate Professor, University of Michigan

“Beethoven’s Sketches for Vestas Feuer and their Relationship to the ‘Eroica’ Symphony and Leonore”

All the known sketches for Vestas Feuer are found on twenty-one pages of the Landsberg 6 sketchbook.  Beethoven developed ideas for Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2 of the opera before abandoning the project.  While there have been discussions of the music for Scene 1, until now, little or nothing has been written about these sketches, at least partly owing to the exceptional difficulty of deciphering them. Gustav Nottebohm, in Ein Skizzenbuch von Beethoven aus dem Jahre 1803, devotes a mere thirteen lines of commentary to Beethoven’s early attempt at writing an opera despite the fact that the sketches occupy more than a ninth of Landsberg 6.  And his description does not refer to Scene 2 at all.

In this paper, I will consider the sketches for Vestas Feuer based on the complete transcription of Landsberg 6 by Lewis Lockwood and me. This transcription reveals how interconnected Beethoven’s work on Vestas Feuer is with his large projects, both directly before and after.

The first scene of Vestas Feuer, composed in the shadow of the “Eroica” Symphony’s finale, is clearly impacted by the prior work. For example, the last pages of “Eroica” sketches, of the finale’s coda, enlarge the relationship between the keys of G minor and Eb major. These are the same keys Beethoven chooses for the opening of Vestas Feuer, and the progression between the two keys in the opera is astonishingly similar to the one in the symphony.

Vestas Feuer‘s influence on later works is larger than has been realized.  It is well known that the Scene 1 Trio “Nie war ich so froh wie heute” is the precursor to the duet “O namenlose Freude!” from Leonore/Fidelio.  Unrecognized until now, is that Beethoven’s preliminary plans for Scene 2—a solo aria for Malo—were also appropriated for his later opera.  Beethoven reused his sketch material for Pizarro’s Aria with chorus “Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick!”  Accordingly, a large portion of Vestas Feuer found life in Leonore.  In addition, there is the possibility that the mysterious, attached introduction that Beethoven connected to the Finale of the “Waldstein” sonata was influenced by some of the design features of Vestas Feuer.