Or, WoO Hoo! It’s Beethoven Day!
Happy Beethoven Day! Have you made your plans yet for #Beethoven250? This will be a year-long celebration in 2020 to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.
I got an early start on the festivities on Saturday, when I performed Beethoven’s Sonatina in F major at this semester’s recital for adult music students at Frederick Community College (FCC), where I study piano. Or did I? That is, I really performed it (from memory, I might add), but is it really by Beethoven?
Soon after I started learning it, my teacher at FCC, Dr. John Wickelgren, casually mentioned one day, “This probably isn’t by Beethoven.”
I said, “What are you talking about? It says ‘Beethoven’ right there on the music.”
He explained, “It’s got an Anhang number. That’s the appendix to the Kinsky-Halm Beethoven catalog. It means that the attribution is probably spurious.”
I asked, “On what grounds? What’s the evidence?”
He replied, “I don’t know. You’ll have to look in Kinsky-Halm. I’m not even sure if that’s a hyphenated name or if it’s two different people.”
The Mount Saint Mary’s library didn’t have the Kinsky-Halm catalog, so while I was waiting for the Interlibrary Loan to arrive I tried to see what I could find out online. First of all, Kinsky and Halm were two people, Georg L. Kinsky and Hans Halm. Georg Kinsky (1882-1951), according to Grove Music Online, was a lecturer in musicology at the University of Cologne from 1921-1932, after which, his biography states ominously, “he worked privately.” The bio doesn’t say, but I assume he was Jewish, especially since it notes that he was sentenced to hard labor in 1944 (no further details). Kinsky survived the war and worked on the Beethoven catalog until his death in 1951. The catalog was completed by Hans Halm (1898-1965), the music librarian at the Munich State Library, and published in 1955 as Das Werk Beethovens / Thematisch-Bibliographisches Verzeichnis seiner sämtlichen vollendeten Kompositions (Beethoven’s Works / Thematic-Bibliographic List of His Completed Compositions).
Once the catalog arrived, I eagerly looked to see what it said about my Sonatina. It’s one of a group of two, along with a Sonatina in G major. Both of them are staples of the intermediate piano repertoire. Neither has an opus number, which means they were not published by Beethoven during his lifetime.
Nor are the two Sonatinas listed among the Werke ohne Opuszahl (“WoO”), or “Works without opus number,” pieces that Kinsky determined were definitely by Beethoven but that remained unpublished during his lifetime. There are over 200 works in this category, some of them never or rarely performed but others quite well-known. The most famous of these is probably WoO 59, more commonly known as “Für Elise.”1 The two Sonatinas are in another category, the Anhang, or appendix. These are works that have been attributed to Beethoven, but the attribution is doubtful. The Sonatinas are Anhang 5, numbers 1 and 2.
Two questions need to be answered. First, how did the Sonatinas come to be attributed to Beethoven? Second, why is that attribution now considered to be spurious? In other words, why are they in the Anhang and not the WoO? The entry in Kinsky-Halm provides information to help answer both questions.2
In answer to the first, the Sonatinas were published under Beethoven’s name, during his lifetime, as early as 1807 (Beethoven died in 1827). The 1807 publication was by a publisher named Louis-Rudolphus, located in Altona (near Hamburg, in northern Germany). The title-page reads, “II SONATINES / pour le Piano-Forte / Composées par / L. van Beethoven. / Altona chéz Louis Rudolphus.”
In answer to the second, Beethoven had no known relationship with the publisher in Altona. Furthermore, no manuscripts of the Sonatinas survive, nor did Beethoven ever mention them in any of his writings. It appears that the publisher thought that the Beethoven name would sell sheet music, so he attached it to someone else’s composition, and the attribution stuck.3 If this is true, then two people were cheated: Beethoven, who never received a pfennig for the use of his name, and the unknown actual composer, whose two charming works have been performed for over 100 years without his receiving credit.
So it looks like the two Sonatinas that are typically the first Beethoven works a beginning pianist learns—even before “Für
Elise Therese”—are not by Beethoven at all. And I’ve got to admit, they don’t actually sound very much like Beethoven. They’re lovely, but they have no particularly Beethovenian characteristics (like sforzandi, sudden strong accents in unexpected places). They sound like the works of a run-of-the-mill classical-era composer.
In classical and medieval studies, we have a way of referring to exactly the scenario I’ve described regarding the two Beethoven Sonatinas. If a work was at one time ascribed to a particular author (perhaps because of the subject matter, or because it was included in a manuscript with other works by that author), but further research has shown that it couldn’t have been by that person (typically on chronological or linguistic grounds), and there’s no evidence to determine who really wrote it, then the work is identified as being by “Pseudo-[name].” For example, one of the sources I used in my dissertation was an early-medieval theologian referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.” In my recently-concluded Ancient Greece class, we read a description of Athenian democracy originally attributed to Xenophon but now identified as “Pseudo-Xenophon.”4
I’ve never seen this usage applied in a musicological context, but I propose that it should be. Henceforth, the Sonatinas in F and G, Anhang 5 nos. 1 and 2, shall be identified as having been composed by “Pseudo-Beethoven.” You heard it here first.
BONUS: Here’s an unusual performance of the F major Sonatina, by Tobias Koch, who added his own improvisatory flourishes.
- Although a more accurate title may be “Für Therese.”
- I consulted both the original 1955 edition and the revised 2014 edition. Special thanks to my colleagues Andrew Rosenfeld and Elizabeth Strauss for help with reading the German.
- Although Kinsky-Halm note that it was doubted as early as 1868.
- The author, whoever it was, had a very negative view of Athenian democracy and comes across as a grumpy old man; hence, he is also known as the “Old Oligarch.”