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Beethoven's Tenth Symphony & Cooper

Before Beethoven had completed his Ninth Symphony in 1824, he had already started jotting down ideas for a Tenth (a similar overlap had occurred in his Fifth and Sixth symphonies). He worked on this new symphony sporadically from 1822 onwards, with the latest known sketches dating from October 1825; but at the time of his death in March 1827 only the first movement had been worked on in any detail. His friend Karl Holz later reported having heard him play it on the piano and gave a brief description: a gentle introduction in E-flat major followed by a powerful Allegro in C minor. But even this movement was evidently far from being completely written down and there are no clear indications of what was to follow in later movements.
Like most of Beethoven't sketches for other works, those for the Tenth symphony are scattered in several different sketch manuscripts (four main ones plus a number of subsidiary ones have so far been identified). As usual, they are unlabeled and almost illegible to anyone not well acquainted with Beethoven's idiosyncratic handwriting. Consequently, it was not until the 1980s that any of them were identified with any certainty. In the meantime, rumors about the Tenth Symphony, started mainly by Holz and Anton Schindler, had fueled speculation that there might be a complete manuscript hidden away somewhere or alternatively that the symphony had never been begun and that the rumors were without foundation. Now, however, we are a little clearer and more than 50 sketches are known, although many questions remain unanswered and it is possible that more sketches may yet be discovered. All the sketches are very fragmentary, with none containing more than about 30 bars of continuous music; but to someone familiar with Beethoven's normal sketching methods they do give a clear idea of the sort of movement he had in mind. Moreover, they contain some very good material. It therefore seems very well worthwhile to try and make them available for performances by filling them out into a performing version, rather than leaving them in archives where they can be of use only to a few specialists. After all, the sketches represent sound rather than shapes on paper, and the cannot be fully assessed until they have been heard--and preferably heard in an appropriate orchestral setting. The present writer had already studied Beethoven's sketches for numerous other works, in connection with a book he was writing (Beethoven and the Creative Process, to be published by Oxford University Press), and therefore felt he was in a better position than most scholars to attempt a completion of the first movement, even though the task at first seemed impossibly daunting. Altogether there are around 250 bars of sketches for the first movement. Some duplicate or contradict each other, leaving less than 200 usable; but many of these can be used more than once, by means of repetitions and reprises such as occur in all of Beethoven's symphonies (for example, a theme sketched for the exposition will recur in the recapitulation). The sketches thereby provide us with well over 300 bars, while the remaining 200 bars or so (out of 531) have had to be adapted from the same basic themes by various means (e.g. by transposition and sequence) and developed in the way Beethoven normally did. Thus, all the basic thematic material is Beethoven's; but appropriate harmony has had to be added in places where it is missing, the movement has had to be orchestrated in Beethoven's style (with the aid of only a few clues in the sketches), and linking passages based on Beethoven's themes have been inserted where necessary.
The result is obviously not exactly what Beethoven would have written, and in certain places in particular he would probably have been more imaginative. It also sounds more typical of middle period than late Beethoven, although this may be due to the close connections with the early piano sonatos. Nevertheless, it does provide at least a rough impression of the movement he had in mind at the time of the sketches and is certainly far closer to Beethoven's Tenth symphony than anything previously heard. It is therefore likely to be found extrememly interesting by anyone wanting to know what he planned for the symphony that was to have followed the Ninth; moreover it can also be appreciated as a piece of music, in a way that the fragmentary sketches on their own could never be.

Written by Barry Cooper

I encourage all interested to buy the CD recording that Barry Cooper made of Beethoven's Tenth.

Thanks go out to Garik Misenar & Michael Ervi for alerting me of the above information.

  Copyright (C) 2005 William Lane