image of book cover: 5 Simphonies arrangeés en Quintett pour 2 Violons, 2 Violes et Violoncelle con Contrabasso

Celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday

In the classical music world, 2020 was going to be one big bash celebrating the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth in 1770.

Then the pandemic struck, forcing hundreds of concerts, recordings, and exhibitions to be cancelled or rescheduled.

But now, in Auckland on 5 November, a group of music librarians and musicologists are bringing #BTHVN2020 back to life with a world premiere workshop performance from a manuscript of a Beethoven quintet arrangement.

Housed in Special Collections in Te Tumu Herenga, this quintet arrangement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is believed to date from 1810-1820. The manuscript set consists of four parts – one part was lost at some stage in the past – and was bound into volumes with published string arrangements of Beethoven symphonies and forgotten for some 200 years. Associate Professor Nancy November, a renowned Beethoven expert from the University’s School of Music, and the library’s music specialist, Phillippa McKeown-Green, saw the four volumes for sale in 2018 while in Leipzig for a conference.

Manuscript history

McKeown-Green says very little is known yet about the history of the manuscript itself. Experts from Beethoven-Haus in Bonn confirmed that the handwriting does not match any known copyist or arranger from Vienna at that period. It is also not in Beethoven’s hand, although he was known to have taken a close interest in the production of arrangements of his music.

Dr November describes the huge production of arrangements during this period as akin to spin-offs. “Arrangements of large-scale works like symphonies were highly popular in Beethoven’s day and an important means of disseminating music to a wide audience before the days of regular public concerts and before the era of the gramophone.”

McKeown-Green says the manuscript’s paper can be identified and dated with some confidence. “The Kiesling watermark is clear, once you know what you are looking for, and is good evidence for the authenticity of the score and for dating its creation to the 1810-20s.” The binding of the volumes is also typical of the period and the scores are labelled in French, “5 Simphonies arrangeés en Quintett“.

The dating is important because it points to this being the only quintet arrangement of the Eroica to have been produced during Beethoven’s lifetime. This in turn becomes important in helping us reach what Dr November considers “a more down-to-earth view of Beethoven” and a closer understanding of “how his contemporaries viewed him.”

The University’s former Music and Dance Library purchased the volumes thanks to a bequest from Professor Nicholas Tarling, who had a keen interest in music and libraries. The workshop and a full performance scheduled for February 2021 are being funded by the Nicholas Tarling Charitable Trust.

Dr November is preparing a performing edition of this quintet, including reconstructing the missing first violin part, for publication by A-R Editions in 2021.

Workshop performance

The workshop performance, involving Dr November, Dr Graham McPhail, who teaches baroque violin in the School of Music, and string players from early music specialists NZ Barok, will focus on the second movement, Marcia Funebre.

The performance is being held at Auckland Libraries’ Central Library as part of the International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) New Zealand branch conference.

As well as engaging with the audience on these arrangements, their performance and historical importance, it is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the important but little-known music collections in New Zealand libraries, says McKeown-Green.

  • To register for the free workshop performance on Thursday 5 November, go to Eventbrite.

Special Collections display

  • To view the manuscripts, visit the display at Special Collections, Level G, University of Auckland General Library from 3-20 November.



Featured image: 5 Simphonies arrangeés en Quintett pour 2 Violons, 2 Violes et Violoncelle con Contrabasso.

Beethoven, L. (between 1810-1820). 5 Simphonies arrangeés en Quintett pour 2 Violons, 2 Violes et Violoncelle con Contrabasso. Vienna?
Special Collections Music Glass 785.75M B41c

November, N. (2020). The Cambridge Companion to the Eroica Symphony (Cambridge Companions to Music).

Beethoven, L., November, N., & S.A. Steiner und Comp., arranger of music. (2019). Chamber arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies. Part 2, Wellington’s victory and Symphonies nos. 7 and 8 arranged for string quintet (Recent researches in the music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; v. 77).