Beethoven in Silk Stockings and a Wig

Vienna is my favourite town. © Charles Thibo

Those of you following me on Twitter know how often I am listening to the trios and quartets written by Ludwig van Beethoven, and I am surprised myself that I do  not write more frequently about him. But it is a fact that when I listen to those pieces, I forget about everything else. Ludwig would probably frown his eyes. He knew how important public relations were to get new commissions and earn a little money.

A foothold in Vienna

The first piece of chamber music he wrote, was the String Trio in E-flat Major, op. 3. It is unknown when exactly Beethoven wrote it. First sketches probably go back to the time when he still lived in Bonn. The final draft may have been completed around 1794. In 1792, Beethoven had moved to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn. During the first months, he was busy looking for an affordable flat and a piano. And he bought a wig and nice clothes – silk stockings, expensive shoes – since this seemed to be the conditio sine qua non to enter Viennese society. He would start attending balls for social networking and thus gain a foothold in Vienna’s upper class. Few things have changed in Vienna since then. At least the wigs are gone!

The String Trio in E flat major is one of my favourite works by Beethoven. Take the first movement: An energetic introduction followed quickly by a gentle melody that carries you away. Ten delightful minutes allegro con brio. If this isn’t good vibes… I will not elaborate on the piece any further. How could I explain with words what Beethoven wanted to say with music? That would be a futile effort. Instead I will focus on the first steps of Beethoven in Vienna. You can easily read this post and listen to the piece at the same time. The recording by the Trio Zimmermann is very nice.

Enters Karl von Lichnowsky

Most composer of that time were depending on patrons, and Beethoven was no exception to the rule. In Vienna, he became acquainted with Karl von Lichnowsky, his first patron. Lichnowsky offered him a room in one of his houses, free food and a little pocket-money. He was a good pianist and fascinated by Bach’s music. By taking a promising talent under his wing, Lichnowsky would help Beethoven, but also confer himself the aura of a friend of the arts. It took however some time before Lichnowsky realized that Beethoven was to fill the gap that Mozart’s death had created in 1791. For more than ten years Beethoven and Lichnowsky lived in symbiosis.

Support young composers!

And today? Young composers depend on private or government grants, give piano or violin lessons, perform in chamber music ensembles or as soloists to survive. Competition is as tough as it was at Beethoven’s time if not tougher. Few things have changed in the music world. So here is my wish: Friends of classical music, donate to organizations supporting and promoting young composers in their creative efforts!

Beethoven was needy and found patrons. Become a patron to help today’s classical composers and musicians! I support myself since 2015 the Fanny Mendelssohn Förderverein in Hamburg, promoting young musicians. In every country, such NGOs are distributing grants, assisting with networking to create opportunities to perform or help funding the recording of albums. Great art is not for free. It never was.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.