Notes and Editorial Reviews
Joseph II, Emperor of Germany, died on February 20, 1790. News of his death reached Bonn, where Beethoven was living, about four days later. Immediately a memorial celebration was planned, and it was decided that a musical work be on the program. But when the memorial finally was held, the piece of music that Beethoven composed for it ñ this Joseph II Cantata ñ was not on the program. Thayer suggests that perhaps the wind parts were too difficult, or perhaps Beethoven did not complete it on time. Beethoven composed several cantatas, all of them early works. Besides the Joseph II, there is one to celebrate the accession to the throne of Leopold II and one written on the death of George Cressener, a friend of the Beethoven family. Thayer calls the Joseph and Leopold cantatas ìthe most interesting of Beethovenís compositions in the Bonn periodÖBeethoven did not bring them either to performance or publication; they were dead to the worldÖManuscript copies of the scores were announced in the auction catalog of the library of the Baron de Beine in April, 1813. It seems probable that Hummel purchased them at that time; at any rate, after his death, they found their way from his estate into a second-hand bookshop in Leipzig, where they were purchased by a man from Vienna in 1884. The Joseph II cantata was performed for the first time in Vienna in November, 1884, and Bonn on June 29, 1885.î Considering that Beethoven as only 20 when he composed the score, and that he had no other large-scale works in his portfolio, the results are all the more remarkable. In some respects, the work is a freak. It is completely apart, in mood and treatment, from what Beethoven had been experimenting with; and certainly there is little in the sonatas and chamber music of the Bonn period even to hint at the muted intensity and power of the Joseph II Cantata.