"A SERIOUS, STORMY, ELEVATED, AND DIFFICULT WORK": BEETHOVEN'S RARE OPUS 1, THREE TRIOS FOR PIANO, VIOLIN AND CELLO, ONE OF THE SCARCEST AND MOST DESIRABLE OF BEETHOVEN FIRST EDITIONS
BEETHOVEN, Ludwig van. Trois Trios Pour le Piano-Forte, Violon, et Violoncelle. Composés & Dediés à Son Altesse Monseigneur le Prince Charles de Lichnowsky par Louis van Beethoven. Oeuvre 1re. Vienna: Artaria, . Oblong quarto, three separate parts neatly respined, pp. 65, 21, 17. Housed in a custom morocco clamshell box. $60,000.
First edition, earliest issue, fully engraved, of Beethoven's Opus 1, the earliest compositions Beethoven considered to be "worthy of publication with an opus number and to proclaim his name" (Thayer), one of the earliest and rarest Beethoven first editions, one of very few complete copies extant. The jewel in the crown of any important music collection.
As the manuscript of these trios is lost, the first edition is the primary source. After his first trip to Vienna in 1787, Beethoven returned to the Austrian capital in the early 1790s to study with Joseph Haydn. In March 1795 he had his public debut in a concert at the Burgtheater, where he performed his Concerto in C (or possibly his Concerto in B flat). "He was now well and truly in the public eye, and shortly afterwards began making arrangements for the publication of his Opus 1. This was a set of piano trios, to be dedicated to his patron Prince Lichnowsky and published by subscription, with the printing done by the leading Viennese firm of Artaria… Subscriptions were invited, at a price of one ducat per copy… Beethoven handed over the trios and agreed to pay Artaria an initial 212 fl. for making the plates… Artaria was to print at least 50 copies within six weeks, and to sell Beethoven up to 400 copies altogether, at one fl. each. Printing seems to have been delayed slightly, but the subscribers' copies were available for collection from Beethoven from late August, when an announcement was made to this effect on the 29th. In the end there were 123 subscribers, who between them ordered 245 copies altogether. The agreement also provided that Artaria would buy back the plates for 90 fl. and could begin selling copies abroad as soon as Beethoven received the first batch… The impressive list of subscribers, and the large profit he made, are indications of how successful he had been in commanding attention during his first two and a half years in Vienna: even in a city with numerous composers, he was already widely recognized as out of the ordinary. Many aristocrats appeared in the list, including several personally known to him either then or later, such as Count Browne, Count Dietrichstein, Prince Esterházy, Prince Lobkowitz, Count Razumovsky, and Baron Sweiten" (Cooper, 55-56).
According to Ferdinand Ries, whose published reminiscences form an important part of our knowledge of Beethoven, Haydn had apparently attempted to dissuade Beethoven from publishing the third trio, which made Beethoven suspicious of him; because Beethoven considered it clearly the superior of the three trios, he wondered if Haydn's jealousy was causing him to attempt to suppress Beethoven's originality. But "Haydn had merely not expected the public to take so readily to such a serious, stormy, elevated, and difficult work. All three trios are actually serious and elevated, and should be seen as steps on the road to a full-scale symphony. Their grand, expansive manner, complex textures, extensive motivic development, and four-movement form are all more characteristic of the symphony than the piano trio of this period. Here and in several of his immediately following chamber works Beethoven was using a basically symphonic style within the sonata, as if working towards the symphony proper" (Cooper, 57). The trios "show a marked advance on Haydn's trios in the comparative independence of the three parts. Their freedom from Haydn's frequently oppressive formality looks forward to the first mature trios, the pair that comprises Op. 70: displaying all sorts of harmonic twists, thematic innovations and structural idiosyncrasies, these trios make much of the piano part and contain plenty of those dramatic outbursts that are typical of Beethoven's middle period" (Staines, 38).
Although Beethoven did publish a few other works in the previous two years, they were fairly insubstantial works, often based on the work of other composers (as in the "Se vuol ballare" Variations, WoO 40, based on the Marriage of Figaro aria): "He aspired to the higher position of composer, and to obtain this more was needed than the performance of variations, however excellent" (Thayer, 164). The first edition is remarkably scarce: this is apparently the only copy that has appeared on the market in the last thirty years. Dorfmuller quotes only one incomplete copy in Germany (Bonn; the titlepage and the string parts are lacking); we can locate only three complete copies (GB-Lbl, A-Wn and A-Wgm). Certainly an extraordinarily rare printing, one of very few extant copies. First issue, misidentified by Kinsky (see Dorfmüller, 207, 292). Kinsky-Halm, 3-6.
With title page and subscriber's list bound with the piano part. Engraved title page with some marginal restoration. Marginal staining to plates, but still quite fresh and readable. An extraordinary rarity.