Vieuxtemps’s 1834 Debut in Vienna with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
1. Vieuxtemps in Vienna
2. Reviews and Reactions
3. Significance
4. Performances of the Concerto by Other Violinists 1806–1833

© Martin Wulfhorst 2021

1. Vieuxtemps in Vienna

While young Vieuxtemps spent a few months in Vienna during the Winter of 1833–34 he studied with Mayseder (and possibly also with other Viennese violinists), performed in private circles as well in at least three public concerts, and met a number of Viennese musicians, including several from the former circle of Beethoven. Among them was Karl Holz (1798–1868), Beethoven’s copyist and secretary, who had served as one of the directors of the Concerts spirituels since 1829. Holz (or Baron Eduard de Lannoy, one of the other two co-directors of the concert series) apparently approached young Vieuxtemps and asked him to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on one of the programs.  (Three years earlier the same piece had already been included in a Concert spirituel). According to Vieuxtemps’s own testimony, he had only a fortnight to learn the piece (Autobiographical letters, p. 62). Nevertheless, the fourteen-year-old boy performed the Concerto to great acclaim on March 16, 1834 under the direction of Baron de Lannoy in the Landständischer Saal.

2. Reviews and Reactions (Originals with Translations)

Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 36/25 (June 18, 1834), col. 418
"Im landständischen Saale: Sechs Concerts spirituels, welche dieses Jahr mehr Antheil, denn jemals, erregten, aber auch verdienten, sowohl bezüglich der Wahl, als des Vortrags. Zur Production kamen: ...dem allgemeinen Wunsche zufolge: das Beethovensche Violin-Concert, von Vieuxtemps gespielt, und eine Wiederholung der Spohr'schen Symphonie [Nr. 4]. Die erstgenannte Composition soll der 13jährige Orpheus binnen wenigen Tagen eingeübt haben; dem sey nun, wie ihm wolle, auch nach einer ganzen daran gewendeten Lebenszeit hätte er sie nicht verständig-richtiger auffassen, nicht reiner, vollkommener, geistreicher und ausdrucksvoller wiedergeben können.”

“In the Landständischer Saal: Six Concerts spirituels, which this year sparked more interest than ever before and deserved this, both with respect to the selection of repertoire and to the quality of performance. The following works were performed: ...according to general wishes, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, played by Vieuxtemps, and for the second time, Spohr’s Symphony [no. 4].The 13-year-old Orpheus is said to have learned the first-mentioned composition within a few days. Be this as it may, even after working on it for a lifetime he could not have grasped it with more correct understanding and could not have performed it with more purity, perfection, spirit, and expression.”

Allgemeiner musikalischer Anzeiger 6/13 (March 27, 1834), p. 52
"Dann spielte H. Vieuxtemps Beethoven's Violinconcert. Dieses Concert, eines der schwierigsten in der Ausführung, und noch mehr in der gehörigen Auffassung des Charakters; denn dieses Concert ist ein Gemählde, worin die Solostimme nur die hervortretende Hauptfigur ist, aber nichtsdestoweniger stets mit dem ganzen Orchester auf eine und dieselbe Wirkung hinarbeitet, und einen und denselben Hauptgedanken fortführt; dieses Concert, welches der junge Virtuose erst hier und zwar vor wenigen Tagen kennen gelernt, und einzuüben angefangen hatte, spielte er so, wie – wir wissen nicht schnell Einen zu nennen, der's gespielt hätte, wie er, und hierin hat der Knabe erst eigentlich seine Auffassungsgabe, die jedem Charakter sich anschmiegende Vortragsart, kurz sein ganzes musikalisches Genie beurkundet."

“Then Mr. Vieuxtemps played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. This Concerto is one of the most difficult with respect to the technical performance and even more with respect to the appropriate understanding of its character, for this Concerto is a painting in which the solo part is merely the prominent main figure but nevertheless always works together with the orchestra towards one and the same effect and develops one and the same main idea. Only here and only a few days ago the young virtuoso became acquainted with this Concerto and began to practice this it, but he played it like hardly any other violinist that we know would have played it. It is truly in this performance that the boy demonstrated his comprehension and his performance style shaped to each character—in short his musical genius.”

Letter by Eduard Baron Lannoy, the conductor of the performance, to Vieuxtemps, March 17, 1834 (quoted after Jean-Théodore Radoux, Vieuxtemps: sa vie, ses oeuvres, Liège: A. Bénard, 1891, p. 28)
“Veuillez accepter mes remerciements pour la manière originale, nouvelle et cependant classique, avec laquelle vous avey exécuté the concerto pour le violon, de Beethoven, au concert spirituel d’hier.
Vous êtes entré tout à fait l’esprit de cette composition, chef-d’oeuvre de l’un de nos grands maîtres.
La qualité de son avec laquelle vous avez rendu le cantabile, l´âme que vous avez mise dans l´exécution de l´andante, la précision et la vigueur avec lesquelles vous avez joué les passages difficiles, dont ce morceau abonde, tout caractérise en vous un talent supérieur, tout montre que, jeune encore et touchant presque à l´enfance, vous êtes déjà un grand artiste, qui apprécie ce qu´il joue, sait donner à chaque genre l´expression qui lui est propre et ne se borne pas à étonner les auditeurs par des difficultés.
Des talents aussi rares ont enchanté le public de cette capitale, accoutumé à entendre les plus grands maîtres, parmi lesquels vous occupez une place honorable.
Poursuivez, Monsieur, cette noble carrière; vous deviendrez sous peu le premier violon d’Europe, car vous réunissez à la vigueur du coup d´archet, à l´exécution brillante des plus grandes difficultés, l´âme sans laquelle l´art ne peut rien, le discernement qui fait qu´on saisit l´esprit du compositeur, et le goût exquis, qui empêche l´artiste de se livrer aux écarts de son imagination. Continuez, dis-je, et vous fonderez une école classique, qui sera le modèle de tous les véritables artistes.”

”Please accept my thanks for the original, novel, and yet classical style with which you performed the Violin Concerto by Beethoven in yesterday’s Concert spirituel. You fully penetrated the spirit of this composition, a masterpiece of one of our great masters.
The sound quality with which you rendered the cantabile [sections], the soul that you put into the performance of the Andante, the precision and vigor with which you played the difficult passages that abound in the piece—all this reveals in you a superior talent, and all this shows that you, still young and close to childhood, are already a great artist who appreciates what he plays, knows how to give each genre its proper expression, and does not limit himself to dazzling the listeners with difficulties.
Such rare talents have enchanted the public of this capital, accustomed to hearing the greatest masters, among whom you occupy an honorable place.
Sir, please pursue this noble career; in a short while you will become the first violinist of Europe because, with the vigor of the bow stroke and the brilliant performance of the greatest difficulties, you unite the soul without which art cannot achieve anything, the discernement which allows one to grasp the spirit of the composer, and the exquisite taste which keeps the artist from indulging in the deviations of his imagination.
Please continue on your path, I say, and you will found a classical school that will serve as a model for all true artists.”

Bohemia, ein Unterhaltungsblatt für gebildete Stände 7/44  (April 13, 1834), unnumbered pp
“Was auch den kältesten Zuhörer schon nach den ersten Gängen für Vieuxtemps einnehmen muß, ist der ungewöhnlich markige, und doch dem Gehöre so wohlthuende Ton, den Vieuxtemps immer haarscharf einsetzt, und mit einem Geschmacke und einer Präcision legirt und stakkiert, anschwellt und verschweben läßt, wie sie Niemand von einem dreizehnjährigen Knaben erwarten kann. Diese, mit seinem Alter in keinem Verhältnisse stehende Kraft, Genauigkeit und Eleganz in Ton und Tonbildung, würde den Zuhörer auch dann überraschen, wenn Vieuxtemps nicht wirklich als Virtuos zu glänzen wüßte. Mehr aber als die Reinheit und Fülle des Tones gewinnt ihm alle Herzen die schöne Seele, die sich in seinem Cantabile ausspricht, und die edle Besonnenheit, welche ihn auch in den gewagtesten Stellen nie verläßt, und auf dem sicheren Mittelwege zwischen Keckheit und Feigheit zum Ziele führt. Auch der schärfste Kennerblick dürfte in seinem Vortrage nicht die mindeste Spur von Abrichtung und von jener Hohlheit der Empfindung entdecken, mit welcher uns sogenannte Wunderkinder die mühsam eingeübte Form für den Gehalt geben. Was er spielt, geht ihm vom Herzen. Während in seinem Aeußeren durchaus keine andere Bewegung vorgeht, als welche die Behandlung des Instrumentes unumgänglich nothwendig macht, lebt in seinem Bogen und in seinen Fingerspitzen ein Geist, in dem Niemand das geborene Genie verkennen kann, und es äußert sich diese seltene Himmelsgabe gleich auffallend in dem Enthusiasmus, wie in der Besonnenheit. Angenommen, Vieuxtemps hätte in seinem fünften Lebensjahre zu spielen begonnen, so würde er unter Hunderten kaum Einen finden, der ihm nach achtjährigem Unterrichte in bloß technischer Hinsicht den Rang streitig machte. Bei ihm gilt aber, was von oben kommen und kein Unterricht geben kann, noch mehr, als was er gründlich gelernt hat. Aus einem mir gütigst mitgetheilten Briefe des Freiherrn vonLannoy (der doch gewiß als gültiger Zeuge angeführt werden, und als musikalischer Pädagog zwar loben, aber nicht schmeicheln kann) geht hervor, das Vieuxtemps während seines Aufenthaltes in Wien mitten unter den Zerstreuungen und Geschäften seiner Concerte eine Beethovensche Composition zur öffentlichen Aufführung einstudiert, und nicht nur die gehäuften Schwierigkeiten derselben glänzend gelöst habe, sondern auch tief in den Geist der Tondichtung eingedrungen sey. Bekanntlich sitzt aber Beethovens Genius nicht gern auf der Schale, sondern im Kern. Ich führe diesen Umständ darum an, daß man nicht aus seinen drei schnell hintereinander folgenden Concerten und aus dem seelenvollen und hinreißenden Vortrage, mit welchem Vieuxtemps die Compositionen seines Lehrers Beriot spielt, den übereilten Schluß ziehe, als ob der junge Virtuose nur in Ideen und Gängen heimisch wäre, die ihm aus den Zeiten des Unterrichtes zur zweiten Natur geworden sind. Trug er doch auch ein Concertstück von Mayseder so virtuos, und zugleich so geist- und gefühlvoll vor, daß er es auf allgemeines Verlangen im 3. Concerte wiederholen mußte. Einen andern Concertsatz von Rode konnte Referent, da er verhindert war, zur rechten Zeit zu kommen, leider nicht hören. Worin vielleicht Manche nur die Ursache seines zarten Alters finden, halte ich für einen Vorzug, der seinen Grund in einer richtigen Ansicht vom Concertgeben hat. Vieuxtemps hütet sich nämlich gegen das böse Beispiel älterer Concertisten, für welche die Jugend nicht als Entschuldigung dient, vor dem eitlen Streben, sich selbst übertreffen zu wollen, was höchstens als schöne Redensart, nie aber in der Wirklichkeit Statt finden kann. Dafür gibt er das, was er vorträgt (Leichtes und Schwieriges, und vom Letztern Außergewöhnliches) mit einer Vollendung, welcher keine Kritik etwas zuwünschen kann. Wer ihn gehört, wird ihn nie vergessen, und ein theilnehmender Leser jener lobpreisenden Berichte seyn, die er selbst in Städten zu erwarten hat, welche noch von Paganini’s Namen erschallen.”

"What must win over even the coldest listener for Vieuxtemps after a few phrases is his sound which is unusually vigorous yet so pleasing to the ear, which he always starts with utmost clarity, and which he slurs and separates with taste and precision, and makes grow and vanish, as nobody would expect from a thirteen-year-old boy. This power, accuracy, and elegance in sound and sound production, which is in no relation to his age, would surprise the listener even if Vieuxtemps were not be able to dazzle as a virtuoso. But more than the purity and fullness of his sound, what wins over all hearts for him is the beautiful soul which expresses itself in his cantabile and the noble poise which never leaves him even in the most daring passages and leads to the goal on the safe middle path between boldness and cowardice. Even the expert's keenest eye will not discover the slightest trace of being drilled and of that hollowness of feeling with which so-called child prodigies present arduously practiced outward shallow appearance as substance. What he plays comes from his heart. While on the outside he shows absolutely no motion other than what is absolutely indispensable for the handling of the instrument, in his bow and fingertips there lives a spirit in which no one can miss the born genius, and this rare, heavenly gift strikingly manifests as much in his enthusiasm as in his poise. Assuming that Vieuxtemps had begun to play in the fifth year of his life, he would hardly find a single person among hundreds who, after eight years of instruction, could rival him on purely technical grounds. For him, however, what comes from above and what not instruction can provide is far more important than what he has learned thoroughly. A letter was generously shared with me by Baron de Lannoy (who certainly may be considered a valid witness and who as a musical educator may praise yet not flatter). According to this letter, Vieuxtemps, during his stay in Vienna amid the distractions and business of his concerts, learned a composition by Beethoven for public performance; not only did he brilliantly master the copious difficulties of the piece but he also penetrated deeply into the spirit of the composition.Yet as is well known, Beethoven's genius does not reside on the outside shell but in the core. I refer to this fact so that one does not draw the hasty conclusion from Vieuxtemps's three concerts, which followed one another in quick succession, and from the soulful and ravishing performance style with which Vieuxtemps plays the compositions of his teacher Bériot, that the young virtuoso is only at home in ideas and turns of phrases that have become second nature to him from the time of his lessons. After all, he performed a concert piece by Mayseder with such virtuosity, and at the same time so with so much spirit and feeling he had to repeat it in his third concert by popular demand. Unfortunately, the speaker could not hear another concert movement by Rode, since he was prevented from arriving at the right time.What some may consider only the result of his tender age, I consider an advantage that is based on his correct view of playing concerts. Vieuxtemps guards himself against the bad example of older performers who cannot use their young age as an excuse: in their vanity they strive to surpass themselves—something that may at most be a nice saying but never happens in reality. He, however, performs everything he plays (easy pieces as well as difficult pieces, and extraordinary pieces in the latter category) with a perfection that no criticism can touch. Anyone who heard him will never forget him and become into a sympathetic reader of those  laudatory reports that Vieuxtemps may expect to receive even in cities that are still echoing Paganini's name."

4. Performances of Beethoven’s Concerto by Other Violinists 1806–1833

Though Vieuxtemps’s 1834 performance constituted an important milestone in the popularization of Beethoven’s Concerto, his claim that this was the first performance of the work since Beethoven’s death (Autobiographical letters, p. 62) is false. The following list provides details for all known 16 performances of the piece between 1806 and 1833, including at least 11 performances between Beethoven’s death and Vieuxtemps’s debut (see Johannes Gebauer. “Zur Entstehung eines Klassikers: Die Aufführungen von Beethovens Violinkonzert op. 61 von der Uraufführung bis 1844,” Bonner Beethoven-Studien, vol. 12, ed. Joanna Cobb Biermann, Julia Ronge, & Christine Siegert, Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2016, pp. 9–26):

1806, December 23: first performance, Franz Clement, orchestra of the Schauspielhaus Vienna (poster in Robin Stowell, Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Cambridge Music Handbooks, Cambridge, 1998, p. 31)

1806–1827: “frequent” performances by Clement in Beethoven’s presence, according to the father of Jacob Dont (preface to the latter’s edition of the Concerto, 1888)

1812, Feb. 13: performance by Alois Basil Nikolaus (Luigi) Tomasini jr. (1779–1858, violinist from the Neustrelitz Court Chapel), in Berlin (AMZ 14/11, March 11, 1812, p. 175)

1813: The claim made occasionally that Louis Spohr played Beethoven’s Concerto in Vienna in 1813 (e.g, Ginsburg, Vieuxtemps, p. 50) is based on misunderstood evidence. True, apparently after reading the AMZ report about the first performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Spohr asked his publisher Ambrosius Kühnel on July 16, 1807 to provide him with a copy of the piece ("Auch würden Sie mich sehr verbinden, wenn Sie mir das Violinconcert von Beethoven verschaffen könnten.”). True, several of his students and members of his circle included the Concerto in their repertoire—among them Friedrich Barnbeck, Ferdinand David,  Friedrich Wilhelm Eichler, Gottfried Herrmann, August Kömpel, and Adolf Wiele (see below). But not a single performance by Spohr himself has been documented. What has been completely misunderstood, however, is Spohr’s comment to Joachim who auditioned with the piece for him (“But now I’d like to hear you play a real violin piece,” Moser 1908, p. 291; “So, lieber Herr Joachim, das war ja alles ganz hübsch; aber nun möchte ich mal ein ordentliches Violinstück von Ihnen hören!“ Moser 1898, p. 262). Spohr did not mean at all that Beethoven’s piece was of inferior compositional quality: he merely implied that the violin writing of the Concerto did not lend itself to allow judging the player’s instrumental prowess at an audition in the way that a concerto by Rode or Spohr himself would have. Even Ysaÿe would have agreed that Beethoven’s Concerto did not include typical violinistic challenges: “Son écriture our le violon est techniquement très simple” [“His writing for the violin is technically very simple” (1968, p. 16).

1815, October 10 and 17: performances by Franz Clement, Gewandhaus Leipzig (AMZ 17/42, Oct. 18, col. 708–9; AMZ 17/47, Nov. 22, col. 791)

1816, March 10: performance by an unnamed amateur violinist, Vienna (AMZ 18/17, April 24, 1816, col. 290)

1827, May 3: performance of the first movement by Joseph Böhm (1795–1876, student of Rode and former quartet partner of Karl Holz)), Vienna (Wiener Theater-Zeitung 22/59, May 27, 1827, p. 243)

1828, March 23 and May 11: performances by Pierre Baillot, Orchestra of the newly founded Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris, led by Habeneck (Fétis, Revue musicale 3, pp. 205–6 and 376)

1829, Feb. 19: performance by Adolf Wiele (1794–1845), Hofkapelle Kassel, conducted by Louis Spohr (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 31/23, June 10, 1829, col. 379)

1829, May 7: performance of the first movement by Karl (Carl) August Seidler (1778–1840, member of the Berlin Court Chapel and son-in-law of Viennese composer Anton Wranitzky), Schauspielhaus Berlin (AMZ 31/27, July 8, 1829, col. 454)

1831, Feb. 24: performance by Leopold Jansa (1795–1875), Concerts spirituels, Vienna (Allgemeiner musikalischer Anzeiger 3/9, March 3, 1831, p. 36)

1832, April 9: performance by Edward Eliason (1811–1886), Philharmonic Society London, conducted by Ignaz Moscheles (Myles Birket Foster, History of the Philharmonic Society of London 1813-1912, London: John Lane, 1912, p. 114)

1832, Nov.10 (8?): performance by Friedrich Wilhelm Eichler (1809–1859, student of Spohr), Euterpe Orchestral Society (Musikverein), conducted by Christian Gottlieb Müller, Leipzig (AMZ 35/7, Feb. 13, 1833, 1833, Sp. 113)

1833, Feb. 3: performance by Franz Clement, Theater an der Wien, Vienna (AMZ 35/24, June 12, 1833, Sp. 397)

1834, Jan. 14: performance by Friedrich Barnbeck (1807–?, student of Spohr), conducted by Bernhard Molique, Stuttgart (AMZ 36/29, July 29, 1834, col. 482.)

1834, March 14: performance by Ludwig Maurer (1789–1878), home of Mrs. Engelhardt, St. Petersburg (Severnaya pchela [Northern Bee] 58, March 14, 1834, p. 1, see Gebauer, pp. 16–17)                                         
                                                            
© Wulfhorst 2021

3. Significance (an article about these issues is in preparation )

Prior to Vieuxtemps’s 1834 debut most performances of Beethoven’s Concerto by other violinists had elicited praise for the player but criticism for the composer. A Kassel reviewer, for example, wrote: “Violin Concerto by Beethoven played by Mr. Wiele with his usual mastery. Some listeners wished he would have chosen a different composition” (AMZ, 31/23, June 10, 1829, col. 379).

Vieuxtemps’s 1834 performance apparently signalled a significant shift in taste: unanimously, the reviewers and commentators, as evident from the quotes above, showed themselves impressed not only by his rendition of the Concerto but also by the composition itself, calling it a “masterpiece.” This shift may have been partially due to the large number of Beethoven enthusiasts among the local audiences and to the vibrant performance tradition and reception of his music in the city. But what mainly rendered the success of Vieuxtemps’s debut and of his sucessive Beethoven performances all over Europe possible was the coalescence of several interrelated trends, linked both to Vieuxtemps’s individual capacities and to general shifts in playing style and aesthetics:
• the rise in technical prowess to the level required for mastering the alleged “impossible” difficulties of Beethoven’s Concerto
• the development of a grand, lyrical style of violin playing that was the prerequisite for an adequate performance and favorable reception of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto—the style of the Franco-Belgian violin school
• the wide-spread adoption of the Tourte bow indispensable for mastering Beethoven’s violin writing
• the development of a new aesthetic concept which placed the performance in the service of the music and required the player to grasp and convey the "spirit" of the piece instead of displaying his virtuosity (cf. Wulfhorst 1998-99 and the review of Böhm’s performance in
Wiener Theater-Zeitung 22/59, May 27, 1827, p. 243)
• the emergence of a repertoire of compositions considered masterpieces of timeless value.
Vieuxtemps was at the forefront of these developments.

Henry Vieuxtemps Cadenzas to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto

© Martin Wulfhorst 2021