Seow-Chin Ong. The Autograph of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, Op.97

Thus wrote Beethoven to his friend, benefactor, and pupil, Archduke Rudolf sometime after 12 March 1811. Preoccupied with the Princess’s visit and a sore finger, His Royal Highness was, in all likelihood, temporarily unable to have his music lessons with Beethoven. Ironically, this minor accident gave the composer time to complete the masterpiece that now immortalizes the Archduke’s name more than any other composition dedicated to him.

Work on the “Archduke” Trio, the most expansive, lyrical, and deeply felt of all the composer’s works in this genre, had, in fact, begun the year before. Although completed in the early months of 1811, it was not published until 1816, in two parallel editions by Steiner in Vienna and Birchall in London. This unusually long delay has been remarked upon on several occasions, often with the assumption or implication that Beethoven never sought to sell the work prior to 1815, when he apparently initiated events that led to publication the following year. But that was not the case, for the composer had offered it to Breitkopf and Härtel soon after it was completed in a letter of 12 April 1811. Why that venerable Leipzig firm did not publish it then is evident from another letter written several years later, ironically at the time when both Steiner and Birchall were busy preparing to issue their
first editions of the work. Writing to Härtel on 19 July 1816 in response to repeated offers to include new Beethoven compositions in the catalogue of the firm, Beethoven reminded the publisher that Härtel had refused to pay him the sum of 100 gulden for the work, even though elsewhere the composer could have obtained, as he claimed, “50 or even 60 gold ducats for that kind of composition.” Härtel, Beethoven pointedly remarked, “cannot expect me to be a loser.”

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