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Ludwig van Beethoven, Sechs Bagatellen für Klavier op. 126, Autograph

Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H. C. Bodmer, HCB Mh 23

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Music as security for a loan

Beethoven called his six Bagatelles for Piano op. 126 "Kleinigkeiten" ("Trifles"). Here you can see a fair copy of the autograph score. In a letter to the publishers B. Schott's Söhne in Mainz from around 23 November 1824, Beethoven wrote that these miniatures were "probably the best of this kind which I have composed" (from the translation by Emily Anderson, 1961). In the Leipziger Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung a contemporary critic wrote: "These six more or less short movements contain more truly new and completely characteristic elements, partly in the melodies or harmonies themselves, partly in the construction and form, than many an opera act."
Although well crafted, the Bagatelles were only an occasional work for the composer. In 1822 Ludwig van Beethoven was in financial difficulties and so borrowed money from his brother Johann. The latter was a clever businessman and did not rely on his brother's word but had him sign over works to him as security and also hand over the relevant manuscripts. This package included the six Bagatelles op. 119, which Johann wanted to sell to a publisher in France. However, the composer thwarted this plan by selling the work to London. To compensate his brother and creditor, Ludwig now saw himself obliged to find a suitable alternative: he composed six new bagatelles - the "trifles" op. 126 shown here, which he signed over to Johann. (J.R.)

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