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Sonata for Piano (E-flat ma.) op. 81a

Listening samples
1. Das Lebewohl (Les Adieux). Adagio - Allegro (365 kB)
2. Abwesenheit (L'Absence). Andante espressivo (365 kB)
3. Das Wiedersehn (Le Retour). Vivacissimamente (365 kB)

Composition
1809-10
Dedicated to Rudolph Erzherzog von Österreich

Beethoven composed his op. 81a sonata under the influence of the Napoleonic Wars. On 1 April 1809 Austria declared war on France. At the end of the month French troops crossed the Austrian border and marched on Vienna. On 4 May the imperial family, including Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's student, patron and friend, decided to leave Vienna and flee to Hungary. Seven days later, on 11 May, the French bombarded Vienna, and Beethoven allegedly spent the night with pillows over his head in the basement, wailing and complaining since the roar of the cannons hurt his already impaired hearing. The following morning French troops seized Austria's capital. In October 1809 the war parties signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn. But Archduke Rudolph did not return until 30 January 1810. On the occasion of his most important patron's departure (Rudolph himself was an accomplished pianist) Beethoven composed a piano sonata. The autograph of the first movement bears the following inscription: ‘The Farewell / Vienna, May 4th, 1809 / on the departure of His Imperial Highness, the revered Archduke Rudolph’. Beethoven may well have started the composition in April and not on Rudolph's day of departure. The other movements, ‘Abwesenheit’ (absence) and ‘Wiedersehen’ (return) definitely postdate September 1809.

Beethoven called op. 81a a ‘characteristic sonata’, referring to it less as programme music than as an expression of his state of mind and feelings with musical means. However, he always called the sonata itself ‘The Farewell, Absence and Return’ and was quite enraged when he realised that the original publisher also printed the title in French: ‘I have just received the Farewell etc. and must notice that there are other copies with a French title, why so? Farewell is quite different from "les adieux"; it is spoken only to one person with the warmest affection, the other to a whole gathering, whole towns’ (BGA 523). No one received more dedications from Beethoven than Archduke Rudolph. The musical description of his feelings during Rudolph's absence was certainly the most beautiful and intimate way for him to express his friendship. (J.R.)

Music manuscripts
Skizzen, NE 147
Überprüfte Abschrift, op. 81a, 2. und 3. Satz, NE 274

First editions
Originalausgabe, op. 81a, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1588-1589, C 81a / 12
Originalausgabe, op. 81a, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1588-1589, C 81a / 22
Originalausgabe, op. 81a, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1588-1589; Teilscan, HCB C op. 81a
Originalausgabe, op. 81a, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1588-1589; Teilscan, J. Van der Spek C op. 81a
Frühdruck, op. 81a, Artaria, 2215, C 81a / 24
Frühdruck, op. 81a, Artaria, 2215, C 81a / 18

Scores
Bibliographic data in library catalogue

Written documents
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Wien, 4. Februar 1810, HCB Br 85
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Baden, 21. August 1810, HCB Br 88
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Baden, 23. September 1810, HCB Br 89
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Wien, 12. April 1811, HCB Br 323
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Wien, 20. Mai 1811, HCB Br 95
Brief an Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, Wien, 9. Oktober 1811, HCB Br 97
Billet an den Erzherzog Rudolph, Wien, 16. Oktober 1811, HCB BBr 112
Brief an Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig, Wien, 2. Juli 1810, HCB Br 322

Pictures
Rudolph (1788-1831), Erzherzog von Österreich, seit 1819 Kardinal und Erzbischof von Olmütz - Anonymes Ölgemälde, vielleicht von Johann Baptist von Lampi, 1. Hälfte 19. Jahrhundert?, B 2644
Rudolph (1788-1831), Erzherzog von Österreich, seit 1819 Kardinal und Erzbischof von Olmütz - Stich von Blasius Höfel nach einer Zeichnung von Adalbert Suchy, um 1820, B 186
Rudolph (1788-1831), Erzherzog von Österreich, seit 1819 Kardinal und Erzbischof von Olmütz - Portrait in Aquarell und Gouache von Friedrich Johann Gottlieb Lieder, Wien, um 1823, um 1823, B 2997
Rudolph (1788-1831), Erzherzog von Österreich, seit 1819 Kardinal und Erzbischof von Olmütz - Anonyme Lithographie des 19. Jahrhunderts, Mitte 19. Jahrhundert?, B 499
Rudolph (1788-1831), Erzherzog von Österreich, seit 1819 Kardinal und Erzbischof von Olmütz - Fotografie eines Stichs von Blasius Höfel, Um 1920?, NE 81, Band III, Nr. 488

Literature
Bibliographic data in library catalogue

Literature for further reading
K.-J. Sachs, Beethovens "Lebewohl" für Erzherzog Rudolph : Zum Kopfsatz der Klaviersonate Es-Dur, op. 81a, Les Adieux, Bonner Beethoven-Studien 4, 2005

Manuscript sources in other libraries
Berlin: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv
Österreich, Wien: Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Archiv, Bibliothek und Sammlungen

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E-Mail: bibliothek@beethoven-haus-bonn.de