BEETHOVEN'S 1792 OBOE CONCERTO IN F-MAJOR
In 1964 Beethoven scholar Elliot Forbes tantalized oboe players around the world with solid evidence that Beethoven had surely written the Oboe Concerto mentioned by Haydn in a letter he wrote in 1793 to Beethoven's patron, the Elector of Bonn. On page 126 of his edition of Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Forbes added a transliteration of three incipits (opening lines) from a Beethoven manuscript for each of the three movements of an Oboe Concerto in F-major. Forbes found the incipits in the Beethoven Music Archives in Bonn as No. 135 in a catalogue of Beethoven manuscripts.
Incipits were written out by composers of Beethoven's time for use by the publishers of their works. Added to catalogues of musical compositions, they acted as enticement to players of the day to buy such works as the Beethoven Oboe Concerto. Since both Diabelli and Artaria were mentioned by Thayer, writing in the 19th century, as having the Beethoven Oboe Concerto in their possession, it may be assumed that the incipits were intended for the catalogues of one of these famous publishers.
The Bonn incipits written by Beethoven in short score show the following: 1st movement in F-major, Allegro moderato --four measures of the ritornello scored for 2 oboes and 2 bassoons senza strings, jumping then to the opening of the first episode and the solo oboe entrance; 2nd movement in Bb major -- ritornello for the 1st violins breaking off after a few bars to give the oboe entrance; 3rd movement in F-major, Allegretto--part of the rondo theme.
In 1970 a little-noticed major event occurred in the oboe world. The British Museum published a book of miscellaneous manuscripts by Beethoven known collectively as the Kafka Sketchbook. This book was presented in facsimile and in transliteration by Joseph Kerman, another major Beethoven scholar. Contained in the Kafka Sketchbook are not only sketches, but also drafts for complete movements of much of Beethoven's music which eventually reached publication within his lifetime. On page 150 of the facsimile is found a draft for the second movement of the identical Oboe Concerto in F-major which had been published in its incipit format by Elliot Forbes 6 years earlier! The transliteration to modern notation is given by Joseph Kerman on pages 126 and 127 of the companion volume.
This draft is most interesting because it was from here that Beethoven would have made his full score. In this draft Beethoven is working at the keyboard, and gives us the melody line of the various themes of a large sonata form, for the most part without the accompanying harmonies. There is one spot where the bass line is written out and another where figured bass is given for a major harmonic idea. Sitting at the keyboard, Beethoven would have been accompanying the written-down themes with figuration current in other works of that period which have come down to us, and would be envisioning the orchestration of various passages, particularly keeping in mind the limitations of the 18th century instruments in use. The draft is remarkable for the number of times Beethoven changed some aspects of the line: the oboe part proceeding the orchestral ritornello, leading to the cadenza, was reworked several times and is most difficult to decipher.
About three years ago, excited by the possibilities presented in the British Museum's manuscript, I began to consider making a reconstruction of the entire second movement. For me it would become the ultimate keyboard harmony assignment; as music theory books always put it: "Harmonize this melody." But I did not jump right into this project because I had read an article on Heinz Holliger in the IDRS publication To The World's Oboists (vol. I-2, 1973) where it was clear that Holliger was well aware of the British Museum's manuscript. I reasoned that Holliger, a major composer in our age, probably would have finished a reconstruction by this time if he had not already found the original parts, and recorded the complete concerto! So I put all thoughts of the Beethoven out of my mind.
In the winter of 1980-81, during the semester break, I began to busy myself with florid ornamentation of the slow movements of Handel's Opus I Oboe Sonatas. I always undertake this kind of work at the piano. At the time I still had xeroxes of the Beethoven Concerto in my studio. When I tired of working out the ornamentation to the Handel, I turned to the concerto and began to reconstruct the harmonization.
As I worked many questions came to mind. What was Beethoven's orchestration going to be for such and such a spot? Was Beethoven studying Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach when he wrote this? And what other works of Beethoven written during this period should I be studying? At first I could not put the Concerto down; day after day I worked upon it. I even began to lose sleep over what the harmonic relationships were between the various themes. I was forced to stop working on the Beethoven in order to complete the florid ornamentation for the Handel sonatas.
I was to learn later that during this same period Louis and Renata Rosenblatt were also beginning to work out a reconstruction of the same Beethoven manuscript! As it turned out, the Rosenblatts did not complete their project.
After the Handel ornamentation was complete, I returned to the Beethoven Concerto and many weeks passed as I worked on this great puzzle. (This was tougher than any New York Times crossword I had ever seen!) There were so many items to be worked upon; harmonies had to be logically derived from the melodic material, themes missing in the recapitulation in this large sonata form structure had to be gotten from the exposition (and vice versa!) and then transposed into the correct key, taking in to account stylistically correct key relationships. (Beethoven was found to be highly immersed in medians and in sub- mediant relationships in this work.) A cadenza also had to be composed. The most difficult procedure was the orchestration to be worked out from the few cues given in the Bonn manuscript. Providing an authentic Eighteenth Century orchestration meant that an entire system of possible harmonic progressions had to be worked out for the 6 wind instruments of the orchestra: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons and 2 horns. The French horns, being unvalved during Beethoven's time, proved to be the most demanding instruments to write for, especially in this slow movement where typical horn figuration is in order.
There were many questions regarding the solo oboe part where Beethoven himself has given multiple solutions for several passages. For instance, Beethoven changed the first entrance from its ascent to high F in the draft to high D for the incipit of that movement. Dynamics and articulation had to be well thought out according to Beethoven's style in his early period: this meant consulting the Quintet for Oboe, Bassoon, and Three Horns and also the Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn.
I completed the reconstruction of the second movement of Beethoven's Oboe Concerto in the Spring of 1981. Through the help of Jim Lakin my edition was brought to the attention of Jim Ledward at Nova Music in London. At this writing I await the proofs from Nova Music and I expect the finished product to be available by early 1983. I also recorded the completed movement in an oboe-piano version for Orion Master Recordings in the summer of 1981 and have been sending the record to prominent oboists around the world in order to build interest in a complete performance with orchestra. Ralph Gomberg is thinking about it, at least!
At the moment I am pursuing the location of the entire concerto. Bob Probasco alerted me to a fantastic cache of Beethoven manuscripts which were recently found in Poland where it had been hidden during the last days of World War II as Berlin was being evacuated. The works in this find are being catalogued in Cracow at the Jaggielonian Library and I understand that they will be returned to East Berlin as soon as an agreement can be worked out. In the meantime, I had a friend write a letter to the Music Librarian of the Jaggielonian in his most courtly Polish asking if the Beethoven Oboe Concerto was part of the collection. After a year of waiting, there has been no answer, therefore, all things being equal, logic indicates that the Beethoven Concerto must be there! Or perhaps the old story that the only existing score and parts were destroyed in a fire in Diabelli's store room is true.
While I await an answer from Cracow, I am looking into the question of an Oboe Concerto by Franz Schubert that Miroslav Hosek mentions in his Oboen Bibliographie as being published in the Soviet Union!