Windows into Beethoven’s Lessons in Bonn: Kirnberger’s Grundsätze (1773) and Vogler’s Gründe der Kuhrpfälzsichen Tonschule (1776)

Beethoven’s lessons in Vienna with Haydn and Albrechtsberger are well studied (e.g., Diergarten and Holtmeier 2011; Ronge 2011; 2013), but his early music education in Bonn is less well known. In this paper, I investigate what Beethoven would have learned from studying two music treatises in Bonn, which Gustav Nottebohm (1873) connected to Beethoven’s early Bonn manuscripts: Kirnberger’s Die wahren Grundsätze zum Gebrauch der Harmonie (1773, henceforth Grundsätze) and Vogler’s Gründe der Kuhrpfälzischen Tonschule in Beyspielen (1776, henceforth Beyspielen).

Vogler’s Beyspielen, originally developed for his students in Mannheim after his sojourn in Italy, would have been an ideal source for Beethoven’s early lessons due to its highly compact and pragmatic orientation. At only 30 pages long with no explanatory text, Vogler’s book functions like a highly organized Zibaldoni (see Sanguinetti 2012)—a collection of tightly packed musical examples that Vogler would have collected in his training with Padre Martini and Francesco Antonio Valloti. In many respects, Vogler’s book synthesizes the northern Italian, Rameau-influenced partimento tradition: Beethoven would have practiced scales in every key, diminution patterns, the rule of the octave with fundamental bass notated, sequences, solfeggio patterns, cadential embellishments, and more.

Kirnberger’s Grundsätze, a text ghostwritten by Johann Schulz, would have been another excellent source for Beethoven to study in Bonn. As David Beach (1979) observes, the Grundsätze condenses the harmonic theory of Kirnberger’s larger Die Kunst des reinen Satzes (Part 1, 1776), but it differs in two important ways. First, Rameau’s influence is more evident in the Grundsätze, both in the chapters on harmonic progression and harmonic analysis, and second, the treatise develops a more comprehensive theory of what is today called harmonic prolongation.

When Beethoven left for Vienna, he had already composed praised works, including a piano concerto and three quartets for piano and strings (Solomon 1972). As scholars rediscover Bonn’s rich musical life (Reisinger et al. 2018; Wilson 2020), the time is ripe to reinvestigate Nottebohm’s findings in Beethoven’s Bonn manuscripts. Vogler’s Beyspielen and Kirnberger’s Grundsätze, while less known today, offer informative windows into Beethoven’s formative music studies in Bonn.

Works Cited

Diergarten, Felix, and Ludwig Holtmeier. 2011. “Nicht Zu Disputieren: Beethoven, Der Generalbass Und Die Sonate Op. 109.” Musiktheorie 26 (2): 123–46.

Gooley, Dana. 2018. “Fantasies of Improvisation: Free Playing in Nineteenth-Century Music.” In The School of Abbé Vogler: Weber and Meyerbeer. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. doi.

Kramer, Richard. 1975. “Notes to Beethoven’s Education.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 28 (1): 72–101. doi.

Nottebohm, Gustav. 1873. Beethoven’s Studien (Erster Band): Beethoven’s Unterricht Bei J. Haydn, Albrechtsberger Und Salieri Nach Den Original-Manuscripten. Leipzig und Winterthur: Verlag von J. Rieter-Biedermann.

Ronge, Julia. 2013. “Beethoven’s Apprenticeship: Studies with Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and Salieri.” Journal of Musicological Research 32 (2–3): 73–82. doi.

Sanguinetti, Giorgio. 2012. The Art of Partimento: History, Theory, and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2020. “Beethoven and Tonal Prototypes: An Inherited and Developing Relationship.” In Beethoven Studies 4, edited by Keith Chapin and David Wyn Jones, 1st ed., 144–65. Cambridge University Press. doi.

Wilson, John D. 2020. “From the Chapel to the Theatre to the Akademiensaal : Beethoven’s Musical Apprenticeship at the Bonn Electoral Court, 1784–1792.” In Beethoven Studies 4, edited by Keith Chapin and David Wyn Jones, 1st ed., 1–23. Cambridge University Press. doi.

———. n.d. “A School of Whiz Kids Grows Up: Antonín Rejcha, Ludwig van Beethoven, Andreas and Bernhard Romberg, and Lessons Learned in Bonn.” Beethoven Und Andere Hofmusiker Seiner Generation. Bericht Über Den Internationalen Musikwissenschaftichen Kongress Bonn, 3. Bis 6, 237–52.

Wyzewa, Théodore. 1889. “La Jeunesse de Beethoven.” Revue Des Deux Mondes 95 (September): 418–48.