Tag Archives: Classic era

Not Luka Sorkočević

In 2015 the Hrvatska pošta produced a stamp honoring the eighteenth-century Croatian composer Luka Sorkočević, inadvertently illustrated with an image of the U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.

The mistake was discovered just before the stamp’s release, and the entire run was withdrawn and destroyed, though one post office had sold 22 examples of it prior to the release date.

In view of the events and given the fact that apparently no copies had yet reached the philatelic market, a 2018 advertisement from the auction house Barac & Pervan noted that this stamp should become widely sought after; and since this rarity is also important for the American philatelic market, its value is expected to increase over time.

This according to “Unissued stamp from 2015 supposed to show Mr. Luka Sorkočević” (Barac & Pervan 2018). Below, one of the composer’s symphonies.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography, Reception

William Herschel at the crossroads


William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.

The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.

The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.

This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII [1981] pp. 5-18).

Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.

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Filed under Classic era, Science

Beethoven and King Max


Beethoven was known for his unwillingness to show subservience to the aristocracy, but sometimes others might do it for him, as when his friend and occasional librettist Aloys Weißenbach tried— without the composer’s knowledge and without success—to wangle him an Order of Merit from King Maximilian I of Bavaria. When Breitkopf & Härtel issued his 1811 Chorphantasie, op. 80, with an inscription to King Max, Beethoven wrote in protest:

“To what in Heaven’s name do I owe the dedication to the King of Bavaria? Explain it to me immediately. If you meant it as an honorable gift to me, then I want to thank you; for the rest, such a thing does not suit me at all. Did you dedicate the work yourself, personally, perhaps? How does this fit together? One cannot with impunity start dedicating things to kings.”

This according to “Ludwig van Beethoven: Verhinderter Träger eines bayerischen Verdienstordens” by Robert Münster (Musik in Bayern 73 [2007–2008] pp. 207–14).

Above, Maximilian I; below, the Chorphantasie.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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Beethoven’s traffic accident

On 15 February 1819 the leading Dutch newspaper Nederlandse staatscourant reported that Beethoven had been seriously wounded when he was run over by a carriage. The notice, a translation of a French report issued the day before, used strong language that implied that the internationally revered composer must have been hospitalized with broken bones or a concussion, and could be in mortal danger.

The report was an example of an international game of telephone—successive notices in various countries had piled on exaggerations to sensationalize the story. The earliest report, from the Frankfurter journal on 29 January 1819, was a much blander account:

(The composer van Beethoven, because of his weak hearing, suffered the misfortune of being knocked down and injured.)

It is possible that even this was an exaggerated version of a neighbor’s anecdote from around that time, in which the composer slipped and fell in the mud, and furiously refused to let the laughing bystanders help him to his feet.

This according to “Beethoven run over: A curious traffic accident in early 1819” by Jos van der Zanden (The Beethoven journal XXVI/1 [summer 2011] pp. 26–27).

Above, Beethoven as he often appeared on the streets of Vienna around 1819, depicted by the sculptor Johann Daniel Böhm (1794–1865), a friend of his at the time; below, Evgeny Kissin performs the Rondo a capriccio, op. 129 (“Rage over a lost penny”) as an encore.

More posts about Beethoven are here.


Filed under Classic era

Beethoven’s missing trunks

After Beethoven’s biographer and sometime secretary Anton Schindler (inset) was exposed as having forged certain entries in the composer’s conversation books, scholarly suspicions were raised regarding all of Schindler’s activities—not least, he was blamed for the 22-month gap in his collection of these books, from mid-September 1820 to June 1822. Since his forgeries had tended toward self-aggrandizement, many scholars assumed that Schindler had destroyed these priceless documents because they somehow undermined the image that he wanted to project.

An article in the Stuttgart Morgenblatt on 5 November 1823 absolves Schindler of this crime. In it, Johann Sporschil profiled the composer in glowing terms and added, by way of a human interest angle, that Beethoven had lost a great deal of his correspondence when he had recently moved from the country to the city. The gap in the missing correspondence exactly matches the gap in the conversation books, indicating that both sets of documents were lost in one or more of the trunks that the composer himself had, in a surviving letter, rued having had to transport.

This according to “Anton Schindler as destroyer and forger of Beethoven’s conversation books: A case for decriminalization” by Theodore Albrecht, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Above, a page from one of the surviving conversation books.

More posts about Beethoven are here.


Filed under Classic era, Curiosities


Beethoven-Haus in Bonn is one of RILM’s newest subscribers.

Besides maintaining a museum in the house where the composer was born and keeping up with writings about him and his works, the organization offers an online digital archive where visitors can listen to Beethoven’s music and view manuscripts, correspondence, and images—over 5,000 documents on 26,000 scans and about 7,600 text files and 1,600 audio files.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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