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Volume 13 • Number 2

Fall 2006


On the String Quartet, Op.95

by Seow-Chin Ong

Beethoven's Voice

I am pleased to know that my date of 1810 for the op.95 autograph sits well with William Drabkin. As for his skepticism about Beethoven's claim, which appeared in a letter of May 1813 to Zmeskall, the Quartet's dedicatee, that the composer had "forgotten to have [the autograph] copied" for him, even though the music had been completed a few years earlier, I should clarify that there is, again, reason to take the composer at his word. In that letter, Beethoven had asked Zmeskall to have a copy of the score made at his expense, and the manuscript now cataloged as Bk 5/17 in the Beethoven-Archiv is most likely that copy, despite the fact that the manuscript is not in the hand of a hired copyist (as one would expect) but Zmeskall himself (see Hans Schmidt, "Die Beethovenhandschriften des Beethovenhauses in Bonn," BJ 7 [1971], item 725 on pp.724–25). I have examined Bk 5/17 firsthand. The name "F RITSCHEL" (not "F RITSCHER" as given by Schmidt) and the other features of the watermark indicate a date of no earlier than 1811 for the paper (see Georg Eineder, The Ancient Paper-Mills of the Former Austro-Hungarian Empire and Their Watermarks [Hilversum: Paper Publications Society, 1960], p. 130), two years before Beethoven's letter to Zmeskall. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Zmeskall's score was probably copied straight from the composer's autograph. The question is: if Bk 5/17 was made at Beethoven's request, why did Zmeskall write out the score himself and not hire a copyist to perform the task? Did he do so because he wanted a tangible personal connection with the music from a dear friend who was also Europe's most celebrated composer, or because he could not find a copyist? Or was there another reason that is now lost to us?

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