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by Theodore Albrecht

*A fully footnoted version of this article may be found in The Horn Call: pdf Volume XXIX, No. 3, May 1999

Premiere performances of soon-to-be-recognized masterpieces often gather about them a body of legend colored by hindsight and more than a little wishful thinking. After its first performance on May 7, 1824, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony soon became the subject of many such reminiscences and reports.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the fourth horn solo in the third movement of the Ninth had developed its own lore. As Richard Hofmann recounted in his 1893 Praktische Instrumentationslehre:

Oral tradition has it that at the time of Beethoven, Levi, a fourth horn player in Vienna, possessed a recently discovered ventil-horn; on the ground [basis] of this discovery it was imagined that all horn passages could be played with equal quality of tone. Probably for this reason Beethoven (who could scarcely have heard it himself in his ... later works) wrote the difficult passage for the 4th horn in E-flat. The whole part lies badly for the player, and in view of the tone there seems no doubt that the second half of the solo is better on the E horn...

Contributing to the lore in a different way, in 1900, Baker's new Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (certainly drawing upon earlier lexica) listed hornist Eduard Constantin Lewy, his younger brother Joseph Rudolph (also a hornist), and several other family members. According to Baker, Eduard Constantin supposedly went to Vienna in 1822, summoned by Conradin Kreutzer, who had been appointed Kapellmeister of the Court Opera at the Kärntnertor Theater there.

In a 1925 Musical Times article, W.F.H. Blandford explained that the so-called "fourth" horn was merely the low voice in a second, differently-crooked pair of horns employed in the third movement. He also demonstrated (some years before the current early music revival) that nothing in the solo itself was beyond the capability of a reasonably accomplished hand hornist whose specialty was low horn. As for Lewy's role, Blandford reiterated the best of what was then known about the hornist's life, noting that until further evidence came to light, no conclusions were possible. While occasionally incorporating earlier sources of varying reliability, most authors since Blandford have essentially cited his observations with little further commentary. It seems the time is ripe for a new investigation into Lewy's life, career, and his first years in Vienna, including his relationship with Beethoven.

Eduard Constantin Lewy's Early Life

Eduard (apparently né Elias or Élie ) Constantin Lewy was born at Saint-Avold (in the Moselle Département) on March 3, 1796. He received his first musical instruction from his father Élie Lewy (for whom he was apparently named), a violoncellist who had been a Kammermusikus (chamber musician) in the service of the Duke of Deux Ponts [Zweibrücken], a cousin of Carl Theodor, the Elector of Mannheim. Virtually nothing is known about the elder Élie's origins, but the family was Jewish; whether they came from France, Germany, Bohemia, or elsewhere is likewise uncertain, but they were probably part of that generation of Jews who, much like the older Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin, found liberation from Medieval restrictions through the Enlightenment. Judging from the known birth years of his two sons, Élie Lewy may have been born around 1765-1770.

By 1802, the family must have moved further southwest, to Nancy, where his younger brother Joseph-Rodolphe (also destined to become a famous hornist) was born on April 2. Through the protection of the French General Michéle, Eduard Constantin was sent, at the age of 14, to the Conservatoire in Paris, where he received training on the horn, which he chose as his principal instrument. His teacher there was the German hornist Heinrich Domnich (1767-1844), who had lived in Paris since 1783. He also seems to have studied, at least occasionally, with Frédéric Duvernoy (1765-1838). Additionally, Lewy was a proficient violin and violoncello player, and for this reason was attracted into many quartet groups. In 1812, he entered military service (presumably as a bandsman) and, with the Old Guard, participated in campaigns until the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815). At the beginning of the Restoration, King Louis XVIII named him Regiment Band Director and "Trumpet Major." Later he left the service and made musical tours through France and Switzerland, settling in Basel in 1817.

When reporting a concert by Basel's orchestra under Alexander Uber in the fall of 1818, an unsigned but garrulous Basel correspondent for Leipzig's Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung wrote: "We heard with pleasure a very diligent, talented hornist, Herr Lewy [play] a pleasing, well-crafted concerto by Duvernoy. We reserve for ourselves a more detailed judgment of him, if only he gives us the occasion to become further acquainted with him."

The meeting of the Schweizerische Musikgesellschaft held in Basel in June, 1820, included two concerts; the first appears to have consisted of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, performed by a large orchestra, and Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten with an equally large chorus. At the second concert, as reported in the AmZ, "Herr Elias Levi [sic] also earned justified approbation through his skill on the horn, which he handled with the greatest delicacy and clarity."

While in Basel, Lewy married Jeanette Weiler, and his eldest child Charles (later called Carl) appears to have born in Lausanne in early 1823. There can be little doubt that Conradin Kreutzer, who reportedly met Lewy in Basel and appreciated his talent, called him to Vienna to assume the position of solo horn in the Imperial Opera at the Kärntnertor Theater. But, since most sources relate that this move took place in 1822, and one would hope that Lewy was in Switzerland for at least part of 1823 when son Carl seems to have been born, the chronology obviously needs some re-examination.

Kreutzer's Appointment in Vienna

If the circumstances and dates of Eduard Constantin Lewy's appointment to the Kärntnertor Theater's orchestra are in any way a result of Conradin Kreutzer's appointment as Kapellmeister there, we must determine a more precise record of Kreutzer's early activities in Vienna than has heretofore been available. Born in Messkirch, Baden, in 1780, Kreutzer led a peripatetic life, seldom spending more than a few years in any one place, and often touring even while holding a specific appointment. He spent ca. 1800-1804 in Switzerland, and then in 1804 went to Vienna, where he met Haydn and was probably a student of Albrechtsberger. From 1810, Kreutzer toured Germany and Switzerland, and was appointed Kapellmeister in Stuttgart in July, 1812, holding the post until 1816. He then worked in Schaffhausen before being appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Karl Egon von Fürstenberg in Donaueschingen from 1818 until 1822. Kreutzer assumed this position with the understanding that it was far from centers of musical activity and that he could supplement his activity there by touring.

In 1821, Kreutzer received a six-month leave (and more), which he used for tours to Vienna and Switzerland. It is likely that he met Lewy during this time. On Easter Monday in April, 1822, Kreutzer (noted as "Prince Fürstenberg's concertmaster and Kapellmeister from Donaueschingen") gave a concert at noon in Vienna's Landständischer Saal. The program consisted entirely of his own compositions, including Variations for two horns, which the Viennese correspondent of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung termed "very difficult and not very grateful."

Kreutzer returned briefly to Donaueschingen, but immediately received a longer leave to return to Vienna to prepare the production of his upcoming opera Libussa, with a tour around Germany along the way. Libussa proved enormously successful at its first performance on December 4, 1822, although at a repeat performance under Kreutzer's direction on January 2, 1823, the house was "hardly half full." Kreutzer supplied music for benefit concerts in the Kärntnertor Theater on February 12 and 15, 1823, without any title noted in the AmZ's report. Similarly, a report of another benefit concert, held at the Theater on March 30, at which Kreutzer performed, notes him simply as Kapellmeister, but with no further details. On May 22, 1823, however, Kreutzer, now identified as "Kapellmeister in the Imperial Royal Theater next to the Kärntnertor," gave a morning concert at the Augarten Hall, including his own Phantasie and Rondeau de Chasse on the Panmelodicon, with two obbligato horns.

Thus Kreutzer's appointment at the Kärntnertor Theater followed Libussa, but was probably not effective until March or even May, 1823. Under such circumstances, he probably would not have been in a position to recommend or make new orchestral appointments — including Eduard Constantin Lewy — much before Summer, 1823.

Hornists in Vienna at the End of 1822

Before discussing Eduard Constantin Lewy's arrival in Vienna, a survey of the hornists professionally active in the Habsburg capital immediately beforehand might prove profitable. At the end of 1822, at just about the time that Kreutzer premiered his Libussa, the Kärntnertor Theater's horn section consisted (alphabetically, here and below) of Camilla Bellonci, Friedrich Hradetzky, Johann Janatka, and [Joseph] Kail. The suburban Theater an der Wien (privately owned) was the only other Viennese stage to employ four horns on a regular basis: Benedict Fuchs, Michael Herbst, [Joseph] Kowalowsky, and [Michael] Sack. Joseph Bauchinger and Philipp Schmidt played at the Court's Burg Theater (which mostly produced spoken plays, including many with music); Franz Kankora and one Zelenka at the newly-refurbished Josephstadt Theater; and Aloys Grohowsky and Ignatz Hirtl at the decidedly popular Lepoldstadt Theater. Camilla Bellonci and Friedrich Hradetzky (both of the Kärntnertor Theater), along with the veteran Willibald Lotter (or Lother, 1762-1844), played in the Imperial Hofkapelle (Court Chapel). In addition, trumpeter Joseph Weidinger as well as violinist and trumpeter Martin Vökel were also active as hornists during this period.

Among the hornists at the Kärntnertor Theater, Friedrich Hradetzky (ca. 1772-1846) was probably senior-most, but was seemingly also a low horn player. As a young man, he had come to Vienna from Bohemia. By 1796, he had substituted in the Court/National Theater orchestra, but when low hornist Jakob Eisen died on April 10 of that year, Johann Hörmann (ca. 1748-1816) was hired instead. The absence of Hradetzky's name from Court Opera Orchestra lists until ca. 1808, along with his continuing activity in these years, suggests that he may have found additional employment at the Theater an der Wien. On April 30, 1809, at a colleague's benefit concert in the Kleiner Redoutensaal, Hradetzky played Beethoven's Horn Sonata, Op. 17, with Carl Czerny at the piano. He also performed, probably as low hornist to Joseph Kowalowsky's high, on the December, 1813-February, 1814, premieres of Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, along with Wellington's Victory. With the death of Johann Hörmann in 1816, Hradetzky received the additional appointment as hornist in the Imperial Hofkapelle. When Hradetzky gave a concert in the Kleiner Redoutensaal for his own benefit on April 12, 1818, he included Carl Czerny playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 on his program. The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung noted "his masterful handling of the horn," and Beethoven's biographer Anton Schindler, doubtless reflecting the composer's own opinion, called him "the great horn player Hradetzky."

Joseph Kail (Kayl/Khayl) seems to have been principal hornist at the Kärntnertor Theater in 1822. Born at Gottesgab, Bohemia, in 1795, Kail studied at the Prague Conservatory and became first horn at Pest in 1819. While in Vienna, from 1822, he worked with Uhlmann and the Kerners on the development of the valve. In 1825, Kail returned to Prague as first horn of the Landesständisches Theater.

The other high hornist in the Kärntnertor Theater orchestra was Johann Janatka or Janaka (1800-after 1832), who had been a fellow-pupil with Kail in Prague, and who came to his post in Vienna in 1822. In 1828, he succeeded Michael Herbst as first horn at the Theater an der Wien, but returned to Prague in 1832.

By process of elimination, and because he seemingly substituted for Hradetzky in the Hofkapelle, Camilla Bellonci must have been the Kärntnertor Theater's other low hornist in 1822. Born in Italy and trained in France and Germany, he was employed in the opera orchestra in Vienna in 1808. On March 25, 1818, at a concert in the Kärntnertor Theater to benefit the Fund for the Poor (a program including Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, "performed in a very mediocre way"), Bellonci and Max Joseph Leidesdorf performed "Variations" for piano and horn, which, along with some vocal pieces, "received the greatest applause."

Viennese Concerts Featuring Horns in 1823

During this era, the horn was a prominent solo instrument in Viennese concerts, most of which were potpourri affairs consisting of virtuoso vocal and instrumental solos or ensembles, usually with an overture or two, and sometimes with a symphony of greater or lesser substance. One typical grand Akademie (concert) in the Kärntnertor Theater, on February 12, 1823, was sponsored by the Society of Noblewomen for the Promotion of Charitable Purposes. The thirteen works on the concert included Beethoven's Egmont Overture, a vocal quartet and a chorus by Kreutzer, and Variations for Horn, composed and played by Michael Herbst. Another concert for the Beneficial Institutions, held in the Kärntnertor Theater on Pfingsten (Whit Sunday), May 18, included an unattributed "Jäger-Chor," accompanied by six horns, performed by students of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde's Conservatory, presumably under Herbst's directorship.

The Augarten, an expansive formal garden at the north end of suburban Leopoldstadt, was the site of many of Vienna's summer concerts, held outside the hall if weather permitted, inside if not. At the Augarten Hall's morning concert of May 22, 1823, Conradin Kreutzer programmed seven items, including his own Phantasie and Rondeau de Chasse on the Panmelodicon with two obbligato horns. Another summer concert, at the Josephstadt Theater on August 19, included the overtures to Méhul's Le jeune Henri and Weber's Der Freischütz.

In none of the above reports after February, and especially for the August 19 concert, at which the Josephstadt Theater's customary pair of horns must have been augmented to a quartet, is there any mention of the hornists' names. Frequently, newly-arrived or high-profile artists are mentioned in reports of these concerts, so this lack suggests that "customary" personnel, whether regularly-employed or free-lance, made up the horn sections and pool of soloists that were heard. If a potential star such as Eduard Constantin Lewy had been in Vienna for much of the year, he probably would have merited some mention. As it stands, there is none.

But an ominous cloud appeared on the horizon. The Italian impresario Domenico Barbaja (ca. 1778-1841) had leased the Kärntnertor Theater from the Imperial Court late in 1821, and soon issued termination notices to many members of the company, as well as reductions in salary to many others. On April 13, 1822, Barbaja began a Rossini festival of six extraordinarily successful productions, with the Italian composer himself present. Many Viennese, including Beethoven and his circle, regarded the popular "Rossini fever" with some alarm, from both artistic and economic viewpoints. It is possible that the production of Kreutzer's Libussa in December, 1822, and the subsequent appointment of Kreutzer to a Kapellmeister's post was calculated to dispel some concern among the Viennese. By June, 1823, there was talk of dividing the Theater an der Wien's company, so that the operatic wing would move to the Kärntnertor Theater, and by July, the rumor was that the move would be accomplished within the next five months. Morale in the Kärntnertor Theater's orchestra began to decline. On May 18, 1823, principal contrabassist Anton Grams, long a unifying force in its musicality, died at the age of 70. Players who could sought more secure employment elsewhere, especially at the Court-operated Burg Theater, only a few blocks distant and still within the city's walls. As the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung's reporter unflatteringly opined: "The old and well-established reputation of this orchestra ... became a farce."

Lewy's Earliest Performances in Vienna

Among the first musicians to breathe new life into the orchestra were Eduard Constantin Lewy and the bassoonist Theobald von Hürth. While Hürth arrived in Vienna on November 23, 1823, Lewy's exact date of arrival remains unknown. Their first recorded public performance, however, was a brief Akademie before a performance of the ballet Der Pilger at the Kärntnertor Theater on January 23, 1824. The program, presumably conducted by Conradin Kreutzer, consisted of the following pieces:

Beethoven, Overture to Prometheus

[Luigi] Belloli, Concertino for horn, performed by Herr Lewy

[Carl] Bärmann, Allegro from a Bassoon Concerto, played by Herr Hürth

Rossini, Aria [unidentified], sung by Madame [Theresia] Grünbaum

Kreutzer, Concertante for Bassoon and Horn, performed by Messrs. Hürth and Lewy

Doubtless the benefit concert was meant to welcome the newly-appointed or soon-to-be-appointed colleagues. Writing shortly afterwards, the Viennese correspondent for Leipzig's Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung noted their status: "They are said already to have been engaged for service in the Theater." In a report that did not appear until two months later, and which may have tacitly interpolated later developments, the local Wiener Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (and presumably its editor Friedrich August Kanne) commented: "These two artists ... have come to Vienna from Switzerland. ... Both are already engaged as members of the excellent orchestra of the Kärntnertor Theater and therefore remain within our walls."

Thus, both Lewy and Hürth must have arrived in Vienna very late in 1823; were probably engaged for the Kärntnertor Theater orchestra by January 23, 1824; and were publicly recognized as official orchestra members by March 24. Moreover, Kreutzer's Concertante, doubtless written especially for the new arrivals, supports the suggestion that the Kapellmeister was indeed instrumental in their engagement and that he had known them earlier from his own travels in Switzerland.

A word about Hürth is appropriate here. Born in Landau on December 5, 1795, Hürth was appointed chamber musician to the Grand Duke of Hesse and first bassoonist at the Court Theater in Mainz (probably when the court was re-established in 1816 after the Napoleonic wars) and, in 1818, set out on a tour of the principal cities on the Continent. In February and March, 1820, he performed in Berlin with great success. Later in March or in April, he appeared in Weimar and, sometime during the 1821-22 season, played a concert in Zürich. Thus, Hürth and Lewy were both active in Switzerland at the same time, and under these circumstances were ultimately recruited for Vienna by Conradin Kreutzer after he himself toured there. In 1839, Hürth replaced August Mittag as professor of bassoon at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde's Conservatory and, in 1840, inherited Franz Höllmayer's position as a bassoonist in the Hofkapelle. He died on March 9, 1858.

The critics were uniformly enthusiastic about Lewy and Hürth's concert of January 23, 1824. The correspondent for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung wrote that they were "two admirable artists; the hornist especially possesses significant dexterity" and, after lamenting the Kärntnertor Theater orchestra's recent decline, added, "the entry of new, proficient members is all the more to be wished." The Wiener AmZ was more detailed in certain aspects of its commentary, declaring that the Beethoven overture was "played by the orchestra with great precision." Regarding the hornist, it opined somewhat vaguely: "Despite the fact that his embouchure appeared somewhat impeded and that his disposition did not appear to be entirely favorable, Herr Lewy solved the difficulties given to him with all ease and bravura, and received well-earned approbation from those present." As for bassoonist Hürth, "he possesses ease and bravura in the high and low [registers] and, at the same time, plays a very pleasant dolce in expressive passages, a great advantage in the case of this instrument." Summing up, the Wiener AmZ wrote: "Both guests greatly distinguished themselves and were given the appreciation they deserved," but included a strange caveat: "We are convinced that these two artists ... need to orient themselves only a little to the taste prevalent here, and they will surely know how to make demands upon the public's interest in an even more brilliant manner."

Soon Lewy and Hürth found themselves becoming part of Vienna's musical establishment, including participation on the frequent benefit concerts. On April 18, 1824, the Kärntnertor Theater hosted an Akademie to benefit the Charitable Institutions. Among the twelve selections that made up the program, accompanied by orchestra, was the Concertante for bassoon and horn by Kreutzer, a repeat of the duo's performance of January 23. Its many other participants included the singers Theresia Grünbaum, Caroline Unger, and Henriette Sontag. Indeed, Unger and Sontag would be among the soloists at the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony less than three weeks later.

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