Monday, May 7, 2012

A Lost Piece by Beethoven -- Yankee Doodle?

Yankee Doodle Rondo by... Benjamin Carr?

Ok, ok, hear me out. The year is 1804. Beethoven has just written the Eroica Symphony (No. 3), and he wants to dedicate it to Napoleon Bonaparte. His publisher, Simrock, won't let him, likely for political reasons. He tries to placate them by changing the dedication from "Fuer Bonaparte" to "Auf Bonaparte." They still won't budge. That familiar, melodramatic story from Ferdinand Ries takes place, of Beethoven finding out Napoleon has crowned himself Emperor and, ripping the dedication page from the manuscript, Ludwig fumes,"Now he is just another human-rights-trampling, Europe-invading thug!" (or somesuch)

Even after all this, in August 1804, Beethoven writes to Simrock that the name of the symphony is "really Bonaparte." However, what's done is done, and the editions of the full score that eventually make it to print (the unauthorized British version from Boosey in 1809, the authorized German version in 1822) bear the familiar dedication and title.

Could Beethoven have been so incensed by Bonaparte's power grab and adventurism or even by the restrictions placed on him by a skittish publisher that he wrote a little rondo based on Yankee Doodle later that year and sent it to Benjamin Carr, the leading publisher in Philadelphia at the time? Might cooler heads have prevailed and induced Beethoven to allow Carr to publish the piece (in 1804-5) under his own name rather than letting Beethoven's authorship be known? Have I been Punk'd? You be the judge.

To my ears, it sounds like Beethoven, and it does not sound like anything else of Carr's available for listening on Youtube. But I could always allow that Carr might have been a surprising talent with a great love for Beethoven and a great gift for imitation.


Wikipedia, "Symphony No. 3 (Beethoven)". Retrieved from on May 7, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Benjamin Carr." Retrieved from on May 7, 2012.