Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


An Unexplored Reference to the Vienna Volkstheater in Beethovens Conversation Books


Music & Dance


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


In an entry in summer 1825 from one of Beethovens conversation books the notebooks in which his friends wrote to converse with him after he became deaf Beethovens friend Karl Holz quotes from three recent literary works. He begins with two lines from the ninth strophe of Schillers Ode to Joy, which Beethoven had not included in his setting, adding Dieser Text ist nicht mehr in Ihrer Symphonie / Lied an die Freude, 8 Strophen. Next, he quotes successively, without comment, from two plays from the Vienna popular theater: first, Ferdinand Kringsteiners Die Braut in der Klemme (1804), a Verwienerung of the Bluebeard story, and then from Joachim Perinets Kaspar der Fagottist (1791). The editors of the conversation books do not annotate this passage or identify the quotations, perhaps because they are not familiar with the Volkstheater examples. The conversation books can be challenging to interpret, since only one side of the conversation is preserved. In this talk, I will explore various implications and possible meanings of the passage. First, it is important because it shows that Beethoven and his circle were familiar with key Volkstheater works, even those from two to three decades earlier. Second, it shows that they either found it natural, or perhaps appreciated it as ironic, to combine references to high and low art. This type of combination is in fact central to the Verwienerung tradition exemplified by the Kringsteiner example, a practice of setting a classic legend or folktale (other examples include Greek myths and Othello) among the ordinary folk of Vienna. This aspect of the situation is continued in the passage immediately after the Volkstheater references, which juxtaposes Kotzebue with Goethe and Shakespeare with Hanswurst. Another significant element in the series of quotations is that it moves quickly from Schillers grand abstractions to the ordinary and vulgar. The Bluebeard passage comes from the moment when the husband discovers that his wife has opened the forbidden door; this leads to a passage from the Bassoon Duet of Kaspar der Fagottist, in which Kaspar explains to his bassoon student that he must leg den Finger auf das Loch. Thus juxtaposed, the two Volkstheater quotations have clear sexual implications. How does this connect backward to the Schiller quote? There are a few possible links. The lines quoted from Schiller are Allen SÃndern soll vergeben und die HÃlle [nicht mehr sein].This association with sinfulness may lead up to the Volkstheater examples. Immediately before this, the conversation concerns Beethovens various doctors and their advice on what he should eat and drink, so it may be relevant that the door opened by Bluebeards wife in the Kringsteiner play reveals not the bodies of his former wives, but rather his wine cellar. This passage, no matter how brief, suggests a great deal about the Beethoven inner circle and its connections to ordinary Viennese life.

Conference Name

German Studies Association

Conference Location

Denver, CO

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