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Ludwig van Beethoven, Sieben Bagatellen für Klavier op. 33, Autograph

Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H. C. Bodmer, HCB Mh 5

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Bagatelles from childhood?

Beethoven's seven Bagatelles for Piano op. 33 were published in1803 by the Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir. However the autograph score (which Beethoven made as the engraver's model for the Viennese publishers) bears his handwritten date "1782". Beethoven was eleven years old at this time (he was born in mid December 1770)! Max Unger, a Beethoven scholar in the mid twentieth century, believed the authenticity of this date. Unger assumed that Beethoven had reworked musical ideas from his childhood and was referring to this in the date. More recent Beethoven research refutes this idea. In four of Beethoven's sketchbooks - "Landsberg 7", "Keßler", "Sauer" and "Wielhorsky" - there are drafts for the Bagatelles. It is quite clear that he used all four sketchbooks between summer 1800 and May 1803 at the latest. The date "1782" therefore does not have anything to do with the genesis of the Bagatelles. The solution is much more prosaic. Beethoven made a slip of the pen. Wrong numbers and mixed up numbers are not a seldom occurrence with Beethoven. Several letters and manuscripts bear implausible dates, which confused scholars for a long time. On closer inspection it is clear that something else was written underneath the seven in the autograph score shown here. Beethoven most likely wanted to write the correct date "1802" and made a mistake without noticing. He made the same mistake in a letter to Countess Susanna Guicciardi on 23 January 1802. In this case he also wrote "1782", but the year is quite clearly 1802 as can be seen from the context. (J.R.)

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