20 December 2021
Our Beethoven exhibition draws on the British Library’s rich collection of Beethoven material to reflect on the composer’s creativity, his struggles, and the impact and legacy that he has left to future generations. This is a rare opportunity for visitors to see a wide range of Beethoven material together and up close.
To mark the occasion, this blog post draws together all the digitised Beethoven sources that are freely available via the British Library website.
Autograph scores and sketches
Central to the exhibition, and the British Library’s Beethoven collections, are the autograph scores and sketches for works from across the composer’s life. These include collections of miscellaneous loose pages, later bound together, as in the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany (named after a previous owner, Johann Nepomuk Kafka, 1819-1886) which includes a draft for an early symphonic movement in C minor.
There are also examples of the bound sketchbooks that Beethoven used from 1798 onwards, mostly dedicated to specific works, such as the one for The Ruins of Athens, found at the front of the ‘Kafka’ miscellany (ff. 1-37). A particularly magnificent example is the sketchbook for the ‘Pastoral’ symphony, which also includes ideas for the op. 70 piano trios, among other things. Also featured are finished scores of complete pieces, such as the op. 30 no. 3 violin sonata and various songs.
- Add MS 29801, the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany: 124 leaves of sketches for works composed in the period 1782 to 1798, with a sketchbook for The Ruins of Athens bound at the front. Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 29803, ff. 1-2v. Cadenza for the rondo of Mozart’s piano concerto no. 20 in D minor, WoO 58. Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 29997. Miscellaneous sketches, including material for the String Quartet in C sharp minor, op. 131 (1826). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 31766. Sketchbook for the Pastoral Symphony and other works (1808). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 37767. Violin Sonata in G major, op. 30 no. 3 (1801-2). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 38069, f. 8. Three-part canon, ‘Ars vita, longa brevis’, WoO 192 (1825).
- Add MS 38070, ff. 51-52. Sketch for the andante of the String Quartet in C sharp minor, op. 131 (1826).
- Add MS 47852, f. 2. Two staves only from the top of page of sketches. The verso relates to the finale of the string quartet op. 39 no. 1 (1806).
- Add MS 47852, ff. 4-11. Lied, Gesang aus der Ferne, WoO 137, words by Christian Ludwig Reissig (1809).
- Add MS 47852, ff. 12-17. Lied, Der Liebende, WoO 139, words by Christian Ludwig Reissig (1809).
- Egerton MS 2327. Variations on National Airs, op. 105/107. Twelve themes copied out by Beethoven, with his sketches for some variations (1818).
- Egerton MS 2795. Pocket sketchbook mainly for the String Quartet in B flat, op. 130 (1825). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Zweig MS 6. Sonata in A major for cello and piano, op. 69: sketches for movements 3 and 4 (1808). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Zweig MS 8. Sketches for Clärchen’s song ‘Die Trommel gerühret’ from the Incidental music for Egmont, op. 84 no. 1 (1809-10). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Zweig MS 9. Incidental music to Kotzebue’s play Die Ruinen von Athen, op. 113: off-stage music for wind band only (1811).
- Zweig MS 10. Lied, 'Der Kuss', op. 128, words by Christian Felix Weiße (1822).
- Zweig MS 11. Three-part canon ‘Kurz ist der Schmerz’ from Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans, WoO 166 (1815).
Musical sources with Beethoven’s annotations and corrections
Three items here are sources, either printed scores or copyist manuscripts, with annotations and corrections in the composer’s hand. These include Beethoven’s own copy of his very early piano sonatas and a score of the violin concerto sent to London for publication in a version for piano and orchestra. You can find out more about this manuscript in this blog post.
- Add MS 41630, ff. 1-41. Piano solo part of the Triple Concerto, op. 56 (1807).
- Add MS 41631. Beethoven’s copy of the first edition of the piano sonatas, WoO 47, with his fingerings (1783). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Add MS 47851. Viennese manuscript copy of the Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61, arranged for piano and orchestra (1807). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
The collection of the Austrian writer and collection, Stefan Zweig, contains many documents that show us something of the human side of Beethoven’s life – from the humdrum, such as food and laundry lists, to letters, poetical reflections on nature, and even a moving sketch of the composer on his deathbed.
- Zweig MS 13. Letter to Dr Johann Bihler, April 1817.
- Zweig MS 14. Beethoven’s Memorandum Book, 1792.
- Zweig MS 15. Copies by Beethoven of the text of five poems from ‘Morgenländische Blumenlese’ by Johann Gottfried Herder, with brief observations on nature by Beethoven (1815?). Find out more about this on our Discovering Music site.
- Zweig MS 30. Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by Josef Danhauser (1827).
- Zweig MS 207. Drawing of Beethoven on his deathbed by the artist Josef Teltscher (1827).
- Zweig MS 208. Letter to Stephan von Breuning between 1805 and May 1813.
- Zweig MS 209. Beethoven’s kitchen accounts (before 1827).
- Zweig MS 210. Beethoven’s last laundry list (1827).
- Zweig MS 213. List of those contributing to a collection for Beethoven’s servants after his death, with receipts from two servants (1827).
Over 200 published editions of Beethoven’s music are also available online, with around 80 dating from the composer’s lifetime. These can be searched in the main online catalogue at http://explore.bl.uk, and using the filter options to select the ‘Online’ viewing option.
You can also visit our Discovering Music pages, which feature further articles, people pages and collection items relating to Beethoven.
Our Beethoven exhibition is open until 24 April 2022. During the festive season our hours vary, so please check our opening times before you visit. Everyone must wear a face covering while they’re here, and we’re working really hard to keep everyone safe.
Chris Scobie, Lead Curator, Music Manuscripts