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The Royal Philharmonic Society - Beethoven and the Society

Beethoven was a mainstay of the Philharmonic Society's repertory from its inception. A symphony was played at the first concert, and at least one of his works was given at each of the other concerts of that first season.

Bust of Beethoven by J. Schaller presented to the Society in commemoration of the Centenary of Beethoven's birth

Bust of Beethoven by J. Schaller presented to the Society in commemoration of the Centenary of Beethoven's birth © The British Library Board

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Negotiations with the composer soon began, with Charles Neate, Ferdinand Ries and Sir George Smart among the intermediaries. Three overtures new to England were bought from him in 1815; in 1817 an invitation for him to visit London was first extended. (Cherubini had paid a successful visit in 1815 and written three works for the Society.)

In 1822 Beethoven accepted a commission for a new symphony. It was slow in coming, and early in 1823 he sent another overture, 'The Consecration of the House', as a sign of his good intentions. It was not until the end of 1824 that a manuscript score of the 'Choral' Symphony arrived, carrying on its title-page a dedication to the Society in Beethoven's own hand.

Label for the Philharmonic Society score of Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Label for the Philharmonic Society score of Beethoven's 9th Symphony © The British Library Board

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The final direct link came early in 1827 when the mortally ill composer wrote to Smart and two other friends in London, J.A. Stumpff and Ignaz Moscheles, telling them of his reduced circumstances. The Society's response was immediate: a special general meeting of 28 February 1827 resolved that £100 should be sent. Beethoven expressed his gratitude through a letter to Moscheles: 'I will undertake to return to the Society my warmest thanks by engaging to compose for it either a new symphony, sketches for which are already in my desk, or a new overture, or something else which the Society might like to have'.

This letter was dictated just 8 days before Beethoven's death and his Tenth Symphony remained unfinished and survives in sketch form only. More than a hundred years later George Bernard Shaw referred to that gift of £100 as 'the only entirely creditable incident in English history'.

Directors of the Philharmonic Society with the Bust of Beethoven

Directors of the Philharmonic Society with the Bust of Beethoven © The British Library Board

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The score of the 9th Symphony that Beethoven sent to the Philharmonic Society has been preserved in its archive and is now RPS MS 5. The manuscript can be seen on exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.

Theme from the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Theme from the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony © The British Library Board

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