Beethoven's tuning fork

Description

We hold a number of unusual Beethoven-related items, including his laundry list, a set of his kitchen accounts and even his tuning fork. But how did we come to acquire the latter?

In 1803, the virtuoso violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was introduced to Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna. Beethoven had already begun sketching the first two movements of his Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin in A major, opus 47, commonly known as the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. The work received its first performance at the Augarten-Halle in Vienna on 24 May 1803, with Bridgetower as the soloist and Beethoven himself playing the piano part. Bridgetower introduced an alteration to the violin part, which reportedly pleased Beethoven so much that he jumped up exclaiming ‘Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!’ (‘Once more, my dear fellow!’).

Beethoven had initially intended to dedicate the sonata to Bridgetower. In typically playful fashion, he made reference to the violinist’s heritage in the earlier initial title ‘Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [Bridgetower], gran pazzo e compositore mulattico’ (‘Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, great madman and mulatto composer’). Both musicians exchanged tuning forks before their friendship eventually soured, apparently after Bridgetower spoke unfavourably of a friend of the composer. Beethoven then dedicated the sonata to a different violinist, Rodolphe Kreutzer. Ironically, Kreutzer never performed it, even declaring it unplayable.

Beethoven’s tuning fork changed hands several times in the following decades, until Gustav Holst received it in 1921. After his death it was given to his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose widow, Ursula, went on to present it to the British Library in 1992.

The fork is preserved in a wooden box with walnut veneer. Tests have shown that it resonates at 455.4 Hertz, over half a semitone higher than today's standard of 440 Hertz.

Read more about Beethoven's tuning fork in this blog article.

Full title:
Tuning fork said to have been given by Beethoven to the violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower
Format:
Tuning fork
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 71148 A

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Nicola Benedetti in Sky Arts' Treasures of the British Library

Article by:
Elliot Sinclair
Theme:
British Library on Sky Arts: Famous faces explore the Library

Violinist Nicola Benedetti pays a visit to the Library to explore the manuscripts of her musical and literary heroes.