Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Emperor Joseph cantata seems worth checking out [UPDATED]

More Beethoven blogging: When I posted about the RAW-recommended Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis, I got an interesting anonymous comment (feel free to out yourself, if you like):

The Missa Solemnis is wonderful. If you're inclined to look in more obscure areas for Beethoven's work, give the Cantata on the Death of Joseph II a listen. He wrote it while he was still in Bonn, but he missed the deadline, so it wasn't performed. It's powerful. He recycled some of the music into Fidelio, and it includes the first version of what became (and evokes the reaction) "O Gott, welch ein Augenblick!"

Addendum: It was Gary McGath, he didn't mean to be anonymous, see the comment. 

This is an intriguing recommendation for a couple of reasons.

It's an early work. Hipsters (like RAW) like to bring up the late works, and many of Beethoven's "greatest hits" come from the middle period. I like all that, too! But I also really like early Beethoven, (and when I recently read a biography of Sviatoslav Richter by Karl Rasmussen  I discovered that Richter liked early Beethoven, too). I really like the third piano sonata (Richter does a great performance) and the first piano concerto (ditto for Richter) and I like The Creatures of Prometheus, an early work of ballet music. So I'm inclined to give the cantata a fair hearing.

And there's also a connection to the Illuminati, believe it or not.

Robert Anton Wilson has said that when he made Beethoven a member of the Illuminati in Illuminatus!, he did it as a joke, not realizing until later that there was an actual connection: “Actually, a few things that I thought I invented did turn out to be true, oddly enough. The one I still remember is Beethoven’s link to the original, real, historical Illuminati. I invented that as a parody of right-wing books on the Beatles serving Moscow – but hot damn years later I found, in a bio of Ludwig, that he had several associates in the Illuminati and the Illuminati commissioned his first major work, The Emperor Joseph Cantata." (Joseph II had his faults, but he pushed many liberal reforms, so the radicals of the time liked him.) 

Jan Swafford's Beethoven biography goes into considerable detail about Beethoven's Illuminati connections and the cantata. 

As with other Beethoven work, even relatively obscure compositions, it's easy to find recordings of the cantata on streaming music services, and I've bookmarked one to listen to during the next few days. 

UPDATE: Eric's comment reminds me that I meant to cite him as my on-call Beethoven expert, and I just forgot. I will blame getting old. Eric told me he has a CD of the piece and said, "I recommend listening to the Emperor Joseph Cantata at least a few times."


Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Gary McGath said...

That was me (Gary McGath, in case the problem happens again) recommending the work. Being anonymous was unintentional; I thought I was logged into Google and it would show my name. Yes, Beethoven did have an Illuminati connection. At the time, the Illuminati were similar to the Freemasons, to which Mozart and Haydn belonged, but rather more secretive. I'm glad my earlier comment let you enjoy this wonderful work!