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The Dancer Who Made Beethoven’s Ninth Happen

Beethoven’s secretary, Anton Schindler, also began secretly negotiating with the suburban Theater an der Wien. There was talk of the Burgtheater, which was the other imperial house, and the small Landständischer Saal as alternatives.

At the end of March, Schindler visited Duport to request the Great Hall at the Hofburg, or Imperial Palace, for a repeat Beethoven concert. (This hall was also under Barbaja’s administration.) Since plans hadn’t yet been finalized for the first concert, Duport may have been confused, but he agreed. It was an unsettling time for him. Barbaja was in Naples under house arrest, charged with attempting to burn down the Teatro di San Carlo to conceal accounting irregularities. He was eventually exonerated, but Duport, who had spent the previous year in Karlsbad taking the waters for an unknown ailment, was undoubtedly distracted.

For that planned repeat performance, Duport could only offer Beethoven the Hofburg’s smaller hall, prompting the composer to threaten to call off the concerts. As for the initial event, Schindler was still pushing for the Theater an der Wien, but Beethoven wanted Schuppanzigh as concertmaster. When the musicians balked at using outside workers, the An der Wien was out. The Kärntnertor was back in.

On April 24, Duport received a letter from Schindler with a lengthy list of demands. Beethoven wanted the date of the concert to be either May 3 or 4, and expected an immediate response; the situation was “urgent.” One can only imagine what must have gone through Duport’s mind; he had faced down Napoleon and now had to deal with the self-important Schindler. But Duport had deep respect for Beethoven and agreed to hold the first concert at the Kärntnertor and the second in the Hofburg’s Great Hall.

The Ninth required an 82-member orchestra and 80 singers, stunning for that time and more than twice what Duport could offer. As a result, Beethoven had to supplement with amateurs from the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. And since Beethoven wanted the full forces onstage, Duport also had to approve the building of scaffolding and risers. The solo singers complained that the high notes were beyond their reach. Government censors interfered with the planned excerpts from the “Missa Solemnis.” Beethoven wanted to open the concert with his “Consecration of the House” Overture, but couldn’t find the score.

With the concert only a week away, Duport had yet to give Beethoven a formal contract; one of the composer’s friends suggested reporting the manager to the police commissioner. But on the evening of May 7, a large crowd began filing into the thousand-seat theater. Though Beethoven had hand-delivered invitations to members of the court, the imperial box was empty; the nobility had already left town for the summer. With only two full rehearsals and little time to study the score, the conductor, Michael Umlauf — with Beethoven at his side — made the sign of the cross before he gave the downbeat.

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