WoO 228a Ah Tobias, scherzo musicale

Musicalischer Scherz NGA XII-2 AGA –

Scrive Mark Zimmer sul sito www.unheardbeethoven.org : This heretofore uncatalogued musical puzzle [now catalogued as WoO 228a in the revised Kinsky-Halm catalogue] is yet another in the enormous number of musical jokes and tidbits written by Beethoven to his friend publisher Tobias Haslinger. This brief fragment of a couple measures with the lyric “Ach, Tobias! Ach! Tobias” is found in a letter to Haslinger that is believed to date from 1825. In the letter, Beethoven chides Haslinger for sending him a barber, insinuating that Haslinger thinks he is too good to cut Beethoven’s hair. This musical puzzle follows, and Beethoven goes on to invite Haslinger to breakfast–but not late breakfast; apparently Haslinger was a late riser or slow in the mornings.

The letter appears as Letter 1457 in Emily Anderson’s Letters of Beethoven. However, the transcription of the piece there is quite erroneous, containing several errors in its two measure span. First off, the accompaniment notes, two identical chords without stems, are transcribed in Anderson as rests. Second, the two notes in the last measure are transcribed there as two 8th notes. However, a close inspection of the original reveals that the transcriber confused the ‘b’ of “Tobias” with a flag for the first note. The pattern should be quarter-8th, which makes much more sense rhythmically.

The puzzle lies in the proper accompaniment that should match the scolding tones of the vocal line, with D-flat, E-flat and C-flat accidentals noted, based on the chordal clues (which are entirely lacking accidentals) that Beethoven has left. Willem realized that the solution was to resolve the puzzle in the key of F minor. We present here in a single MIDI file first the correct puzzle as written (lacking the accidentals in the accompaniment), followed by Willem’s solution, and then finally a progression through the keys bringing the scolding puzzle back to the home key.

Regarding the solution, Willem says this about the harmonies: First, my reasoning why the key at the start should be F minor: the first two notes are F and D flat. That’s either F min (IV) or B flat min (I). The next note is a G natural. If it had been B flat minor we would have expected a G flat. Therefore, using Occam’s razor, my conclusion F minor.

To explain the last note, C flat, I postulate a modulation from F to A flat. This creates the opportunity to expand, in an utterly logical way, Beethoven’s 2 bar snippet into a complete phrase. By repeating the 2 bars, but now starting in A flat minor, we get to B minor. By repeating it two more times, we end back in the original key of F minor. (F -> A flat -> B -> D -> F). Of course, Beethoven may not have had this in mind at all, but it gives us a little bit more to listen to.

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