1790: Beethoven: Cantata on the Death of Joseph II, age 19

Mr. Peabody Says:

When do great composers fully come into their own? When do they stop sounding like other, older and well established composers? It seems to me that for Beethoven it is here that he staked his claim. He was only 19, and this just does not sound like anyone else.


I can only find a few YouTube recordings of this work, and for me the 1st was impossible to listen to because of the choir, which was constantly flat to a degree that destroyed my  listening experience. So I found another, but there is no info. Then another. Here the problem is that many people are linking to recordings, but they are not saying you is playing. So I can’t find out who is playing or singing, who who the conductor is,I hope to eventually track down the source.


  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns, strings
  • SATB chorus
  • solo soprano and bass


Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria was the last fully functioning Elector of Cologne and the second employer and patron of the young Ludwig van Beethoven. Since he was a relative of Joseph II, on his death Beethoven was commissioned to set a text by Severin Anton Averdonk to music. But the cantata was never performed in his lifetime. A planned performance in 1791 did not take place. Perhaps the music was too difficult to perform, plus there were only two and a half weeks to write and rehearse it. Beethoven finished it, an impressive feat,was impressive enough, but once the moment was gone there were no obvious reasons for further performances.


Composed when Beethoven was nineteen, it was neither published, nor apparently performed until it premiered in Vienna in November 1884, fifty-seven years after Beethoven’s death, and it was first printed in an 1888 supplement to the Complete Works. It remains one of Beethoven’s lesser-known works.

So it took until the 1880s for the world to pay attention to this early composition, written when Beethoven was only 19. It is still not very well known today, which frankly is a shame.

1 thought on “1790: Beethoven: Cantata on the Death of Joseph II, age 19

  1. This thing is scary. I hear mastery of choral form. Sounds that would he heard in later symphonies and I keep thinking of Fidelio’s overtures, too. This is a gem! I get the same “feel” as the Choral Fantasy – that he was off exploring, not just merely completing a commission.

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