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200 Years on October 27, Romberg's Canon for Garat (or was it Beethoven)!

Cousins Andreas and Bernhard Romberg were the same age, three years older than Beethoven, and all three played together in the elector's orchestra in Bonn in the early 1790's when Beethoven was 19 years old, Andreas and Beethoven on violin, and Bernhard in the cello section. Like Beethoven, Andreas Romberg modeled himself on the works of Haydn and Mozart, eventually winning a reputation throughout Europe. Meanwhile, his cousin Bernhardt became a famous and influential cellist.

We present Andreas Romberg's canon on the eve of its bicentennial; October 27 will mark 200 years since its dedication in 1815. This is the year that Andreas became Hofkapellmeister in Gotha in 1815, having moved from Hamburg. It is a fascinating time in European history.

The facsimile of this canon "An die Freunde" is available thanks to the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, Germany. Enclosed with it was a small slip of paper with a dedication to "Citizen Garat" who is undoubtedly the French tenor/baritone Pierre-Jean Garat (1762-1823). Garat was a fashionable member of The Incredibles (see "Incroyables and Merveilleuses" Wikipedia article) who fled The Terror in Paris after having entertained the French court with his three-octave range and expressive technique and interpretation. Marie Antoinette paid his debts on at least two occasions (Grove: "Garat, Pierre", accessed yesterday). Garat was a composer as well, and by 1815 was losing his voice. Romberg's note to Garat celebrates Garat's last public performance in 1800.

Pierre-Jean Garat

If both the enclosed note (not shown) and the canon were for Garat, then the presentation of the canon comes at an interesting time for Garat, in the first years of the Bourbon Restoration and Napoleon's exile in 1814, two decades since Garat after fleeing Paris was imprisoned for nine months during the Reign of Terror. Having retuned, he was made a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris. The pay was low, but with the return of the Bourbons Garat would now see the restoration of his pre-revolution salary.

The information from the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn about this note is given here with my translation:

Beiliegend ein Zettelchen 6,6 x 8 cm, mit drei Takten Noten für Klavier und Tenor und der Anmerkung: "Eine von den Stellen, womit der Citoyen Garat seine Partie in der Schöpfung anfüllt, und so vielen Beyfall und 3000 Liv. erhält". Auf der Rückseit von anderer Hand: "Von A. Romberg aus Paris geschrieben."

Enclosed is small slip of paper (6.6 x 8 cm) with three measures of music for piano and tenor and the annotation: "One of the passages in which the Citizen Garat fulfilled his part [Gabriel] in [Haydn's] Creation, and received so much applause and 3000 livres [pre-Napoleonic francs]." - On the back of the page in another person's handwriting: "Written by A. Romberg from Paris."

This second, smaller page is not digitized on the Beethoven-Haus website. The fact that Garat sang the part of Gabriel is testament to his versatile range. This is a soprano part. Yet Romberg is known as a baryton ténorisant or a baritone with the ability to sing tenor as well. Perhaps he could have sung any of the canon parts himself. It is certainly possible that the two pages are not related, but merely kept together. After all, the canon made its way to the Beethoven House in Bonn, and Beethoven and A. Romberg were friends.

La Machine Infernale

The performance alluded to in this separate note was not only Garat's last public performance but is recorded in all European history books: The performance of Haydn's Creation at the Paris Opera was the destination of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on the evening of the explosion of the machine infernale (infernal device) on the Rue Saint-Nicaise, a plot designed to assassinate Napoleon. Eight people were killed, twenty-eight wounded and forty-six houses damaged. The blast could be heard at the performance, and is said to have ruined it from the perspective of Garat who helped to organize it. The performance and the plot occurred in the year IX (nine) on the 3rd of the month of Nivôse, by the new French revolutionary decimal calendar — each month consisted of three ten-day weeks (wikipedia article) — or, for those of you who no longer use that calendar, 24 December, 1800. Haydn was arguably the most celebrated composer in all Europe, and the Creation was and still is his most loved work (Grove). Beethoven's symphonic work had not yet debuted in Paris, nor was it generally known in France until after his death two decades hence (Wallace, 106).

I have not yet found an account from Romberg's perspective, but there is every reason to believe that he was present, if not performing at the event. Bernard and Andreas had arrived in Paris about six weeks earlier for a series of performances. It is likely that Andreas became friends with Garat during the year of 1801 if they had not already become acquainted during Romberg's Paris visit in his teenage years of 1784-5.

The Canon

If you're like me, then the first thing you'll notice looking at the canon is its resemblance to the round "Hey ho, nobody at home." The resemblance is mostly superficial, but I'll have more to say about it in a later post about invertibility.

Despite the conservative diatonic harmony there are some really fine aspects to the crafting of this canon. The whole notes create a welcome formal break, and some of the subteties of invertibility are something any theorist or composer of tonal music should appreciate. For one thing, full triads are inverted in a manner bolder than one might see with J. S. Bach, partially because the harmonic meaning changes as a result of such an arrangement (measure 27). It is hard to utter universals about Bach's contrapuntal practice, but I would like to find a situation where Bach's invertible counterpoint features a full triad whose triadic fifth becomes the bass of a six-four which resolves correctly, as it does here in Romber's canon. In his canons, Bach tends to favor wise and effective contrapuntal practices that get the job done. Think of the contrary motion built into the February puzzle (BWV 1073), easily avoiding parallels. In another spot in Romber's canon, a six-four appears with D in the bass, this time passing (measure 30).

Andreas Romberg has shown impressive expertise in the subtleties of harmony produced by this SATB setting of the final four lines from Schiller's poem "An die Freunde" in quadruple counterpoint.

Alles wiederholt sich nur im Leben,

Ewig jung ist nur die Phantasie; Was sich nie und nirgends hat begeben, Das allein veraltet nie!

Everything repeats itself only in life,

Only the imagination is eternally young;

Only what has never and nowhere happened,

That alone can never become old!

Other text on the page:

Aus dem Gedichte "An die Freunde" von Schiller (From the poem "To My Friends" by Schiller)

Canon für Sopran Alt Tenor und Baß

Gotha den 27ten Oktober 1815 (The city of Gotha on the 27th of October, 1815)

Andreas Romberg

Romberg cleverly calls attention to various important features of his canon:

Writing for SATB with tessituras such as these is not the first thing that comes to mind. Romberg gives no clues other than that the voice parts are SATB. It seems unlikely that imitation would happen at the octave given the voice parts, but the solution to this is that the tenor and alto share registers. The performance challenge to this canon is clearly the managment of the tenor tessitura—Garat's forte.

The words "Alles wiederholt sich" (Everyting repeats itself) call attention to the repetitive nature of the canon. But wait! How repetitive is it? The miracle of invertible counterpoint is that it allows the re-use of melodic material in fresh textural and harmonic contexts. Without invertible counterpoint, this canon would be unbearably repetitive, with nearly every pair of measures sounding alike. Instead it is braided.

The puzzle's solution

See the longer full poem​ from which the last four lines were taken for this canon

See the October puzzle: An die Freunde on the puzzler page

Download the PDF solution on grand staff or visit the solutions page

Thank you!

Many thanks to Berthold Hoeckner at the University of Chicago who helped with deciphering Romberg's thorny handwriting, introduced me to Spiegel Online Kultur, helped me navigate through some of the German corners of the Beethoven-House website, and even tweaked a bit of my translation. Danke!

Bibliography / Webography

Garat, Pierre-Jean. French Wikipedia article (; Oct 19, 2015)

Miall, Bernard. Pierre Garat, Singer and Exquisite; His Life and His World (1762-1823). New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1913.

"Romberg, Anrdeas Jakob." German Wikipedia article (; Oct 19, 2015)

Kurt Stephenson and Valerie Walden. "Romberg." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 25, 2015,

Friedrich Schiller: "An die Freunde." Spiegel Online Kultur. (

Beethoven-Haus Bonn (

The following Wikipedia pages may also be of interest:

The French Republican Calendar

The Machine Infernale and the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise

Haydn's Creation

IIncroyables and Merveilleuses

The German Wikipedia page on Andreas Romberg is very extensive, far beyond Grove

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