Lucy Turner

Beyond Sketch Studies: The Autograph Manuscripts of Beethoven’s Opp. 74 and 127 as Records of Stylistic Innovation

Sketch studies have long predominated scholarship on Ludwig van Beethoven’s compositional process. Autograph manuscripts have been less frequently and extensively studied, perhaps because they are regarded by many as reflecting a product rather than a process While autograph manuscripts are inarguably indispensable for the preparation of critical editions and other publications, they are also rich sources of information on the latter stages of Beethoven’s creative process. By the time a composer reaches the autograph stage in composing a work, they’ve presumably settled on the bulk of the musical material at hand. An autograph manuscript can therefore provide insight into the questions of what is still to be worked out in a composer’s mind after they think the “working out” is complete. Autographs can thus reveal what remains troublesome or gives the composer unexpected pause.

By examining the autographs of Beethoven’s string quartets Op. 74 and Op. 127, we discover that some late-stage changes in these manuscripts may also reflect stylistic innovation on the part of the composer. The string quartet Op. 74 (“Harp”) dates to Beethoven’s so-called middle period. In the autograph of this quartet, we see revisions in the cadenza-like coda of the first movement, as well as unusually layered process in composing the variations form of the finale. These two processes are especially significant in light of the Classical forms Beethoven was both employing and transforming in this period of compositional output. In the string quartet Op. 127, the first of his five late quartets, the autograph evinces the last-minute addition of four pizzicato chords to open the scherzo movement, a highly unusual gesture that leads us to consider the importance of these measures both to the construction of the scherzo of Op. 127 and to the role of introductory material in Beethoven’s late style.

In this paper, I seek to suggest a way forward for our study of autograph manuscripts as essential reflections of Beethoven’s creative process, particularly by exploring the idea of late- stage changes as part of not only the compositional trajectory of a work, but the creative trajectory of the composer’s oeuvre. It follows reason that that which is new for a composer – a manipulation of form, an instrumental texture – might also require extended compositional effort or cause uncertainty that lasts through the very end stages of a work’s composition. By exploring the confluences between autograph-stage changes and stylistic ingenuity, we can come to an understanding of the relationship between Beethoven’s compositional process and musical innovation.


Columbia University, USA

Is a PhD student in Historical Musicology at Columbia University in New York, NY, where she began in 2016. Originally from North Carolina, Lucy holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Vanderbilt University in violin performance with a concentration in musicology, for which she completed an honors thesis entitled “Music in a Familiar Accent: Linguistic Rhythm as Nationalist Sentiment in the Music of Sibelius, Enescu, and Janáček.” She went on to receive a Master of Music degree in violin performance from Boston University. At Columbia, she teaches Masterpieces of Western Music in the Columbia Core curriculum, where she enjoys introducing students to the historical, artistic, and cultural complexity surrounding Western art music. Her musicological research focuses on early Austro-German Romanticism, chamber music, manuscript studies, and the music of Beethoven, particularly form and meaning in the string quartets.