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Le générique du Bulletin
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July/August 2003
Vol. 35, no. 4
ISSN 1492-4676

Contents Next Article

A Journeymanís Passion and Canadaís Triumph

Trevor Clayton, Communications

"I am a music teacher in Quebec in North America."

So begins a letter of introduction dated December 14, 1825, from a young, unknown composer who travelled to Vienna to be in the presence of one of musicís greatest. Historically, this introduction initiated the correspondence leading to what would arguably become the most valuable piece of musical Canadiana in this country.

"Your works have delighted me so often that I consider it my duty to pay you my personal gratitude while passing through Vienna, all the more so since I have had a great desire to meet the distinguished Beethoven."

The introduction, written due to Beethovenís deafness, came from Theodore Frederic Molt (1795-1856), a German-born Canadian immigrant who, after serving in Napoleonís army, established a strong reputation in Quebec for musical instruction in 1822 and sought to continue his studies during a trip to Vienna in 1825. Of course, another passion provoked Molt on his 3000-hour journey, or 125 days across land and sea, and that was to meet the man whom many consider to be the worldís greatest composer.

Impressed by the arduous journey undertaken by Molt to meet him, Beethoven received the young Canadian warmly and agreed to compose a piece of music for Moltís return to North America. The request was again sent by letter, which included a plain leaf of composition paper.

"Highly honorable Sir!

When I recently took the liberty to visit you I saved (up) one wish to you which I obediently dare to lay before you in this letter: After my departure I shall never again have the luck to come near you. Pardon me therefore if I lay before you a little leaf from my album which shall remain for me in a distance of nearly 3000 hours (whither I am travelling again from here) an eternally precious document. I consider myself lucky to have seen several of those famous musicians of Europe whom I knew in America from their works and I shall be proud to be able to tell my friends over there, who are likewise fellow-worshippers of you "Behold, this Beethoven has written for me from his great soul"! Permit me till tomorrow that I may call for a kind answer.

With extraordinary respect
obediently devoted servant
Theodore Molt
Music teacher
In Quebec in North America

The generous response was Beethovenís canon Freu Dich des Lebens (Kinsky, Works without Opus no. 195), which bears the inscription "From the depths of my soul. L. V. Beethoven. December 16, 1825."

The canon is written to the words "Get joy from your life," and was composed on Beethovenís 55th birthday, two years before his death. It remains his only known connection to the New World.

Molt sailed back to Canada in 1826 with his prize. He would publish several musical instruction books, including the first bilingual one to appear in Canada, and his own version of one of Canadaís oldest patriotic songs, Sol canadien, terre chérie.

The Beethoven manuscript came to Moltís eldest son upon the teacherís death in 1856. Its next known owner was Berlin antiquarian J.A. Stargardt, who acquired it in 1933. For some time the canonís fate was unclear, until in 1966 it appeared and was sold at a New York auction and then bought from the purchaser by Montréal bibliophile Lawrence Lande. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired it in 1979.

Shortly after acquiring the canon, Lande commissioned Montréal composer Alexander Brott to paraphrase the piece under the condition that Beethovenís melody remain intact.

Brott wrote and conducted his Paraphrase in Polyphony on a Theme by Beethoven as a McGill University centenary project in November 1967. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra gave a second performance in January 1968, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made a recording of it on the RCA Victor label.

Freu Dich des Lebens is part of the Lawrence Lande fonds of Library and Archives Canada. To learn more about the LACís music collections, visit www.collectionscanada.ca/music/.