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The Music Library of Maximilian Franz, Elector of Cologne: an identification and analysis of its surviving music-dramatic sources, 1780-1794

FWF Projekt P25274

head: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Birgit Lodes
researchers: Mag. Dr. John Wilson, Dr. Elisabeth Reisinger, BA

in cooperation with: PD Dr. Juliane Riepe (Halle/Germany); Beethoven-Haus Bonn 

Projektbeschreibung in Deutsch


Maximilian Franz (1756–1801), the youngest son of Maria Theresa and Elector of Cologne from 1784, was known as a discerning musical patron with an extensive collection of scores, which he made available for court performances as well as for use and study by court musicians. Remembered by music history primarily as the first employer and supporter of Ludwig van Beethoven, the Habsburg elector’s reign marks the period at the Bonn electoral court when musical life in was arguably at its most vibrant, which directly corresponds with the composer’s formative years as assistant organist in the court chapel. Shortly before French forces occupied Bonn in 1794, the elector’s music library, containing over 3500 works, was moved to safety. At some point after his death, the surviving remnant of this collection was transferred through dynastic connections to Modena, where it still is preserved today in the Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, but whose provenance had until very recently never been systematically tested.

The central goal of this project was to first identify and analyze by strict codicological standards the surviving scores and performance parts that belonged to the elector’s music-dramatic collection. This way, it was possible not only to reconstruct large parts of the original library and securely attribute several sources with Bonn provenance, but also to discern trends in the adaptation and performance practices at the Bonn opera. Further questions were also addressed: How did the music collection come about, first in Vienna and then in Bonn? Which persons (such as the hornist and publisher Nikolaus Simrock), networks, and transfer processes played a role in this? What can be learned about the elector’s significance in the music life of Vienna and Bonn? What influence did he have on the Bonn Court Theater? How did this develop as an institution? How did it fit into the larger picture of court opera in German-speaking Europe at the end of the 18th century?

Study of the musical sources themselves was complimented by a fresh appraisal of the voluminous source material held by various archives in the Rhineland (such as the Landesarchiv NRW), which contain primarily documentation on the organization and running of the court, its  theater, and the employees of both, as well as in Vienna’s Haus- Hof- und Staatsarchiv, where Maximilian Franz’s estate is preserved. What emerged was a well-rounded picture of operatic life in Bonn in the late 18th century.

An overview of the project results can be seen in the website (http://www.univie.ac.at/operaticlibrary). A source and performance database can be found online (http://www.univie.ac.at/operaticlibrary/db). Beyond this, the results are presented in two volumes published by the Beethoven-Haus Bonn in the series Schriften zur Beethoven-ForschungThe Operatic Library of Elector Maximilian Franz. Catalogue of the Manuscript Sources is a comprehensive source catalogue, various case studies, an also a generous amount of other contextualizing essays. Beethoven and the Last Generation of Court Musicians in Germany collects the contributions to the eponymous international conference, which was organized in cooperation with the Beethoven-Haus in December, 2015. The project also gave rise to a dissertation by Elisabeth Reisinger: Erzherzog Maximilian Franz als musikkultureller Akteur in Wien und Bonn. Soziale Verflechtungen und Handlungsräume am Hof des späten 18. Jahrhunderts, Vienna 2016.

A follow-up project (2016–2018) by the same team is devoted to the elector’s sacred music collection.


Institut für Musikwissenschaft
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Campus der Universität Wien
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