Witt, Friedrich


Witt, Friedrich

Symphony in C (“Jena Symphony”, previously attributed to Beethoven)

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Friedrich Witt – Symphony in C-major (Jena Symphony previously attributed to Beethoven)

(b. Niederstetten, 8. November 1770 – d.Würzburg, 3. January 1836)


“As we do not as yet know of anyone, amongst the followers of Haydn and Mozart towards the end of the 19th century, to whom we could attribute such a composition, which heralds the Master…” thus wrote Fritz Stein in his introduction to the first edition of the “Jena Symphony” in 1911.

Fritz Stein discovered the orchestral parts for a symphony in C-major in Jena in 1910. On the part for the second violin he found the comment “Par Louis van Beethoven” and on the cello part “Symphonie von Bethoven”. Beethoven’s comment, that he had already been engaged with plans for a symphony before his 1st symphony, also supported Stein’s assessment. In addition, he noted aspects of the style of composition typical for Beethoven. Other musical personalities also shared Stein’s opinion. Hugo Riemann considered it possible that the symphony was written during Beethoven’s time in Bonn, and Max Reger even wrote a version of the Jena symphony for piano. As a result, for almost fifty years the symphony was performed as the “Jena Symphony” from Beethoven. There were, however, critical voices that would rather have attributed the style to that of a composer of the early classic period, particularly as no exact references to the existence of the symphony can be found in Beethoven’s sources. The American scholar of music H.C. Robbins Landon, who was principally known for his research on Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, discovered in 1957 in the Landesarchiv in Rudolstadt hand written parts with the entry “di Witt”. In a catalogue from the Abbey of Göttweig he also found the initial theme of the work with the reference “Symphonia Authore Witt, Capellmagister Würzburg”.

Friedrich Witt was born on the 8th of November 1770 in Niederstetten in the vicinity of Bad Mergentheim. At the age of only six years he lost his father, a teacher. His father had already given him his first music lessons, which were continued by his stepfather, who had taken over his father’s post. At the age of 17, he went as a “Kammermusikus” to the court of the Fürst von Oettingen-Wallerstein. Witt’s contract as a cellist in the court orchestra can be found in the Wallerstein archive. Witt was probably a pupil of the composer Antonio Rosetti. With the permission of his Fürst, Witt went on concert tours in 1793 and 1794. Together with the clarinettist Joseph Beer (1770-1819) he went to Coburg, Weimar, Potsdam, Ludwigslust and other cities. In 1796, both went to Vienna for concerts, where Witt also performed his symphonies. The musicians then went separate ways, Witt now travelled on alone. In 1802, the bishop of Würzburg appointed him Hofkapellmeister. In addition, he was musical director of the city theatre which was founded in 1804. As a result of irregularities in the Hofkapelle, which were blamed on Witt, he was dismissed in 1824. He died in 1836 of pulmonary paralysis. In the mean time he had almost completely disappeared from the concert scene and thus no obituary appeared in any musical periodical after his death.
At the centre of his work are the 23 symphonies. They were mainly written in the 1790’s. Eight of these symphonies were published by the then well known André in Offenbach. In addition, he composed mainly church music, but also stage works. His musical style is defined by pleasant melodies, a rather conventional harmony and deft instrumentation.
Today Witt’s works are very seldom heard in the concert hall. This is mainly due to his contempory Beethoven, who so influenced subsequent generations of musicians with his progressive style, that the rather conservative composers of the periode around 1800 were quickly forgotten. In addition, Witt, probably due to health problems, wrote no more new works after his middle age.

The symphony has many similarities with Haydn’s symphony no.97 in C-major. Stein even assumes that this symphony could have served as a model. Landon also finds the structural, melodic and harmonic similarities remarkable.

The first movement is characterised by dynamics contrasts, the f-p effects occur throughout the whole work and are also typical for Beethoven’s music. The slow introduction during the first eight bars passes through a cadence in C-major, the following bars then bring an extension to c-minor. The introduction concludes in a traditional manner in the dominant. The exposition introduces the first part of the main theme in unison and forte, the last part answers in piano. In bar 13 to 27 of the exposition the imitation between the 1st and 2nd violins is striking, a technique of composition which Stein used as proof for the composition by Beethoven. The second theme is introduced in bar 62. The final part begins with quaver triplets, which lead to an intensification. The development is very short, it starts in bar 120 and is already finished at bar 152, which would be unusually short for a symphony by Beethoven. The repetition occurs in the usual manner. The transition to the coda after the quaver triplets in bar 240 is remarkable, as Witt modulates into D-flat-major in order to return after a few bars, however, to the tonic, and shortly afterwards to complete the movement.

The second movement in three parts is characterised by a melodious theme in four bars. An enhancement is achieved by the gradual addition of the wind, which culminates in the short second section in the minor key. The third section is dominated by a figuration with semi quaver triplets. Initially only the first violins have this figuration, it is then extented to increasingly more instruments. After a longer enhancement, these triplets quietly conclude the movement. The movement is a movement with variations and is thus similar to Haydn’s symphony no.97.

The title “Maestoso” for a minuet, the third movement, is rare. The trio is also unusual, in which the wind section is accompanied by two solo violins, playing an octave apart.

The rondo like final movement also recalls Haydn in its character and nature. It opens at once with the main theme. At bar 49 there is a tempestuous transition to the second theme in bar 78, that is characterised by sighing motives.

Witt’s works have become a little more accessible for the public in recent years through recordings. The “Jena Symphony”, due to its relatively low level of difficulty, presents a gratifying work for performance, particularly by amateur orchestras.

Duration of performance about 9/6/3/6 minutes.

Translation: John Conrad

For performance material please contact Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden.

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer






160 x 240 mm



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