Beethoven’s Tenth: Re-composing a Composer

Beethoven's Tenth: Re-composing a Composer The concert hall at St. James's Hall, where Beethoven's 10th Symphony had its premiere.

Beethoven’s Tenth: Re-composing a Composer The concert hall at St. James’s Hall, where Beethoven’s 10th Symphony had its premiere.

In early April 1895, The Times of London printed several advertisements for a symphonic concert presented by Miss Helen Edith Green, mentioning that the programme would include several compositions by that lady.

A female composer was, as a review of the concert remarked, a rarity. Even rarer was one of the star items on the program: Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony.



The announcement that, on April 30th at St. James’s Hall, Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony will be performed, will mean merely, to a large portion of society, that there is to be yet one more classical concert. To the musician, however, such an announcement will seem strange, seeing that the great master left behind him but nine symphonies, though a tenth was projected.

Its accomplishment will rank with the completion of Dickens’ Edwin Drood, seeing that we owe its existence to a like alleged process of communication by the “spirit” of the deceased author [via Vermont “ghost-writer” and medium Thomas James]. The medium, Miss H. L. Green, to whom we owe the tenth symphony, gives the following account of its reception:—

I have been told by spirit controls that Beethoven came to me at the age of eighteen; and about that time I experienced a strong impulse to compose. I wrote sundry small things; I contemplated a symphony, and finished several numbers of an opera; but I was dissatisfied with it, and laid it aside. By degrees, as I made my way, teaching crowded out composition, and for years I wrote nothing. In the year 1881 incidents occurred which re-awakened the impulse to compose, though I did not put pen to paper till 1882.

Even then, though musical ideas came to me pretty fast, I did not know whence they came till 1889, when it was made known to me that Beethoven desired to write through me, in fact had already done so. Especially was he desirous of producing that symphony for which he had begun to make sketches before he left earth.

But I was by no means the first person whom he tried to use. In a communication I received from him early in 1892, he told me that for many years he had been trying to find some one on earth through whom he might express himself musically. He sought out one and another who possessed musical genius, but all failed him. No one would take his ideas. And if they began to do so, the ideas were so entirely altered that, though the writers seemed as if inspired to give out what was not themselves, it was not Beethoven. He gave some ideas to one composer living on earth, and they were promptly rejected as too old-fashioned. He went to another even greater, but this one was so conscious of his own genius that he wished to express his own thoughts, not those of another, even of Beethoven. A third was more manageable, and really did write more or less under Beethoven’s direction for some time; but as he felt his own wings grow stronger, he by degrees emancipated himself from Beethoven’s control.

I cannot, of course, say that in my own case there is no admixture. I have tried to make them all of him and none of me, and as regards the musical ideas 1 have succeeded. I have ruthlessly rejected any idea, however good, of which I could not feel sure that it was his, and not mine. But the manner of expressing these ideas has been, to some extent, a matter of partnership. As he said once, he provides the liquor, I the vase which contains it.

Without being acquainted with musical theory and construction, and to some extent with orchestration, I could not have done the work at all, for I doubt whether music could be written automatically. Automatic writing, at any rate my own, is not sufficiently straight and accurate in form, nor was there in the communication anything of trance mediumship. It was steady, conscious work, more resembling dictation than any thing else. Sometimes it came easily and flowingly, sometimes, especially if I were interrupted or worried, it would hardly flow at all. I remember one day that I wanted the completion of a certain passage, and I could not get Beethoven’s idea. I saw several ways of doing it, but they were my own and not his, and therefore had to be rejected. So I put it away and went for a walk. While out of doors I saw the passage written and heard it played. On returning home I wrote it down, and found that it was just what was required. Several others of the best passages have been given me out of doors, notably the trio to the “Scherzo” in the Sonata in D.

But the most troublesome feature of the work was the constant alteration which I found necessary. The whole thing has been an object-lesson on the way that habits acquired on earth cling afterwards. It is well known how Beethoven was never satisfied with any composition till he had altered and corrected and retouched it continually. And it has been the same with all the work I have done with him. When I thought a passage was finished, I found it was no such thing; it had to be re-written, perhaps several times. It was very wearing sometimes.

One of the compositions I have received is an Anglican Communion Service. I wrote the symphony and sonatas to please him; he gave me the musical ideas for the mass and anthems to please me.

So far as I know this is the first attempt consciously to write music communicated from the other world, therefore I suppose most people will receive the idea with ridicule; but I believe that now there are a fair number of persons who in their own experience can find what will enable them to accept the truth of mine.

[Here, at all events, is a trial case upon which the musician can easily decide. There are not two Beethovens. It is even a common-place to say further, that the great master is one of our few composers who never repeated himself.—X.]

Borderland: A Quarterly Review and Index, Volume 2, William Thomas Stead, editor, 1895

The composer is referred to as H.L. Green above, but she was Helen Edith Green, born around 1846. She was still alive in 1911, listed as Organist & Music Professor in the census and living in Clapham. I do not know when she died.

I have found only snippets of bibliographical information on Miss Green, mostly news items in musical journals:

1871 Miss Ellen Edith Green has been appointed organist and directress of the choir of St. Paul’s, Southwark

1875 In consequence of the projected demolition of St. James’ Chapel, York Street, Miss H. E. Green will be DISENGAGED after Lady-day

1891 Miss Green played Chopin very credibly at the Royal College of Music

1899 “after a very keen struggle” the gold medal in a RCM competition was awarded to Miss Edith Green (scholar), pupil of Mr. Franklin Taylor.

Taylor was a popular pianist and a professor at the Royal College of Music. He had a very winning way with his pupils. Perhaps significantly, he edited an edition of Beethoven’s sonatas.

The two advertisements for Miss Green’s concert found in The Times did not mention Beethoven, only that the programme would include several compositions by Miss Helen Edith Green. Hiring the hall and the orchestra came at a significant cost, although various levels of admission are mentioned in the advert. One wonders what she told the orchestra about the pieces they would be performing.

Critical reviews were mixed and contain the usual period astonishment about a woman composer.


Composers entirely unknown to the public are not often bold enough to take St. James’s-hall and engage an orchestra in order to bring forward their compositions; and the raison d’etre of the somewhat depressing entertainment given on Tuesday night would appear to be that in the opinion of Miss Green the symphony and violin sonata signed with her name were written under the direct inspiration of Beethoven, the phrase being understood in a literal sense.  Come the music whence it may, the influence of many of the older masters is fully apparent, and the period of Beethoven’s work that has been preferred for imitation is his earliest. For the most part the style of composition is simple to the point of artlessness, the composer’s most ambitious effort being the introductory movement of her symphony, which is cleverly, and even impressively developed; some pretty ideas in the succeeding “first movement” are spoilt in the working out, and the scoring, though not ineffective, is seldom or never intrinsically interesting. A poem from Swinburne’s Songs before Sunrise, beginning “Unto each man his handiwork,” stands as the motto to the whole composition, and the apotheosis represented in the finale is enhanced in effect by the use of the organ. In the opening of the slow movement Miss Green appears to have fallen for the time under the inspiration of Wagner, whose prelude to Lohengrin is laid under contribution; and in the course of the finale a strong reminiscence of a theme in Liszt’s “Preludes” occurs. The symphony, of which a good performance was given under Mr. G.R. Betjemann’s direction, is a far more satisfactory piece of work than the sonata for piano and violin, in which the composer took part with Miss Ethel Barns. This clever young violinist was heard in a concerto of Max Bruch’s; the orchestra played Bennett’s charming “Wood Nymphs” overture and the prelude to Die Meistersinger; and Mr. Andrew Black sang in his best style Henschel’s “Jung Dieterich” and the prologue to Pagliacci.

The Times [London, England] 2 May 1895: p. 4

A symphony from the pen of a female composer is a product of sufficient rarity to deserve notice, apart from the sensational reports officially circulate din the present instance as to its semi-supernatural origin. The work in question, which was produced at Miss Helen Edith Green’s concert on Tuesday week, is in the redoubtable key of D minor, has for its programme one of Swinburne’s “Songs before Sunrise,” and is provided with mottos for each movement, taken from Isaiah, Goethe, Spenser’s “Faery Queen,” and Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound.” These circumstances sufficiently foreshadow the eclectic character of the music, in which reminiscences of Lohengrin and one of Liszt’s symphonic poems are especially prominent. Miss Green is evidently a believer in the virtue of repletion, many of the themes being iterated to an extent that is positively fatiguing. But the work is by no means devoid of pleasant moments, and the scoring shows a decided sense of orchestral colour. An excellent performance of the symphony was given by a capital orchestra under the direction of Mr. G.R. Betjemann.

The Guardian [London, England] 8 May 1895: p. 24

A particularly scathing notice came from Truth, a gossip-filled weekly paper. The failed Beethoven collaborators are identified here, although the discreet Miss Green did not mention names.


Beethoven’s Ghost

In the columns of my spiritualistic contemporary, Light, there a week or two ago appeared, under the heading “In Continuation of Beethoven’s Music Life,” an advertisement of an orchestral concert given by Miss Edith Green at St. James’s Hall on April 30 ; and the performance was therein announced of a symphony, a sonata, and a mass (the last, by the way, omitted, as the spook had no time to finish the orchestration), “written by her under the direction of Ludwig van Beethoven between 1885 and 1895.” If this sort of thing were carried into ordinary life, it might be provocative of much confusion. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg’s explanation of the Royal pension given “under the direction” of the late Joseph Hume, Lord Kimberley’s statement of Japanese policy “under the direction” of the late Lord Beaconsfield, an autumn Drury Lane drama, written by Sir Augustus Harris “under the direction” of William Shakespeare, and the “correspondence of Charles Stewart Parnell,” edited by the late Mr. Pigott, would, I assume, be either Gilbertian or insufferable. But in abstract music no great harm can be done; for in this particular branch of the Arts it is unanimously agreed there is nothing new under the sun. Miss Edith Green cum Beethoven accordingly had her fling. Miss Green herself was perfectly serious over the matter. Beethoven, it seems, had an unsuccessful shot at influencing several latter-day composers. He tried it on, it is in all honesty stated, with Brahms, but that distinguished musician thought the style too archaic. He also tried Wagner, but the composer of “Tristan und Isolde” was too conceited to have anything to do with anybody save himself. He likewise tried Rubinstein, and to a certain extent he captured that leonine-headed pianist so far, at any rate, as regards his “Ocean” symphony —- a suggestion which will interest and amuse a good many people. But Rubinstein eventually shook him off, and at last the ghost of Beethoven found its affinity in Miss Green. I am bound to congratulate the ghost on its taste, for Miss Green is a damsel fair to look upon, and withal musically clever. Even without Beethoven’s assistance, I think she would have been fully competent to turn out some capital work, particularly if she made a further study of orchestration, and tried less ambitious things. That Beethoven has sometimes led her in the paths of Wagner and Liszt must, I suppose, be attributed to mere ghostly trickery. In the Shades they sometimes get demoralised. The ghost of Schubert was once raised (at three inquiries for a guinea), and thoughtlessly answered a question concerning the number of his symphonies put in English by that longheaded musician, Mr. J . S. Shedlock [prolific music historian and writer.] Schubert in mundane life knew no English, and the explanation that—perhaps for some nocturnal roysterings at the Gasthaus—the Viennese composer was condemned in the nether world to chum for a time with Michael William Balfe [composer of those drawing-room chestnuts: “I Dreamed I Dwelt in Marble Halls” and “Come into the Garden, Maud”] and the composer of “Slap bang, here we are again” [Harry Copeland] was, if plausible, yet not altogether convincing. Beethoven, at any rate, was of more serious mould; and the facts that he and his fair partner now quote Swinburne, and have a knowledge of some of the music of the moderns, are anachronisms which I cannot hope to explain. The remark of one of last week’s audience, that the violin sonata gave one an excellent idea of eternity, and that in the symphony Beethoven must have been plentifully diluted with water while swimming back across the Styx, must doubtless be attributed to the unconquerable jealousy of mere male man. But as one who loves his Beethoven, and admires the musical ability of Miss Green, I think I may say that in the sonata the composer of “Fidelio” has scarcely done himself justice; and that the symphony, its crudities apart, would, even had Miss Green (or her advertisement) not claimed the assistance of Beethoven, have been considered an altogether remarkable effort from a lady’s pen. I may add that the symphony was admirably played by an orchestra which was directed by Mr. Gilbert Betjemann, the gifted son of a respected violinist and conductor who is now one of the oldest members of the opera orchestra.

Truth, Volume 37, 9 May 1895

What can we make of this sort of musical ghost-writing? Should we call it self-delusion or dissociation–or perhaps re-composition?

I’m sure you all remember Rosemary Brown who claimed to receive compositions dictated to her by all manner of distinguished composers: Liszt, Chopin, Bach, Beethoven. The music is mediocre–recognizable pastiches of the various musicians’ works–and it is generally agreed that it arose from Mrs. Brown’s subconscious. She had taken piano lessons as a child and her mother also played, but she was never more than a competent amateur. I’ve always wondered why she chose music rather than, say, automatic writing.

Miss Green spent her life in the study of music. She worked as a professional organist, pianist, choir director, and professor of music. She had surely absorbed the works of the Masters—their nuances and various styles. One would imagine that she would have been able to create something more musically plausible than Mrs. Brown.

What could have happened in 1881 to re-awaken the composer in Miss Green–to make her feel—in her rather cringe-making simile–like a vase containing Beethoven’s liquor? I found her statement about Beethoven’s habits of revision amusing—it’s the sort of thing one would say about some foible of a respected and much-loved teacher. And he gave her music just “to please her.”

In Miss Green’s statement, so full of becoming self-effacement, there is that Specialness, that sense of being the Chosen One which we find in so many Experiencers. It is true that composition—whether literary or musical—can feel like channeling or like taking dictation. And, as an organist, I can vouch for the fact that there can be an other-worldliness, a certain loss of self–at the keyboard.  How much of that played into Miss Green’s compositions?

No one seems to have recorded any of her Beethoven collaborations on Youtube; nor do I see any published works in library catalogs. I wonder how good her music really was? Highly competent musicians are not necessarily brilliant composers. Did this “remarkable effort from a lady’s pen” suffer only because of its comparison to Beethoven?

As a final note, there is evidence from his letters that Beethoven was contemplating a 10th symphony and another “hypothetical” version of Beethoven’s 10th does exist, compiled from Beethoven’s unfinished manuscripts by Barry Cooper. It’s in E-flat Major vs. D minor, if anyone cares….

Knowledge of Miss Green’s music or the seminal events of 1881?  Chriswoodyard8 AT

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes