1815 – A Time of Discoveries (2)

A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 watch family bears its name in reminiscence of the founder of Saxony’s precision watchmaking industry, Ferdinand A. Lange, who was born in Dresden in 1815. His highly precise pocket watches reflect the spirit of an era characterised by trailblazing inventions. One of them is the metronome, which made its first appearance in 1815. For Ludwig van Beethoven, it was a true blessing. The “musician’s watch” would provide the cadence for his greatest musical masterpiece.

Nearly two hundred years have passed since Johann Nepomuk Mälzel invented the metronome. In 1815, Ferdinand A. Lange’s birth year, Mälzel applied for a patent for his acoustic timing and tempo instrument under intellectual property legislation. It functions by spring-powered clockwork that keeps an upright pendulum oscillating. An adjustable weight on the pendulum can be slid up or down, while a scale facilitates the setting of oscillation frequencies. Formerly, when defining musical tempos, composers had to rely on their instinct, but now, directions such as allegro, adagio or presto could be precisely reproduced at any time thanks to the metronome.

Ludwig van Beethoven was among the first composers to use metronome markings in their scores and publicly endorsed Mälzel’s invention. For him, the metronome came at just the right time. In 1815, he had begun with the first sketches for his 9th symphony. The epic oeuvre with the famous “Ode to Joy” theme would become a paragon of symphonic music. To a large extent, he attributed the standing ovations after the premiere in 1824 to “metronomisation”. A letter to his publisher makes it clear just how much Beethoven appreciated the “musician’s watch”. In the letter, he complained that his metronome was “ill” and needed “its consistent regular pulse restored by a watchmaker”. An uncompromising quest for precision is one trait the acclaimed composer and Lange’s watchmakers have in common. They, too, are not satisfied until they succeed in regulating their watches so precisely that the specified frequency is always maintained. 

The Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the world’s ten best orchestras, also plays Beethoven under its principal conductor, Christian Thielemann. The pictures of the 1815 UP/DOWN and of the 1815 RATTRAPANTE PERPETUAL CALENDAR were taken on the conductor’s stand in the Semper Opera House. The two new models of the 1815 timepiece family are showcased with a metronome and the score of Beethoven’s Ninth. To this very day, they reflect the spirit of an epoch that held precision in high esteem.