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Joseph Sonnleithner

Librettist

Biography

Austrian librettist, theatre director, archivist and lawyer Joseph Sonnleithner was the initial librettist for Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Sonneleithner was born in Vienna in 1766, into a music-loving family. At the age of 21 he began working for the Viennese court, first in Joseph II’s private office and later in the chancellery. He edited the Wiener Theater-Almanach from 1794 to 1796. He was briefly Artistic Director of the Theater an der Wien (1804–7), and served as a secretary of Vienna’s court theatres from 1804 to 1814. In 1812 he became one of the founders of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music) in Vienna and served as its secretary until his death. Along with Fidelio, Sonnleithner wrote and translated librettos for operas including Cherubini’s Faniska and Gyrowetz’s Agnes Sorel.

Sonnleithner was a keen collector of art and of German folksongs. He was a personal friend of both Beethoven and Schubert, and the uncle of Franz Grillparzer, with whom Beethoven hoped to collaborate on a second opera, a project never realized. Sonnleithner died in Vienna in 1835.