BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, August 18, 1820

Conversation Book 15, leaves 56v through 64v

Beethoven begins another two-day visit to Vienna. In the morning he visits his friend Franz Oliva, probably at Oliva’s apartment in the Haarmarkt. Josephine Peters, the wife of nephew Karl’s co-guardian Karl Peters, is living at the Lobkowitz summer palace (not to be confused with the ornate Lobkowitz palace within the City) while her husband continues his tour of Italy with the Prince and the children he is tutoring. Oliva has a letter for Peters (no doubt from attorney Johann Baptist Bach regarding the guardianship) to deliver to her, but he has not been able to do so yet; he was too busy yesterday. Apparently Beethoven has yielded to Blöchlinger and intends to ask for a police order to restrain Karl’s mother Johanna and keep her away from the boy. Oliva asks whether attorney Bach will be going with him to the police today.

Oliva has some time this morning, but needs to be at the Stock Exchange at noon. They discuss going to see Frau Peters in the evening; Oliva first has to wait to see if there is any letter from Baden; he may not be available. His employer Biedermann is back in Vienna for the day, so he doesn’t have as much time to help out Beethoven as usual. They agree to meet at Doll’s bookshop at 5 PM; he will bring the letter for Peters along and they can take it to the post office if Frau Peters is still not available.

While waiting and in between errands, Beethoven makes a list of over half a dozen apartments to look at for the fall, and probably visits a few of them. One of them is in the same building as the home of painter Joseph Stieler, who did the famous portrait of Beethoven with the Missa Solemnis score earlier this year. More will be visited this evening and tomorrow. Beethoven also makes note of an upcoming German translation of Ruggiero by Metastasio and notes it could possibly be a subject of an opera, no doubt thinking about the British opera commission. The theater directors had specifically suggested Metastasio for the libretto, and Beethoven seems to be thinking of possibilities for that, after his initial reaction that Metastasio’s work typically lacks sufficient action for an opera.

Johann Baptist Bach (1779-1847), 1824 portrait by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder

Beethoven meets with attorney Bach, who advises that they will need to have a letter with the house numbers for Johanna van Beethoven and Blöchlinger so they can have a very specific police order to prevent Johanna from seeing Karl at Blöchlinger’s. [The fact that Bach does not write such a letter himself suggests to me that Bach is subtly trying to discourage Beethoven from going against the very solid advice from last week to allow Johanna to see Karl under supervision. Bach clearly thinks the attempt to get a restraining order is a bad idea and a waste of time.]

Beethoven meets Oliva at Doll’s bookshop, and probably buys some of the many books he has been noting in his conversation books. They take a carriage out to the Lobkowitz Summer Palace in the Landstrasse suburb southeast of the City, but Frau Peters has still not returned. However she is expected back tonight, so they leave the letter for her with the superintendent, with the understanding it will be forwarded on to Peters (wherever he is in Italy) tomorrow.

They visit at least one of the apartments on Beethoven’s list, probably the one nearby the Lobkowitz Summer Palace in the Ungargasse neighborhood. Oliva is firm that it is “absolutely not worth the money.”

House hunting makes one thirsty, so they head to a beerhouse on the Ungargasse. The proprietor is flattered that Beethoven visited his tavern and was satisfied with it. Oliva suggests that Kaufmann be reproached for recommending the terrible cook (who has been fired). Beethoven is reminded that Biedermann will be sending Oliva to Russia in the winter, but at least he will get to eat caviar. [Oliva does not seem to be looking forward to winter in Russia; in 1820, Napoleon’s experience there would still be fresh in people’s minds.]

Because the copyists did not include the English texts in the engraver’s copy of the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108, Oliva has been tasked to do it. Oliva notes that this project is taking a long time. [Oliva may not have understood much if any English, so that makes sense. Writing in these lyrics, some (such as Auld lang syne) written in Scottish dialect, with multiple verses for 25 songs, would make for a very difficult task under any circumstances, and Beethoven was almost certainly not paying Oliva for this work. But as one can see from the engraver’s copy, Oliva did a perfectly serviceable job: ]

Bonnie Laddie engraver score, last page (Bonn, Beethovenhaus HCB Mh 52, p. 79).

[From this discussion, it seems they picked up the copies of the songs on an earlier date, possibly on Beethoven’s August 8th visit. Alternatively, Oliva may have picked them up in the meantime without Beethoven.]

Beethoven seems to be feeling sorry for himself and questions whether he will be remembered [and here we are, 200 years later, tracking his every move.] Oliva writes, “Only your music can survive to distant posterity. You can indeed believe that I say it only because I feel it.” When Beethoven protests that his music is unappreciated even now, Oliva responds, “That cannot last long; the beauty comes through.” [We don’t know whether Oliva’s efforts help Beethoven’s frame of mind, but the conversation ends there.]

Beethoven returns to his apartment in the city for the night, with more errands and house hunting to be done tomorrow, if not another composition lesson for Archduke Rudolph.