BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, December 29, 1820

Vienna publisher Sigmund Anton Steiner writes to Beethoven (Brandenburg Letter 1422; Albrecht Letters of Beethoven 278) on this date. He forwards to Beethoven proofs of the overtures for The Ruins of Athens, op.113, King Stephan, op.117 (both 1811), and the Name-Day Overture op.115 (1814/15) for his review and correction. These works had all been composed years before, and only now are being published. Steiner says that as soon as the corrections are received, they will engrave and print the overtures.

Now, for the ugly business of resolving Beethoven’s substantial debts owed to Steiner. As you will recall, Steiner had some days before sent Beethoven a bill, which the composer objected to by writing his rage all over it, defiantly adding insults, and sending it back. Steiner points out that he only has charged Beethoven 6% interest, while he has paid 8% interest for Beethoven’s money that was deposited with Steiner. He cannot lend money without interest. “I helped you as a friend in need; I relied upon and believed your word of honor, and neither have I been importunate, nor have I ever plagued you in any other way, and must therefore solemnly protest the reproaches made against me.”

Steiner says he has been very patient; much of the money owed was advanced back in 1815 when brother Caspar Carl was ill. When he paid Beethoven 4,000 florins for compositions, he did not, as he could have, deduct the amounts owed from them. “It is now doubly painful to me to be embarrassed because of all my goodwill and from my trust in your word of honor.” Steiner begs Beethoven not to let him down, and to settle the account as soon as possible.

Having that out of the way, Steiner gives his best wishes for the New Year, and confirms his friendship. He hopes Beethoven will visit him soon. “May God long keep you in health, contentment and pleasure; this is the wish of Your most completely devoted S.A. Steiner.”

Beethoven wrote on the letter in pencil a list of amounts borrowed from Steiner: 1300 florins received in 1816 or 1817; 750 florins perhaps in 1819; 300 florins that are debts assumed for Johanna van Beethoven, and another 70 florins charged in 1819, for a total of 2,420 florins. Beethoven considers making payments of 1,200 florins per year, with semiannual installments. Another hand has written on the letter that Steiner will agree to settle the debt for 1,200 florins (roughly half the principal due, without interest), with 600 due on April 15, 1821, and the other half payable by October 15th.

The letter is held by the Bonn Beethovenhaus in the H.C. Bodmer Collection, HCB Br.284. The original (including Beethoven’s pencil markings on pages 2 and 3) can be seen here:

Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance of the Name Day Overture, op.115: