BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, January 17, 1823 (approximately)

Beethoven has, with or without the assistance of Griesinger, come to a plan for approaching the nobles and crowned heads of Europe for subscriptions to manuscript copies of the Missa Solemnis, op.123. But such an effort is certainly beyond Beethoven’s capabilities, even with the assistance of brother Johann (who for his part does not write as well as Ludwig). Who is knowledgeable about music, is reasonably literate, and could write suitably fawning requests to these recipients, such that they would be taken seriously and cause Beethoven to be sent significant sums of money? Preferably, someone who, like Franz Oliva, would act on Beethoven’s behalf for no charge.

The answer is Anton Felix Schindler (1795-1864). It’s not entirely clear how Schindler fell into this position of unpaid assistant, but he took it on happily, and served for quite some time as Beethoven’s factotum and eventually wrote three editions of Beethoven’s biography. For many years these volumes were considered the standard authority, though now it is much discredited due to Schindler’s habit of self-aggrandizement and simply making things up to fit his romanticized narrative. In short, Schindler was a disciple, rather than a historian.

Photo of Anton Schindler in later life

Schindler was born in Medl, Moravia, near Olmütz, where Archduke Rudolph was now archbishop. He had received musical studies from an early age and went to Vienna in 1813 to study law at the university. Schindler was part of an amateur orchestra during that time, and worked with violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, a great friend of Beethoven. As historian Ted Albrecht has pointed out, Schindler had some acquaintance with Beethoven going back at least as far as 1814, when Schuppanzigh asked Schindler to take a note to Beethoven and get his reply. Schuppanzigh gave Schindler a ticket for the concert on April 11, 1814, featuring the Archduke Trio op.97 with Beethoven on piano, and the Septet, op.20. After the concert, Schindler approached Beethoven, who recognized him and received him kindly. Most of the biographical details in today’s entry are derived from Albrecht’s writings on Schindler, some of them as yet unpublished but which he has generously shared with us.

After fleeing the country for some time due to suspicion of subversive activities, Schindler returned to Vienna and began working as an unpaid clerk for attorney Johann Baptist Bach. Beethoven would engage Bach as his attorney during the fights over nephew Karl’s guardianship, and Schindler may have had some contact with the composer there. Schindler gave up law in about 1820, and devoted himself entirely to the violin. That effort paid off handsomely, as two years later he became the concertmaster of the Theater in the Josephstadt. That theater reopened on October 3, 1822 with the premiere of Beethoven’s Consecration of the House. Schindler may have acted as a liaison for the theater’s manager, Carl Friedrich Hensler, helping arrange for copying of the music at the last minute.

As we saw in November 1822, at Hensler’s birthday celebration, Beethoven composed the Gratulations-Menuett WoO 3 for the occasion. At the celebratory dinner, Schindler was assigned to sit with Beethoven, and at that point he made his first legitimate entries into the Conversation Books. It seems likely that Schindler may have kept in contact with Beethoven and seeing an opportunity to serve, volunteered to write the subscription letters. It probably will take a few days to get a draft proposal letter that satisfies Ludwig and Johann, and in about a week the work to solicit subscriptions begins in earnest. From here on, Schindler is a regular correspondent with Beethoven and a frequent commenter in the Conversation Books.

We have noted before the suspicious circumstance that the Conversation Books between November 4 and January 19 are missing. While there were about 18 months’ worth of Conversation Books that had been lost in a trunk that apparently fell off a coach, that incident occurred back in October. What happened to the books for November through early January? It is probably not a coincidence that Schindler’s entries appear in the surviving Conversation Book 18 ending November 4, and again in Conversation Book 19 beginning January 19, 1823.

Since Schindler stooped to forging entries in earlier books to make it look like he and Beethoven were intimates for many years previous, it is not a tremendous leap to suggest that he may have consigned to the fire these several intervening Conversation Books that would show the opposite. Those books would include Schindler’s efforts to take on this position as unpaid assistant, which would be inconsistent with the efforts to appear to be Beethoven’s close confidante years before, and would expose those forgeries for what they were.

In any event, Schindler will make very regular (and mostly, but not always, legitimate) appearances in these pages over the next few years.