BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, January 23, 1824

In the morning, Beethoven decides he must deal with the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde about the oratorio Der Sieg des Kreuzes, and writes several letters. The first is to Raphael Georg Kiesewetter, vice president of the Musikverein. He gives the usual excuses about being extremely busy and still bothered by his eyes. Beethoven denies that Joseph Bernard was his choice as poet for the proposed oratorio; if Bernard is busy with his newspaper [the Wiener Zeitung] it is impossible to talk to him. And in the meantime Bernard was busy writing the libretto for Conradin Kreutzer’s opera Libussa.

Beethoven wanted to have the entire libretto before him, but failing that he asked for the first part. He got that, but then Bernard asked for it back again, since he wanted to make changes. Only recently did Beethoven get the entire thing, at the same time as the Musikverein did. But because he was catching up on the work from his earlier circumstances, he was now extremely busy.

A lot of things have to be changed in Bernard’s libretto. Beethoven says he is making a list that he will advise Bernard of when he is finished. Although the idea is inventive, and there is some merit to the poetry, the libretto to Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge op.85 was written in a matter of 14 days. “But that poet was musical, and had written several things already that had been set to music. I could talk to him at any moment.” Setting aside the relative value of the poems, this is somewhere in the middle, but Beethoven would rather set to music the poetry of Homer, Klopstock, or Schiller. But he will continue to work with Bernard to improve the libretto, and then Beethoven will be better able to advise when they can expect the completed work.

Beethoven acknowledges that he received the 400 florin advance payment for the oratorio, but says he would have returned that long ago, had he known that the process would take this much time. He had thought of holding an Akademie benefit concert that would help repay the Society, but neither Schindler nor his brother had any authority to come forward to the Musikverein about such a thing. “It was the furthest thing from my thoughts at this time.” However, he would be happy to hear that the Society was interested in such a thing, especially his new Ninth Symphony, after his Akademie concert. In particular, his new Mass [the Missa Solemnis] is written in an oratorio style, and as such would be perfect for the Musikverein.

Brandenburg Letter 1773; Anderson Letter 1260. The original is held by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (A 84/28). On it, Joseph Sonnleithner notes that the letter was presented on February 1, 1824. Beethoven’s remarks here rate a “mostly true.” Who actually chose Bernard as the poet is unclear, though Beethoven seems to have at least had input into the matter. Beethoven had been pressuring Bernard for the libretto repeatedly in 1820, and had finally more or less given up on getting the poem as his relationship with Bernard had cooled since then. While it was not exactly the furthest thing from Beethoven’s mind to have an Akademie with the Musikverein, he also quite clearly had not authorized either Johann or Schindler to approach them about an Akademie, though they both were anxious to do so; for one thing, he alone knew that the symphony that would be the centerpiece of an Akademie was still far from completion.

Beethoven also writes a cover letter to Leopold Sonnleither, forwarding the letter to Kiesewetter. Beethoven promises to give Sonnleithner his score for the Opferlied op.121b, setting lyrics by Mathisson. Unfortunately, he cannot have his larger works at the Musikverein since they need to be performed elsewhere first [the Ninth Symphony was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society] but perhaps they can work something out later.

Brandenburg Letter 1774; Anderson Letter 1456. This letter is in the Bonn Beethovenhaus, H.C. Bodmer Collection Br 159, and can be seen here:

Finally, Beethoven writes an undated note, though probably today, to Joseph Bernard. This time his excuse for not writing was that he had to change houses unexpectedly. [Beethoven has not moved since October.] Various things have to be changed in Bernard’s oratorio, but given his highly urgent work at the moment, it will take some time to get to it. If Bernard is not agreeable, he certainly can take it to someone else, and that would allow the Musikverein to get their oratorio more quickly. Beethoven was rather surprised by the sudden outburst from the Society, but Beethoven promises that they will not suffer any injury as a result, suggesting that he intends to repay the 400 florin advance.

Brandenburg Letter 1775; Anderson Letter 1262. This letter is also at the Beethovenhaus, H.C. Bodmer Collection Br 45, and can be seen here:

The chronology of the rather lengthy Conversation Book 54 is a mess, since Ludwig, Nephew Karl and Schindler all plainly flipped back and forth between the front and rear of the book to make entries in it. However, due to the advertisements Beethoven regularly copied down, most of these entries are fairly well dateable. Yet many of the succeeding entries may be off by a day or so from the theoretical chronology posited by the German and English language editors.

At a coffee house this afternoon, Beethoven copies a number of advertisements. One is for the book Was hat ein verständiger Hausvater [What Does a Sensible Householder Have?] (Kaschau, 2124), a compilation of writings on cooking and home economics. He writes down that Limburger and Strachin cheeses are available at one location, and study and work lamps for 14 florins W.W. each at another.

Beethoven also makes note of a large apartment in the village of Ober St. Veit, near Schönbrunn, as a possible summer place. In the meantime, he is also considering moving right now and writes down an ad for an apartment in the Leopoldstadt.

“Potatoes of the best varieties” are available at the Graben No.1121.

He also copies the address in the Arrivals section of the Wiener Zeitung for today where Berlin Theater director Heinrich Bethmann is staying, having arrived in Vienna two days ago.

Beethoven’s shopping list continues:
+Shaving mug, razor
+Blotting sand
+Shoe-cleaning brush
+Ask about wax candles, as opposed to
+Tallow candles [apparently to check on Karl’s claim that wax candles are more expensive than tallow, but last much longer and so in the long run are worth the money.]
+Sugar [again]

Beethoven also makes a note to visit Johann Mälzel’s older brother Leonhard (1783-1855), who was also an inventor and maker of musical instruments, about getting a metronome [possibly in response to Galitzin’s request for metronome markings for the Missa Solemnis and other works. Beethoven however never provided those markings for the Mass.]

Karl comes by the apartment this evening. He is intending to eat in the City tomorrow, and asks whether his uncle would like to join him. They could go to the Wirsthaus restaurant. Or Zur goldenen Birne [The Golden Pear], which is better than most restaurants in the City.

Conversation Book 54, 44v-46r.

Today at the Kärntnertor theater a musical Akademie concert is given by the horn player Lewy, and bassoonist Hürth. The concert features several works displaying the talents of the performers of these rather unusual solo instruments. However, to prepare the crowd for these artists, the concert opens with Beethoven’s Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus, op.43. This piece was “performed with great precision by the orchestra, and received by the public with the usual fervent enthusiasm for Beethoven’s works.” Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung Nr.10, March 24, 1824 at 39. The Wiener Zeitschrift Nr.16 at 136 was more succinct: “The popular overture from Prometheus, by L. van Beethoven, began the concert and the orchestra executed it in a worthy manner.” The Wiener Theater-Zeitung Nr.15, February 3, 1824 at 59, reported the concert “began with Hrn. van Beethoven’s beautiful overture from “Prometheus,” which already put the audience into a good mood.”

The Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus is here performed live by the French National Orchestra, conducted by Daniele Gotti: