BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, July 11, 1823 (approximately)

Beethoven writes a few lines, perhaps addressed to Police Commissioner Anton Ungermann. “Hr. v. Schindler of course should not be identified [as a witness] in front of both people, but probably I should be.” Brandenburg Letter 1694, Anderson Letter 1048 (though Anderson dates the letter to 1820). The original is in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (aut. 35,34).

Schindler wrote an annotation on this letter fragment, dating it to 1819 or 1820. However, he also includes the following longer note, which clearly associates it with July of 1823, while Johann was ill and his wife Therese was cavorting about unfaithfully, at least in Beethoven and Schindler’s eyes.

“The above lines were written by Beethoven to Police Commissioner Ungermann as an addendum to a detailed letter addressed to him. In it, the police officials were requested to aid our Master either officially or in some other way in order to enable his brother Johann to better regulate the morals of his wife, and have others also monitor the excesses of this woman, by which she had exposed herself and her husband to public censure. However, Beethoven’s efforts with the police officials were to no avail because Johann would not cooperate. The excesses of this woman had increased from year to year, until in 1823 there was a public scandal in the barracks where Frau van Beethoven had visited her lovers (officers) every day, and she could be seen with them on public promenades. Then our Beethoven urged his brother with all of his energy to divorce his vicious wife, but he could not be persuaded because of his indolence and his own moral depravity.”

“In order not to add to the heap of moral failings in the Beethoven family, I have found it inadvisable to list the details of these scandalous events in my biography of Beethoven, and I contented myself with merely hinting at the hopeless conditions in the home of Johann van Beethoven.”

This annotation contradicts another note by Schindler which claims that he dissuaded Beethoven from going to the police, so the true facts are impossible to determine. The records of the Palace of Justice were destroyed in a fire in the 1920s, so all we have to go by are Schindler’s self-contradicting statements. The letter is short and vague enough that it may in fact have nothing to do with Johann and his wife, but rather might relate to the difficulties with Beethoven’s Vienna landlord, which were definitely brought to the attention of the police.

In today’s Wiener Zeitung, Artaria & Co. advertises at p.643 a set of Variations for Piano on a Theme from Rossini’s Zelmira (Ah se é ver), and Grand Variations on a Theme from the opera Semiramide (Serena i vaghi rai), op.45, both by Franz Schoberlechner. You may remember him as the composer who on June 25 enraged Beethoven by asking for six letters of recommendation, even though Beethoven barely knew who he was.