BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Friday, October 10, 1823

We don’t have any evidence for precisely what Beethoven was doing today, but he presumably continued working on the last two movements of the Ninth Symphony, which has been occupying much of his time, and making preparations to move back to Vienna later this month. That will involve getting one or more new servants.

The recent fill-in maid on September 8th agreed to work for 16 kreuzers per day, or 1 florin 36 kreuzers for her six days of service. The regular kitchen maid’s salary was 10 florins 44 kreuzers per month. Since we often refer to the various currencies, it may be useful to provide here a brief explanation of currencies in use at this time. Vienna in 1823 had a complicated dual system of money. Both were based on one florin (sometimes called a gulden) being the equivalent of 60 kreuzers. A gold ducat equaled 4 and one-half silver florins. Due to inflation, the currencies were revalued several times.

In 1823, two of these revaluation currencies were still in effect: the Conventionsmünze (Convention Coinage), abbreviated C.M., and the Wiener Währung (Vienna Currency), abbreviated W.W. These two currencies were at a fixed ratio: 1 florin C.M. equaled 2 and one-half florins W.W. As Karl recently mentioned, the post office refused to accept his W.W., and he was forced to convert them into C.M. So it is important to distinguish, when possible, which of the currencies is being referred to since a florin in C.M. is worth more than double a W.W. florin.

Modern equivalents of the florin are difficult to determine, and a rough comparison can be made from the buying power. A cheap boarding house meal with a half pint of beer could be had for about 33 kreuzers C.M. Beethoven recently made a note that he bought a saucepan for 1 florin C.M. Baths in Baden cost 1 florin 15 kreuzers C.M. A copy of Beethoven’s sonata #31 op.110 sold for 4 fl.20 kr. W.W., or 1 fl. 44 kr. C.M. Beethoven’s rent in tourist trap Baden this summer was extremely high, 4 florins per day (negotiated by Schindler down from 6 florins C.M.) and thus 120 florins C.M. for one month; the rent for his new apartment in Vienna by comparison was 254 florins C.M. for the entire year. A house that Beethoven recently considered purchasing was advertised at 12,000 florins C.M. A first violinist’s annual salary in a Vienna orchestra would be between 120 and 160 florins C.M. Otherwise-unpaid Anton Schindler was paid 20 florins C.M. (50 florins W.W.) for his work helping get the subscriptions for the Missa Solemnis put together.

So using those purchasing power examples, one could estimate one florin C.M. in 1823 was roughly $20 U.S. in 2023, maybe a little less, making one kreuzer C.M. about 33 cents U.S. Music was thus pretty pricey, but it was also far more labor-intensive when it was all hand-engraved.

If that rough equivalence is about right, then mathematically one florin W.W. would be around $8 U.S. currently, and one kreuzer W.W. in the neighborhood of 13 cents.

It should be noted however, that the various revaluations of the coinage did not stop inflation, so any equivalences must be considered temporary at best.