BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Monday, December 15, 1823

Beethoven sleeps late due to the long evening last night at the opera. Nephew Karl comes by the apartment in the afternoon after his classes, saying he didn’t want to wake him this morning. Today is the 15th of December, and Karl can’t recall whether his uncle’s birthday is the 15th or the 17th. “One cannot rely on the baptismal certificate [which says December 17]; and at one time, when I was still at your place, I also read it in the Janus [magazine.]” Karl had thought about it yesterday, but the disagreement [presumably about Joseph Niemetz joining them at the opera] prevented him from saying anything then.

Karl appreciates that everything he enjoys comes from Uncle Ludwig, and he doesn’t know where to begin first. As often as Uncle Ludwig’s name day or birthday rolls around, “I will have to say the same thing over again, as I have often said it; only with the difference that, with every passing day, I can better conceive of and understand everything that you have done for me.”

Karl is most interested in the improvisation that Ignaz Moscheles will be playing on his uncle’s Broadwood piano this evening. Moscheles will also be playing variations of his own composition on the Alexandermarsch. [The Alexandermarsch, originally composed by Louis Luc Loiseau de Persium (1769-1839) has a number of Beethoven connections. It was included in his friend Louis Antoine Duport’s pastiche ballet The Foolish Knight (1812); a piano arrangement by Friedrich Starke of the march was published anonymously in 1812. In 1829 that arrangement was published under Beethoven’s name, and thus is catalogued among the spurious Beethoven works as Hess Anhang 24. Beethoven also considered making an orchestration of the march. The first 16 bars in sketch form of a planned orchestration of the Alexandermarsch also appears in Beethoven’s pocket sketchbook aut.9, bundle 1 (used during October and November of 1825) under the notation “Duport Marsch.” This sketch can be heard here: Biamonti 839]

The cook has already gone for the day. The leftovers for dinner consist of half of Sunday night’s supper. It’s too fatty for Karl, and in any event he has to leave right away.

At 7 p.m., Karl and Ludwig attend Moscheles’s concert at the Kärntnertor Theater. The concert opens with Beethoven’s as-yet-unpublished Name Day Overture, op.115. The Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung Nr.104 (December 27, 1823) at 830, notes that the third musical Akademie of Ignaz Moscheles held today at the Kärntnertor Theater was begun by “our excellent Beethoven’s Overture in C, still in manuscript.” That overture would not be published until 1825.

The critic in the Wiener Zeitschrift of December 30, 1823 at 1288, gives faint praise to the performance of this overture, saying only that it “was fairly well executed.” The Allgemeine Theaterzeitung for December 20, 1823 at 607 in its review of the concert says the performance of the Overture was diligent, “but the audience seemed to be too mixed in terms of their tastes.” Moscheles, in his English translation of Schindler’s biography, mentions that when Beethoven lent him the score, the composer also gave him “directions with respect to its performance, that I might be able to impart his views to the players at the rehearsal.” Schindler, Life of Beethoven ed. Ignaz Moscheles (London 1841), I, 221n. [Schindler in the 1860 third edition of the biography, viciously attacked Moscheles for exaggerating his personal connection to Beethoven more than it really was, a textbook instance of projection if there ever was one. Schindler/MacArdle (Mineola 1996) pp.372-373.]

A followup review in the Allgemeine Theaterzeitung of December 23 at 618-619 gives more detail: “The interestingly arranged Akademie began with a wonderful, rarely heard overture from Beethoven, in which the great master of music showed his genius in a very unique way. The performance was not very precise, and it would be interesting to hear this wonderful piece of music again soon.”

As a special attraction, Moscheles played a free fantasia on Beethoven’s beloved English Broadwood piano, which was loaned to Moscheles for this purpose. Because Beethoven had in his deafness so ferociously banged upon the instrument, piano builder Conrad Graf was enlisted to repair the badly damaged piano for this occasion. The song that was the basis of the fantasia was “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser,” [God Save Emperor Franz] with a theme from Handel mixed in artfully, according to the Wiener Zeitschrift review, which is consistent with Karl’s comments in the conversation book.

The Wiener Theaterzeitung of December 20, 1823 at 607 mocked the emphasis on an English fortepiano to lure attendees to the concert. “How can everything not be English in order to stimulate the curiosity of the world in our time? An English horn, an English roast, an English horse, an English Lord, an English dog, English trousers, an English steamship: these are all attractive things, so an English fortepiano also had to be a powerful attraction.”

A German instrument was also used in the concert for contrast. Moscheles wrote of the concert, “I tried…in my Fantasia to show the value of the broad, full, although somewhat muffled tone of the Broadwood piano; but in vain. My Vienna public remained loyal to their countryman – the clear, ringing tones of the Graf were more pleasing to their ears. Before I left the room I was obliged to yield to the urgent request of several of my hearers, in promising to repeat the whole concert the day after tomorrow.” Charlotte Moscheles, ed. Recent Music and Musicians, tr. Arthur Duke Coleridge. New York, 1879, p.60. [Moscheles is almost certainly mistaken in his later recollections about using a Graf piano. Contemporary reviews say that the alternate comparison piano was a Leschen, rather than a Graf, and this is supported by the references in the conversation books that Graf had refused to allow one of his pianos to be used for the concert, though as noted he did repair Beethoven’s Broadwood. In addition, Moscheles himself wrote on a letter received from Beethoven later this month that the piano used to compare to the Broadwood was a Leschen. Brandenburg Letter 1761.]

The Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung for January 15, 1823 (Nr.3) at 43 comments wryly that Beethoven had received the English Broadwood piano as a gift, and that he has had to pay tolls, customs duties and freight charges in excess of the value of the instrument. “These instruments really don’t measure up to our local products.” The Wiener Zeitschrift review agrees and complains that “The tone of this instrument, when played forte, is too loud and sometimes takes on a clanging sound. The weak stringing that the English manufacturer chose, in order to give it a more singing tone, is suitable only for artless playing. The bass is particularly weak; the dampening, in the English mode, isn’t precise either, but the tone resonates….German pianos are unanimously recognized as being more excellent in tone and treatment than the English ones. Vienna has achieved this in the highest degree.” [A fair amount of the poor sound may of course be attributable to the beating the Broadwood has endured at Beethoven’s hands, not least of all due to being moved every few months in all kinds of weather. The criticism of the strings is also unfair, since Graf had replaced the Broadwood’s strings (which may not have been original) with Berlin strings when he was making repairs.]

[Anton Schindler, as usual, lies in his Beethoven biography about being present when Beethoven agreed to loan the Broadwood to Moscheles for the concert. Schindler went so far as to forge entries in Conversation Book 47 that include him introducing Moscheles to Beethoven to support his fictitious claim. However, at that point not only had the loan of the Broadwood already been arranged, but Beethoven had also loaned Moscheles the score and parts of the Name Day Overture. Beethoven will have cause to regret that loan of the Overture later on, however.]

Afterwards, Karl and his uncle are at a restaurant near the Kärntnertor Theater. Karl complains everything here is expensive; the cheapest thing on the menu is 30 kr. Uncle Ludwig asks why Karl was applauding Moscheles so adamantly. Karl says it was not out of delight, but because when Moscheles was called back, part of the audience hissed at him. Uncle Ludwig missed this and asks when this happened? Karl repeats that it was when they called him back out for applause. But when he started playing the theme “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser,” everyone applauded. Karl thinks Moscheles has a great deal of confidence. Many people said the Broadwood really had tone, but Karl believes Moscheles could have played with more power.

Violinist Joseph Mayseder, who performed his own Variations on a Danish Song op.33 at the concert, played well, Karl thought, but his piece “had no action and coherence at all.” With regard to Moscheles’ improvisations, Karl felt he sought to make the lack of ideas less noticeable by means of brilliant passages. Karl overheard people in the next parterre describe Uncle Ludwig as “the foremost composer.”

The piano maker Wilhelm Leschen stops by Beethoven’s table at the restaurant. He will take the Broadwood piano from the theater, and send it directly home. Leschen and Karl have trouble getting Beethoven to understand that, even in writing, and they have to explain it to him multiple times, suggesting Ludwig may have had too much to drink. Beethoven tells Leschen to be careful with his piano. Leschen promises that he will tell the movers to take care. It can be transported for 10 florins.

Before bed, Beethoven makes a note to buy a pound of macaroni for his favorite dish, macaroni and cheese, perhaps as a birthday treat.

Conversation Book 49, 6r-9r.

Much of this evening’s concert program is available on YouTube to allow one to reconstruct the performances.

  1. The Name Day Overture is here performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eugen Jochum:
  1. Moscheles’ Piano Concerto Nr.2 in E-Flat is here performed Ian Hobson conducting the Sinfonia da Camara:
  1. The Rossini Aria in Italian with Chorus sung by Mme. Grünbaum is not described in the musical press or in the concert publicity with sufficient information to be able to identify it.
  2. The Alexandermarsch Variations are here performed by Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia da Camara:
  1. Act I Duet from Rossini’s Mosé in Egitto, “Ah! se puoi così lasciarmi” (Osride and Elcìa) played here by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Claudio Scimone:
  1. We have been unable to find any recordings of Joseph Mayseder’s Variations on a Danish Song op.33 for violin and orchestra.
  2. Obviously, Moscheles’ improvisations on God Save Emperor Franz and a theme of Handel played on Beethoven’s Broadwood piano cannot be reproduced. However András Schiff here plays various Beethoven works from about this period on his Broadwood so one can get the gist of what the Vienna reviewers complained about:
  1. The third act of the concert was a ballet by Wenzel Robert von Gallenberg, Die Amazonen. Count Gallenberg was married to Julie Guicciardi, Beethoven’s piano student over twenty years earlier and once a popular candidate for the Immortal Beloved. While we have also been unable to locate any recordings of this ballet, a waltz from the ballet was arranged as a “Souvenir” by Franz Liszt, S.208a, performed here by Cyprien Katsaris: