BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Monday, January 27, 1823 (approximately)

Today we see the volatile temperament of Beethoven as he swings wildly from his very best character to his worst.

Moved by the serious illness of Karl’s mother Johanna, which was discussed last night, Beethoven writes an undated letter (though very probably this morning) to Joseph Carl Bernard and asks him to inquire about her health. He tells Bernard to assure her doctor that so long as Ludwig lives, she will enjoy her entire pension. [Under the 1817 guardianship agreement, Ludwig was entitled to half of Johanna’s pension for care of Karl.] Further, he will attempt to arrange his affairs such that if he dies first, Karl will be taken care of sufficiently that he will not need to draw upon her pension. He had been intending to make that change when Karl left Bl√∂chlinger’s Institute, but if she is indeed in great need and sick, then help must be given to her immediately. “God has never abandoned me in this difficult take, and I continue to trust in him.” He also suggests that he might be able to persuade his obstinate brother to contribute something as well.

Brandenburg Letter 1538, Anderson Letter 1256. The original is held by the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, H.C. Bodmer Collection Br 43, and can be seen here:

However, Beethoven very quickly thinks better of his generous offer to give up his half of the pension, in light of his own desperate circumstances, and writes another letter to Bernard, changing his mind. [Perhaps he looked closer at his computations from last night.] If she is really getting 480 florins per year from Hofbauer, the putative father of her illegitimate daughter, then the half of the pension she is already getting is plenty, in his judgment. Working himself into a rage, Beethoven adds a gratuitous insult, “Since she has already become such a slut, I believe that Karl still should see the guilt of her bad behavior.” Beethoven says he wants nothing to do with her personally, but forwards 11 gulden, to be delivered to her through the doctor, without saying who sent them. Beethoven then asks for a receipt from her for the 11 gulden!

Brandenburg Letter 1539, Anderson Letter 1258. This original is also held by the Beethovenhaus, H.C. Bodmer Collection Br 42 and 44, and can be seen here:

Beethoven makes a note to himself asking whether Karl has a copy of Schiller’s poetry. [Perhaps this is connected to his early work on the Ninth Symphony?] He also would like copyist Wenzel Rampl to come tomorrow, if he can. [Perhaps to give an estimate of the costs of making copies of the Mass for the subscriptions when they come in.] Schindler comes to Beethoven’s apartment with some money, saying he should have 400 or 500 florins more tomorrow afternoon. [This was possibly the proceeds of the loan against Beethoven’s bank share.]

Later in the day, Bernard comes by. He notes that Carolina Unger sang the title role in Libussa yesterday. She was at the ball in the Redoutensaal yesterday with her father. The King of Naples was also there; Bernard says he “looks like an old faun. His sideburns hang down almost to his shoulders. Then he wears a very small tricorner hat, and when he laughs, his mouth opens from one ear to the other. He appears to think everything is a joke.”

Bernard also discusses Spanish politics. At the Congress of Verona (October 20-December 14, 1822), the Holy Alliance agreed to send an army to put down the popular liberal revolution in Spain. In the Cortes, the Spaniards on January 9 heard that proclamation with great indignation, and they refuse to make any changes to their constitution. Their ambassadors have demanded their passports, and the Spanish are quite angry.

Bernard suggests Beethoven go to a ball to be held by Fraulein Zisius tomorrow. [Her father, Johann Zisius (1772-1824), was a lawyer and professor of law at the University of Vienna, as well as an amateur violinist. As it happens, Beethoven will not feel well tomorrow and stays home, whether or not he was inclined to attend.]

The discussion then turns at last to Johanna van Beethoven; it seems that Bernard did not visit her as instructed in Beethoven’s letters from this morning. Bernard suggests that before taking any position about what if anything to give her, brother Johann should inform himself thoroughly about the matter. It may be that Johanna is only temporarily in financial need. Bernard suggests that Ludwig also should find out more about her situation before making any rash promises. Schindler can act as go-between with Dr. Kleiner, if necessary. There are humanitarian considerations obviously, and Ludwig would do well to remember that she is after all Karl’s mother. Bernard then gives a bootstrapping lecture about how he has supported himself since age 14 when his father died, and his relatives were too poor to give him anything. Even at that age, he gave lessons to other students. Beethoven [who by that age also himself had to support his two younger brothers due to his father’s drunkenness] quickly changes the subject and asks again the name of Johanna’s doctor, which Bernard gives before being ushered out.

Conversation Book 21, 1r-6v.