BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Monday, June 19, 1820 (approximately)

Conversation Book 14, leaves 46r through 50r

Beethoven’s draft letter to Blöchlinger, the headmaster of Karl’s boarding school, contains heavy-handed and frequently pathetic instructions for how Karl should be dealt with.

Despite his claim that Karl was engaging in “terrible deeds” in the previous letter, Beethoven does note here that he has concluded that the facts as represented by Blöchlinger on Saturday the 17th with respect to at least two incidents about Karl were not true. He suggests Blöchlinger go through the two incidents with Karl, and listen to his remarks.

Most of the letter consists of Beethoven urging Blöchlinger to act as a proxy for Beethoven, and to speak to Karl about the pain he is causing his uncle. Beethoven mentions that Karl was instructed in a Socratic manner in his home, which must have been something less than delightful for a young boy.

He suggests Blöchlinger say, “Tell me the truth in everything; also if you have to offend me, I can care for you and I want to restore your soul to health. How have you found your mother [to be] since your childhood.

“Then lead back to the pain that he has caused me; say that others have already said that you would have completely divested yourself of him [if you were] in my place – go through various periods of his childhood with him. [Tell him that] each detrimental association with his mother is of detrimental consequence for you. However, if Karl places these actions by his mother in a favorable light to you … It would be the greatest depravity, and out of love also does not allow his being reconciled with her.”

Translation by Theodore Albrecht, Letters to Beethoven, Letter 272. As was the case with the letter to Karl, it is unknown whether this letter was ever completed or sent.

As we work through the conversation books, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Beethoven’s composition work is often not reflected in them. During this summer, Beethoven was doing much of his composing out of doors while on his walks around the Mödling countryside, using pencil on small homemade “pocket sketchbooks.” These were really just small folded gatherings of music paper assembled by Beethoven, sometimes stitched together by him. On the last page of the pocket sketchbook Bonn Beethovenhaus BH 108/SBH 666, used April-June of 1820 and almost entirely devoted to the slow section of the Credo of the Missa Solemnis (between “Et incarnatus est” and “Et resurrexit”), Beethoven notes two ads from the Wiener Zeitung of June 16, 1820. One is for a five-room suburban apartment. The other is for a newly published book on learning Greek and Latin in two months, which was almost certainly for Karl, who was studying those languages. Beethoven probably noted these ads on June 18 or 19 in Mödling; he was in Vienna on the 17th and most likely returned on the 18th. Alternatively, it’s possible that he noted these ads early on the morning of the 17th before going to Vienna. The last Credo sketches before those ads therefore likely date from right around that time.

The next pocket sketchbook for the Missa Solemnis is not used until October 1820. So around June 19, 1820 would be when Beethoven went back over his sketches and started reworking the first half of the Credo in ink in his desk sketchbook Artaria 195, presently held by the Berlin Staatsbiliothek. After completing that task, Beethoven then set the Mass aside for about three months to work seriously on the last two movements of the piano sonata #30, op.109.

Following is the “Et incarnatus est” section of the Credo of the Missa Solemnis, performed by Georg Solti conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and Rundfunkchor Berlin.