BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Monday, November 4, 1822

Most of the remainder of Conversation Book 18 is used in a convivial luncheon in honor of Karl Friedrich Hensler’s name day at Zum goldenen Strauss (next to the Theater in the Josephstadt) with a group of musical friends, including Anton Schindler. Today Schindler makes his first authentic entry into the conversation books, having forged quite a few entries after Beethoven’s death in the earlier books, to increase his own apparent importance. Sitting with Beethoven and Schindler at the luncheon was Joseph Drechsler, composer and professor of harmony at the Teachers Training School of St. Anna and kapellmeiseter of the Josephstadt Theater.

Schindler starts by asking Beethoven whether he went to the Fidelio opening the night before, but he did not. He will be going tonight with Karl. Drechsler comments that Beethoven “will be greatly pleased with the conductors at the Kärntnertor.” The first night of the opera went very well and the whole city is satisfied. Most conductors know Beethoven’s works too little: “They only know Rossini. With Rossini, one doesn’t need any strength, merely piano and the usual crescendo.”

They discuss The False Prima-Donna (Die falsche Primadonna in Krähwinkel), with music by Ignaz Schuster, which is playing this evening at the Leopoldstadt Theater. Schuster, a bass, himself plays the title “false prima donna,” singing in falsetto. He will also sing later at this party. Schindler notes that Herr van Hensler, the manager of the Theater in the Josephstadt, entrusted him with taking good care of Beethoven during this dinner [which serves as further proof that Schindler and Beethoven were not intimate friends yet.]

Beethoven notices the sound of the musical clock playing in the restaurant, but is unable to make out what the piece is. Schindler identifies it for him as the overture to Cherubini’s Medea. Schindler jokes that it fares better here than it did yesterday at the Court Theater.

Beethoven asks for music paper, and Schindler tries to get him some, and jokes that Drechsler says Beethoven will give Schuster a 6-pfenning coin if he sings well for them. Schuster would like to see an example of Beethoven’s handwriting. Drechsler notes that Beethoven’s trunk is an artistic treasure chest, from which one can steal nothing [which may be a reference to the trunk being lost or perhaps stolen on the recent move back from Baden.]

Conversation Book 18, f.13v, musical fragments (Biamonti 747), SBB.

Beethoven then writes some extensive musical notations in the conversation book at pages 12r through 13v. These fragments are catalogued as Biamonti 747. Attached as an example is page 13v, with the contrast and brightness enhanced for legibility; the original is quite faintly written in pencil.

Drechsler makes an obscure joke about how he must eat egg salad since he is the first tenor. Schuster begs that he be allowed to sing using his bass voice, rather than falsetto, since he must still perform tonight. Schindler suggests Beethoven stay for the show at the Josephstadt tonight; he doesn’t need a ticket. Karl can come too if he wants since he has already done his school things. Beethoven tells Schindler that they are going to the second performance of Fidelio tonight instead. Schindler notes that Hensler was very moved by the tribute of the Gratulations-Menuett, WoO 3, written for him by Beethoven, and premiered last night.

After the dinner, Beethoven travels the short ways to Blöchlinger’s school and picks up Karl, and they head for the opera, quite a bit before the performance. They find the box first, and then go backstage for a while at Karl’s insistence. After the opera (probably about 9:45 p.m.), Karl notes that the audience insisted that the Overture had to be repeated in the performance the previous evening.

Wilhelmine Schröder notes that she saw Beethoven “sitting in the orchestra behind Umlauf lost in profound thought….Beethoven followed the whole performance with eager attention, and he looked as if he were trying to see from each of our gestures whether we had even half understood him.” Thayer-Forbes pp. 811-812. Fidelio will be repeated again on November 26, December 2 and 17, and March 3 and 18 of 1823. Louis Schlösser, who was at this performance, notes that Schindler and Beethoven’s longtime friend Stephan von Breuning [who had helped Beethoven rework the original libretto of Leonore into the 1806 version, which eventually some years later became Fidelio] were at the theatre with him.

Ludwig and Karl head from the opera to a coffee house. Karl is a typical young man, proclaiming on various topics. He declares that “In general, toothpicks are unhealthy, except when they are made of juniper wood.” He also has opinions on wine: “New wine is always cheap, because afterward it will be the poorest wine, when it has finished fermenting. Therefore one must drink it now, while it is still sweet.” Karl talks about the saying “Fugit irrevocabile tempus” [Time flies irrevocably.] He also discusses interesting Greek gravestone inscriptions, such as “Here Sleeps So-and-So, for the Good Never Die.” He also likes Homer’s: “If Homeros is a God, Then Honor Him Among the Gods. If He is only a Mortal, Then Count Him Among the Gods.”

This concludes Conversation Book 18, f. 9r through 19v. The next book resumes in mid-January, and from there they are pretty consistently extant for the rest of Beethoven’s life.