BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, August 12, 1820

Conversation Book 15, leaves 42r through 56r

Beethoven goes to Vienna again, his third trip in the space of a week. This unusual frequency suggests that these appearances were at the request of Archduke Rudolph, probably for lessons. As is typical, however, there are no entries by the Archduke in the conversation book.

After the lessons conclude, Beethoven goes to his room in the Allegasse and makes a short shopping list, including pens, blotting paper and a suit coat. He is joined by Franz Oliva, who is under the impression that the Missa Solemnis is nearly ready for performance. Oliva mentions that Schlemmer told him yesterday that the piece Beethoven requested from the Archduke’s archives on July 14 has been sent to the copyist. Beethoven tells Oliva about the offer from London for an opera, and they briefly discuss how to respond.

Oliva then describes the complicated procedure for getting paid on the bank shares, which requires a deposit certificate that must be obtained, from which new coupons will be cut. That will cover the payments for several years. Oliva offers to cover the expense of getting the deposit certificate for Beethoven. [Since Oliva works for a banker, perhaps he is able to obtain them more cheaply or readily.]

Back in June, Beethoven had opted to buy less expensive shoes contrary to Oliva’s advice. He is paying for that decision now, since he has developed heel problems from walking in these shoes. He consults a doctor or apothecary (possibly Dr. Joseph Biehl, whom Beethoven said he needed to make an appointment with on August 1), who gives him a salve to rub on his heel twice per day. He also advises that Beethoven avoid walking, only wear his widest boots, and continue to take full baths every second day.

[Here (44v and 45r) Oliva left a page and a half blank; Beethoven’s biographer Anton Schindler found that blank area after the composer’s death and filled in some phony entries that made it appear he was involved in the composition of the Mass and studied the piano sonatas op.10 under Beethoven’s instruction.]

The Figaro House, once Mozart’s home, where Bach’s offices are located

Beethoven then goes to visit his lawyer, Johann Baptist Bach, at his offices in the so-called Figaro house where Mozart once had an apartment, about 4 p.m. Bach tries to put a stop to Blöchlinger’s demands that Johanna van Beethoven not be allowed to see her son Karl. Since she has not been convicted of an offense or crime, no court would deprive her of the right to see her son. And even if such a request were to be granted, she is “a cunning woman” and they would conduct secret meetings and secret correspondence. Better to have their communications be in the open; Beethoven should always be present when Karl sees her. This is not a matter for the law, but watchfulness. However, Blöchlinger is within his rights not to let her in without Ludwig being present. Bach suggests that one option is to require Johanna visit Karl at uncle Ludwig’s apartment, because she dislikes going there. If she continues to be a problem, it would be possible to get a restraining order, but Blöchlinger should stay out of it. As an attorney, I would say this is pretty sound legal advice even today.

Beethoven and Oliva then visit a coffeehouse, where Oliva passes on a juicy rumor he heard (even though he was sworn to secrecy) that Napoleon had died. [In fact, Napoleon would not die until May 1821] He mentions that when Bach said he would like to come visit in Mödling, Oliva told him to wait until Beethoven had a good cook, and that wasn’t the case right now. The cook Kaufmann had recommended is not worth what she is being paid. Since it is unlikely Oliva has visited Beethoven in Mödling over the last few days, it seems Beethoven has been complaining bitterly about her cooking.

They discuss politics for a bit, including the uprising in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies that had occurred on July 2, and the recent acceptance of a new constitution in Sardinia.

The money from Schlesinger has still not arrived from Berlin, so Oliva suggests that it may be a good idea to check in with Prince Lobkowitz and see whether payment can be made on Beethoven’s pension.

In the late afternoon, Beethoven makes a shopping list, which includes yet another reminder for pens and blotting paper, a spoon, a box for blotting sand, and wine, sugar and coffee. [He and Oliva may pick up the copies of the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108 from the copyists on this trip. Whenever that occurs, Oliva is enlisted to write in the English texts to the songs with his neat bookkeeper handwriting.]

Joseph Carl Bernard joins Oliva and Beethoven, and immediately monopolizes the conversation about the proposed British opera project. Bernard observes that English history is rich with romantic materials. In addition, English poets and scholars can be consulted for their input. He questions whether English tastes require or even want a ballet as the French would. He also expresses his disdain for Italian opera, but concludes that the subject is not that important; operas that are epoch-making get performed no matter what they are about.

Carl Baumann has also expressed interest in publishing a complete edition of Beethoven’s works; Bernard told him to come up with a plan and bring it to Beethoven.

Oliva, possibly getting annoyed, excuses himself. Bernard goes on, reminding Beethoven that he will need to make a contract with the London theater. Beethoven’s sister-in-law Johanna comes up again, and Bernard observes that through her antics and by having more children she is creating a great deal of baggage for herself. Everyone knows and talks about her. “In any case, it is a sordid story. The whole family is psychologically and morally corrupt.” [It seems word has gotten out about the birth of illegitimate Ludovica. Beethoven nevertheless cannot have been happy about this characterization of “the whole family,” which would include Karl.] There is also some chatter about relative quality of the spas in Heiligenstadt, Döbling and Mödling.

As Beethoven goes to make arrangements for his carriage home, and probably has his shopping sent on ahead, he meets Oliva who says that there is a woman in a predicament who needs a ride to Mödling, and asks whether he is all right with her accompanying him. Beethoven agrees to help her out.

At the offices of the Wiener Zeitschrift, Beethoven talks to Johann Schickh, who asks why Beethoven is never seen in the City, and whether the Mass has been performed yet. He suggests an Akademie concert in the late fall, with portions of the Missa Solemnis presented. Schickh also inquires as to how Bernard is coming with the oratorio libretto over which he has been procrastinating.

Oliva computes for Beethoven the total daily expense that the housekeeper is running him, adding up her pay, bread and cream expenses. He figures the amount for 60 days, which is about how much longer Beethoven will remain in Mödling. Beethoven may be weighing whether it is worth suffering through her cooking for the balance of his stay there.

The coachman is waiting for the 9 p.m. departure; the distressed woman riding along has already tipped him. As Beethoven prepares to board, Oliva suggests that Beethoven should ask for at least 400 pounds from London for the commissioned opera. If they want to have the proprietary rights over the opera, then they should pay double that, and they can keep the box-office income. Beethoven then returns to Mödling.

On this same day, Nikolaus Simrock writes to Beethoven from Bonn, accepting Beethoven’s price of 100 louis d’or for the Missa Solemnis, on the understanding that 100 louis d’or is the equivalent of 100 friedrichs d’or, or 200 ducats. Simrock feels he cannot pay more than that; the chances for sales are fairly slim since he is dealing with a mostly Protestant market that will not be interested in a Catholic Mass. Brandenburg letter 1405. The letter is unfortunately lost, but its contents are known from Beethoven’s reply and discussions in the conversation books after he received it. Simrock does not appear to have understood Beethoven’s letter of July 23 that specified in some detail that a louis d’or is not in fact equivalent to a friedrich d’or. Simrock’s characterization of the fee will set in motion a long chain of issues regarding the chaotic exchange rates that will continue through much of 1820.