BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, February 7, 1824

Poet Franz Grillparzer visits Beethoven at his apartment today. Grillparzer remains distraught that his play Ottokar has been absolutely forbidden by the Austrian censor; they won’t even allow it to be printed. Beethoven asks why not? It is determined to be too much for Austrian audiences. Grillparzer finds this ironic, since the play is actually patriotic, and no one who has read it can understand why it should be forbidden.

Grillparzer ventures to ask whether Beethoven has taken up the libretto to Melusine again. Beethoven does not answer. [Beethoven had written to him last month asking what he was requiring as conditions for the libretto from the Court Opera. If Grillparzer wrote back, the letter has not survived.] Grillparzer says he has contacted the director of the Court Opera twice, but received no reply. Beethoven asks how much he asked for the libretto. Grillparzer wanted 100 ducats for it. Beethoven is impressed and asks why he wanted so much. Grillparzer explains that all the profit from an opera libretto comes only from the theater where it is first performed. If he had made it into a spoken drama, rather than tailoring it for an opera, he would have made three times as much. In any event, he had to ask for that much in order to meet his obligations to his publisher, Wallishauser.

Grillparzer repeats his question about whether Beethoven has begun to compose Melusine yet. Beethoven finally admits that he has not, and would like some changes to the libretto. Grillparzer is accommodating, and asks Beethoven to simply write out what he wants for changes. Beethoven thinks that it would be better to begin with a chorus of nymphs, rather than a hunters’ chorus. But the piece has to begin with a hunt for dramatic reasons, Grillparzer insists. He suggests that the hunters’ chorus could be heard as part of the Introduction, without the hunters actually appearing on stage. But starting off with a chorus of nymphs would also weaken the effect of the chorus at the end of the first Act. Beethoven thinks otherwise, and Grillparzer has to acknowledge that he really doesn’t understand opera texts.

Beethoven suggests that he’d like to have the opera finished by about September. Grillparzer is on board with that idea, for the director of the opera wants to raise its reputation with the public, especially after the recent disaster of Weber’s Euryanthe and the ensuing cancellation of the festival of German opera. Grillparzer is concerned that the libretto might be too long. [Unfortunately, Beethoven’s response is not indicated either directly or by implication.]

Grillparzer turns to casting of the principals. People are talking about a young tenor named Cramolini, who “in addition to a fair figure, is said to have a very beautiful voice.” [Cramolini will make his Vienna debut at the K√§rntnertor Theater in a few weeks, on February 25, 1824.] The director is having him instructed. Beethoven suggests bass Anton Forti, but Grillparzer thinks he is somewhat heavy for the role.

Preparing to leave, Grillparzer repeats his request for the necessary changes to the Melusine libretto to be provided in writing. He is not busy now, so if Beethoven can do that soon, Grillparzer can do whatever is required quickly.

Beethoven complains about his obligation to write the oratorio Der Sieg des Kreuzes on Joseph Bernard’s libretto. Grillparzer acknowledges that Bernard’s writing is somewhat prosaic. [Beethoven appears to recount some of the substantial action in the libretto.] Grillparzer notes that an oratorio should not be too dramatic. And since there’s no visible action like one has at the opera, an audience can easily fail to comprehend it.

Grillparzer asks whether it’s even possible to portray Jesus Christ musically. Beethoven may make reference here to his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. Grillparzer continues that the music needs to portray pain, human pain, but then where is there room for God? But all that aside, he thinks the Biblical book of Judith would be good material for an oratorio.

Beethoven asks what Grillparzer is working on now. It’s the drama Drahomira. “A great deal of veriety, great characters, effects.” The title character is a 9th-century heathen queen, the mother of St. Wenceslaus. One of her sons killed the other, who was a Christian. “In Prague, they still show the place where she, along with her carriage and horses, were swallowed up by the earth.”

Beethoven suggests that if the censor will not relent about Ottokar, Grillparzer could always have it published in Prussia. Grillparzer will take that as an option, once he has given up all hope here in Vienna.

Beethoven asks what Grillparzer thinks of his patron and pupil Archduke Rudolph. Grillparzer’s opinion is that he is witty, but only for those who are his peers. Grillparzer departs.

Conversation Book 55, 2v-5v