BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, June 10, 1820

Conversation Book 14, leaves 14r through 26v

Beethoven’s overdue trip to Vienna is a busy one. He meets with his friend/financial advisor/unpaid secretary Franz Oliva and they catch up, possibly over coffee. Oliva has visited the piano maker Matthäus Andreas Stein, who is modifying Beethoven’s Broadwood piano with a tin attachment that in theory would allow Beethoven to hear the notes. Stein says it should be finished in a week or so. Oliva has still not been able to get the signature of the pastor on the pension affidavit saying that Johanna van Beethoven is still alive; “He is never at home.” The woman fishmonger claims she has been “very industrious” about finding Beethoven a new housekeeper, but has come up with nothing.

The two visit Lind’s tailor shop, as Beethoven had planned on June 5, where Beethoven buys his white pants; a coat and grey vest will be made and sent on Tuesday evening June 13 on the post coach to Mödling. Beethoven also orders pants and a vest be sent to Karl at his boarding school. Oliva and Beethoven visit a carpenter and engage him for an unspecified project, to be paid partly now and part at the end of July. This may be for the dining table Beethoven noted he needed for Mödling back on May 3rd. They also visit the tinsmith who was making the tin attachment for Stein, but he has already sent it on to Stein. Beethoven apparently accuses Oliva of wasting his time since the tin attachment is not here for him to inspect; a prickly Oliva responds, “Because I was here several days ago. You are very distrustful.” They also visit an oil dealer and Oliva’s shoemaker, who he describes as the best shoemaker on the continent. Beethoven does not like the prices (28 florins for boots, 10 florins for shoes), so they go to a less expensive shoemaker (20 florins and 7 florins respectively), against Oliva’s better judgment. Oliva departs to have lunch at his boarding house, and Beethoven continues his shopping.

Stopping at a restaurant by himself for lunch, Beethoven totals up the day’s purchases so far (2 sheets, pillowcases, the cheaper shoes and boots, a coffee machine, wine, sugar and oil), all adding up to 71 florins. Beethoven, an inveterate walker, will come to regret not taking Oliva’s advice to buy higher quality shoes.

After lunch, Beethoven visits Friedrich Wähner, a journalist and publisher who had written some of the earliest biographical essays about Beethoven, at the offices of the Wiener Zeitschrift. They discuss Beethoven’s friend Joseph Carl Bernard (who you may recall had visited Beethoven as he was hurriedly packing to leave for Mödling on May 10). Bernard and Johann Schickh had struggled to control the Wiener Zeitschrift in late 1819 and early 1820. Bernard had accused Schickh of publishing too many literary works by women and Protestants (possibly chosen by Wähner, who was himself Protestant). Finally Bernard left the journal in January, 1820, asserting that Schickh would never be able to survive without him. Bernard was rabidly Catholic and anti-Semitic. Bernard had pretty well worn out his welcome with Beethoven also by this time, having acted so lewdly at a Christmas party the previous December that Beethoven pretended he was asleep. Wähner notes that Bernard has struck up a friendship with Joseph Schreyvogel, the court theater secretary who also acted as Austrian censor. So as a result Wähner has to fight both Schreyvogel and Bernard, who are acting in alliance against the Zeitschrift.

By late afternoon, Beethoven meets Oliva once again, probably at a coffeehouse in the City. Oliva has found an agent who knows of two possible housekeepers, whom he will interview on Monday afternoon, June 12. They discuss how much to offer the housekeeper as pay. Joseph Czerny, Karl’s piano teacher, joins up with them. He suggests the Reyners, a man and his wife, would be willing to take service with Beethoven. Czerny notes that he has only been able to give Karl four lessons in the last month; Czerny was quite ill with hepatitis and jaundice in early May and missed Beethoven’s going-away party on May 7. Czerny says he is teaching Karl to play a sonata by Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812); they are also playing four-hand piano works to practice his sight-reading. The café proprietor inserts himself into the housekeeper discussions. Frau Reyner herself abruptly shows up and declares she is ready to do anything a housekeeper has to do. But she needs the engagement to be for longer than a couple months; otherwise they are not willing to give up their lodgings in Vienna. Beethoven makes them a verbal offer, and they say they would like to think it over. The Reyners would expect to be allowed room, board, candles and wood. They will give their answer in the next two days. Beethoven makes arrangements with Czerny for a piano to be delivered to Karl at Blöchlinger’s Institute.

At some uncertain point between Saturday night and Monday June 12, Beethoven returns from Vienna to Mödling. It is possible he stayed until Monday to interview housekeepers with Oliva, but one would expect there to be entries in the book for that and there are none. It seems more likely that he returned late Saturday or sometime Sunday. Since Karl’s free day is Sunday, it would not be surprising for Beethoven to visit with him, but there are again no entries to that effect. There is also no indication that Beethoven ever made it to his lawyer’s office as he had intended, but the conversation with Oliva next week will suggest that Beethoven did in fact talk to attorney Bach; the conversation books are therefore an incomplete, even though very detailed, record of Beethoven’s activities on this day (or weekend). There are numerous other errands Beethoven had intended to run that do not make an appearance in the conversation books either, such as checking out the apartments he had noted, or visiting Friedrich Starke. Beethoven makes a few illegible notes while on the jostling ride back to Mödling. The next clearly datable entry is not until Tuesday, June 13 in Mödling.

Here is Viviana Sofronitsky playing Dussek’s piano sonata op.75 in E-flat major:

No, I don’t know why she’s in a field with a fortepiano.