BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, June 17, 1820

Conversation Book 14, leaves 35v through 45v.

It’s a busy shopping and business day in Vienna again, and things turn quite distressing. Beethoven meets his friend Franz Oliva, as usual, who inquires as to whether the tailor, Lind, had sent the clothes he promised last week. Oliva notes that the possible housekeeper recommended by Frau Peters had also worked for the painter and educator Friedrich August von Klinkowström.

It appears that last week Beethoven did get a chance to speak to his attorney, Johann Baptist Bach, since Oliva has some followup news consistent with what Beethoven had noted on his reminder list that he wanted to discuss. Oliva talked to Bach the night before (Friday, June 16), and while he doesn’t have the letter [probably relating to the never-ending guardianship appeal] ready yet, he had many encouraging things to say about a collected edition of Beethoven’s works. [Unfortunately, no such edition would occur during Beethoven’s lifetime.]

Beethoven and Oliva interview Frau Peters’ housekeeper. She is a middle-aged single Jewish woman who says she cooks “plain home cooking, prepared in the customary way.” She is very clean and gets up at 5 o’clock. She has her own bed, and only needs a bed quilt, plus 2 pounds of sugar and a pound of coffee per month. No decision is made about her employment, but she seems like the most serious candidate yet. No more is said about the Reyners, who although very interested last week apparently rejected Beethoven’s offer in the meantime.

Oliva and Beethoven discuss ear trumpets, both cardboard and metal, in connection with Beethoven’s Broadwood piano that Stein is modifying for Beethoven’s hearing problems. Stein hopes it to be ready by next week (i.e. the 24th), but would like Beethoven to try it out the middle of next week (i.e., around the 21st). The hearing device is made of very thin metal. Stein would also like to see the ear trumpet that Mälzel made for Beethoven; he can either visit Beethoven in Mödling tomorrow, or Beethoven can send it to him by coach to Vienna.

Someone (likely Oliva) probably comments on Beethoven’s shaggy appearance, because the composer suddenly writes “++ Haircut”

Oliva goes shopping with Beethoven. The quest for a salt barrel is delayed because the man who has them will not come into the shop until after midday dinner. At the Court Apothecary, they also inspect mousetraps that are triggered by threads; the technique is to toast a small piece of bread with a candle, with suet, and place suet on the thread. Then cover the whole thing with hemp, and it is placed in one of the four holes in the traps. When the mouse bites on the thread, attracted by the bread and suet, the trap closes.

Oliva says he will go to visit the lawyer, Bach, after lunch, to see whether he has finished the letter. They agree to meet at 6 PM, after Beethoven visits the Blöchlinger Institute to check in on nephew Karl. After Oliva leaves, Beethoven leaves a cryptic note in his conversation book: “Gmunden. [a town halfway between Linz and Salzburg] A journey there with K[arl]? O God.” This comment may have been added here after the visit to Blöchlinger.

Things are not going well at Blöchlinger’s Institute, where Karl was at boarding school. Blöchlinger is on quite a rant about Johanna and her evil influence on Karl. He is convinced she is a scoundrel, and that Karl is one as well. “The boy lies as often as he opens his mouth.” He also complains about Karl’s laziness. This is quite a change from the glowing reports given about the boy in May. Blöchlinger suggests taking the boy to Salzburg or even farther (this may be the connection to the trip to Gmunden mentioned above), to get him away from the influence of his mother. Karl actually had suggested this course himself the previous year. They discuss Johanna’s pregnancy (plainly unaware that she has already given birth several days ago), and how it can be used to show Karl that his mother is immoral. Blöchlinger has gone so far as to tell Karl that she was locked up in a house of correction [no known Austrian jail records support this allegation, so moralistic Blöchlinger was probably lying]. When Beethoven inquires as to whether the pants and vest that Lind was to send Karl had arrived, Blöchlinger says Lind hasn’t brought anything. Blöchlinger concludes by asking Beethoven to tell Karl that Johanna is leading him to evil.

There are no entries from Karl in this conversation book. I expect they spoke in a secluded place where Karl could freely talk at volume. In his draft letter to Blöchlinger on June 19, Beethoven notes that Blöchlinger has the facts wrong about two incidents regarding Karl, so the boy must have spoken to Beethoven about them.

In any event, after departing Beethoven continues his shopping, and probably gets his haircut (it does not reappear in the next few to-do lists). He meets Oliva, probably at either Beethoven’s or Oliva’s apartment, at 6 PM as agreed. Oliva relates that attorney Bach says he has still not had a chance to draft the letter due to the press of business, and asks Oliva to come back on Monday, June 19. At lunch Oliva saw Joseph Carl Bernard (Beethoven’s journalist friend who was the subject of conversation last Saturday, June 10 with Wähner), who said he and their mutual friend Franz Janschikh would like to see Beethoven a week from tomorrow (Sunday, June 25). [Bernard does visit Beethoven in Mödling, but not until Sunday, July 2.]

At a wine or coffee shop, there is further discussion of how the mousetraps work, as Oliva basically repeats the entire procedure about toasted bread and suet from the morning. It seems the discussions with Blöchlinger and Karl are absorbing Beethoven’s thoughts. Oliva mentions that Bernard knows the Jewish housekeeper applicant, and that he believes she is related to Johann Emanuel Veith (1788-1876), a veterinary professor who also wrote dramas and Singspiels (musical plays) on the side. She said she would be satisfied with any pay. Another applicant had been getting 20 florins pay. Oliva repeats himself several times throughout this rather long conversation, another indication Beethoven was not paying attention and kept asking him the same questions.

Beethoven returns to Mödling either this evening or the next morning, with much weighing on his mind.