BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, November 29, 1823

Berlin concertmaster Carl Wilhelm Henning (1784-1867) comes to visit Beethoven today, in hopes of getting him to loan the score for Consecration of the House for the opening of the new theater in Berlin. He had previously come with Schuppanzigh on November 5. He bears greetings from Johann Duncker (1768?-1842), the first chamber secretary to the King of Prussia, who had known Beethoven since the days of the Congress of Vienna back in 1814.

Henning is quite pleased with how the Schuppanzigh Quartet played one of his string quartets yesterday, saying they played it “superbly.” Apparently the Viennese were amazed that a Berliner could be musical and compose a rational quartet.

Henning is staying another ten days; they are at the hotel Zum ungarischen König (At the Sign of the Hungarian King). Beethoven doesn’t remember his guest’s name, and Henning repeats it for him in the conversation book.

Beethoven launches into his usual diatribe about how Vienna does not appreciate art or artists. Henning is ready to agree, this has been the case with Austria “from ancient times,” and it is sad to see the consequences. In Berlin, people are fortunate since they live in complete freedom and the arts and sciences flourish ever more; the only real obstacle is the ego of Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851), the music director at the Royal Opera in Berlin.

Beethoven mentions that he knows Prince Anton Radziwill (1775-1833), who lives in Berlin. Henning says he actually alternates between Berlin and Posen, where is is governor. “He plays your Quartets superbly; we’ve passed the time with several works, 2 or 3 times each, at his place, with ever-increasing pleasure until 3 o’clock at night.”

Radziwill has also set several scenes from Goethe’s Faust for orchestra. This sparks Beethoven’s interest, for he has long had thoughts of composing an opera to Goethe’s Faust. Henning thinks that would be very fine, especially if he would designate it to be performed at the Berlin theater. Henning encourages Beethoven to write out his ideas and concept, and Henning will give it to their librettist to work from as a model. He’s a very talented young man, who would certainly agree to any of Beethoven’s requirements. Beethoven makes his usual complaint that it’s very difficult to get a good German libretto. Henning agrees, and that is why they have a poet on staff full time.

Henning takes his leave, asking that he might call one more time before they leave, and he can pick up Beethoven’s thoughts on Faust.

Later that afternoon, Beethoven is in a coffeehouse reading current and old newspapers. He makes a note that he needs to make a decision about which of two women to hire as a new housekeeper, so Pamer, who was just rehired, is already out again. Beethoven also copies an ad for a new book on heating with warm air, by P.J. Meissner. [The editors note that this ad appeared in a newspaper that was at least six weeks old at this point.] He also makes note of a place selling snuff tobacco tins.

That evening, Nephew Karl joins Uncle Ludwig and relates the argument that the maid and housekeeper were having last night. He didn’t think it so important at the time.

Uncle Ludwig, probably intending to write Franz Brentano or to the Cäcilia-Verein there, asks when the postal coach goes to Frankfurt. It leaves every Saturday.

They discuss hiring a new housekeeper, and Karl asks about the one that Count Moritz Lichnowsky wanted to bring over. She wasn’t suitable, Ludwig thinks, because she wouldn’t or couldn’t do everything wanted by herself and a second housekeeper would be needed. [There had previously been a discussion about contracting out the laundry services in particular.] Karl notes that one must consider that the old woman [former housekeeper Barbara Holzmann] used to do everything herself, so they didn’t need anyone else. Now the current one “does absolutely nothing and therefore leaves a gaping hole there.”

The maid is difficult and like to keep secrets. “She has made it a principle to conduct herself quite roughly with us, because, she says, ‘if I behave timidly, then it is only more annoying.'” The old woman could be bought off with a glass of wine, but not her.

Karl then complains that the pike for dinner cost over 20 kr. in silver, which is far too much. “How is that possible? !?!?? O Tempora, o mores!” [quoting Cicero.] The maid seems indifferent and ready to leave. But if someone is there and she is scolded, she takes it badly. “For example, when you scolded her in front of Schuppanzigh, she was quite beside herself about the humiliation of her offended dignity.”

Classes at university can be pretty disruptive; the professor of history issued a warning to his class, which raised a loud commotion against him. “There was a scuffle in one corner of the hall during the period, so that he himself had to rise from the lecturer’s seat in order to separate the combatants.” Neither would tell Professor Wikosch (1751-1826) his name so the professor threw them out bodily. In Professor Stein’s Greek lectures, by contrast, “you can hear a mouse stirring; everything is that quiet. Everything depends upon the Professor. If he behaves passively, he is already lost.”

Karl passes on some gossip about the infamous pedophile Prince Aloys Wenzel Kaunitz (1774-1858), who had been the ambassador to Spain. [He was arrested the previous year for abusing and having sexual relations with at least 200 girls between the ages of 11 and 14.] Karl says Kaunitz is now said to have shot himself. [Kaunitz did not; instead he paid reparations to the parents of the girls, retired to his estate and died in Paris at age 75 twenty-five years later. Among the prominent girls he assaulted were ballet dancers Fanny and Therese Elssler, whose family Beethoven had known through Haydn; he was therefore probably quite interested in the apparent bad end of Kaunitz. The Prince being part of the nobility meant his proclivities were tolerated in Vienna for many years, until Scottish lawyer John Russell wrote a book describing his visit to the City, publicly exposing Kaunitz’s conduct to international disgrace. The Emperor immediately ordered Kaunitz imprisoned and charged.]

Conversation Book 47, 1r-7v.

Prince Nikolai Galitzin writes to Beethoven today from St. Petersburg. He is overjoyed to have received the Missa Solemnis, and immediately set about having a performance done. They have excellent cantors who will serve as the soloists and quite good choruses. He has not, as of yet, received the piano sonatas that Beethoven said he had sent. [Actually Sonata op.111 and the Diabelli Variations, op.120.] He himself sometimes for amusement arranges Beethoven’s sonatas for string quartet, since he does not play the piano himself. [Galitzin has previously let Beethoven know that he plays the cello.] But he has heard them played by Karl Zeuner (1775-1841), a student of Clementi who has been in St. Petersburg since 1805.

Galitzin agrees with Beethoven that the bad taste in vogue in Europe is revolting, and he likewise finds the Italian charlatanry to be irritating. “All this enthusiasm for Italian gargoyles will pass, but your masterpieces are immortal.” While he is impatient to receive the first of the quartets he has commissioned, Galitzin understands that sometimes one must wait for inspiration. “We do not order the genius, but he does it as he will….I only ask you to remember me in your moments of inspiration.” [This section seems to bear the unmistakable mark of the input of former unpaid assistant Franz Oliva, now a professor German in St. Petersburg, since one could hardly imagine a letter more absolutely calculated to please Beethoven. Galtizin also pointedly does not remind Beethoven that he commissioned the quartets over a year ago.] “Too young to have known the celebrated Mozart, and only having seen the last years of Haydn, whom I merely glimpsed in Vienna, I rejoice to be the contemporary of the third Hero of Music, who can only find equals in them, and who must rightly be proclaimed the God of melody and harmony.”

Brandenburg Letter 1752, Albrecht Letter 338. The original is held in the Bonn Beethovenhaus, NE 54, and can be seen here:

Ignaz Moscheles holds the second of his 1823 Vienna concerts at the Kärntnertor Theatre. The concert concludes with an unidentified Beethoven symphony, and most probably only one movement of whichever symphony it was. Moscheles also performs a fantasy “on a theme by Beethoven and a theme by Mozart.” The critic for Der Sammler at 596, December 13, 1823, did not identify the themes, but said that the ideas were unified as a beautiful whole, with the interspersed figures tastefully done. According to the Wiener Zeitschrift at 1215 (December 9, 1823), the Mozart theme utilized in this fantasy was the wine duet “Vivat Bacchus” from Abduction from the Seraglio, but the source of the Beethoven theme does not appear to have been reported.