BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, November 9, 1822

Prince Nikolai Galitzin (artist unknown)

Today, Prince Nicolas Borisovich Galitzin (1794-1866) writes to Beethoven a short note in French from St. Petersburg, Russia, which will have very important repercussions.

“St. Petersburg 9. November 1822.


“As a passionate lover of music as a great admirer of your talent, I take the liberty of writing to you to ask you if you will not agree to compose one, two or three New Quartets, for which I would be happy to pay you whatever amount you judge appropriate. I will accept the dedication with gratitude. Please let me know to which banker I should address the sum you wish to have –

“The instrument that I cultivate is the cello. I await your letter at the following address. To Prince Nicolas de Galitzin, in St Petersburg in care of Mrs Stieglitz et Cie bankers. – I beg you to accept the assurance of my great Admiration and my distinguished Consideration.

“Prince Nicholas Galitzin

“To Monsieur Monsieur Louis van Bethoven [sic] in Viennes”

Galitzin was indeed a talented cellist who had lived in Vienna for a while, and was familiar with Beethoven’s music. Beethoven’s former unpaid assistant, Franz Oliva, is now living in St. Petersburg and working as a German language and literature teacher at the Imperial Lyceum. It is not impossible that Oliva may have been involved in advising Galitzin about how to best approach the notoriously prickly Beethoven with this request. The letter certainly pushes all the right buttons (particularly the offer of the blank check) and avoids anything that might set off his temper. It also fits Beethoven’s desire to write quartets, which had been rejected by C.F. Peters as being too expensive in his letter of July 12.

In any event, Beethoven will accept the commission, which will result in the three late quartets opp.127, 130 and 132. Thus inspired, he will go on and write several more quartets. Attached is a portrait of Galitzin by an unknown artist.

Brandenburg Letter 1508, Albrecht Letters to Beethoven 299. The original of the letter is held by the Beethovenhaus, H.C. Bodmer Collection Br 286. The first part of the letter (up until the word “music”) has been lost, and is supplied from the transcription in Thayer-Dieters-Riemann, IV at 324. The date of the letter is given as November 9 under the new Gregorian calendar, while the postmark, which is admittedly difficult to read, uses the old style Julian calendar, “1822 OKT 28.” Russia did not formally adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918. The letter can be seen at:

On the same date, Leipzig publisher Carl F. Peters writes to Beethoven asking about the promised songs, marches and bagatelles (for which he has already sent payment). He also inquires about the Mass, which he has agreed to buy at Beethoven’s stated price. The letter is now lost, but its date and its contents are known from Beethoven’s reply of November 22.