BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Saturday, October 28, 1820

Wilhelm Christian Müller and his daughter Elise, having been invited two days ago to return and join Beethoven for coffee today, arrive back at Beethoven’s new apartment. Alas, Beethoven has made no progress in straightening out his living circumstances. Müller writes, “But when we came back, the same chaos reigned in the rooms. He does not accept any help from friends or invitations to dinner, in order to avoid becoming dependent. [Franz Oliva would no doubt be surprised to hear this.] Freedom is his greatest asset.”

“All his utterances are peculiar, always mixed with satirical humor; they seemed strange because they deviated from the mundane world. When we get together again, I want to tell you a lot of interesting things about this rare spirit.”

“On the outside of him, everything is strong, some of it rough – like the bony structure of his face, with a high, broad forehead, a short angular nose, with hair that shoots upwards and is divided into coarse curls. But he is gifted with a delicate mouth and beautiful, speaking eyes, in which his quick-changing thoughts and feelings are reflected in every moment – graceful, lovingly-willing, threatening death, terrible. – How accurate are his statements about the world in political, moral and aesthetic terms!”

“B. belongs to those people for whom art suffices; the small circle in which he moves is the world to him. The rest of life outside that circle seems to him a wasteland and devoid of joy. ‘Such people,’ says the fantasist [E.T.A.] Hoffmann, ‘always remain children, awkwardly portraying themselves in petty pedantry, and they mock what they do not comprehend. But those spirits in whom the naphtha flame of higher knowledge burns are alienated from the mad goings-on of colorful earthly life; the work they love, and to which they are devoted, is everything to them.'”

[We have not been able to identify the source of this alleged quotation from E.T.A. Hoffmann; if anyone can fill in that information, we would be appreciative. Many thanks to our friend James F. Green for his assistance in translating the convoluted and flowery Hoffmann quotation.]

From Letters to German Friends from a Trip through Italy, Saxony, Bohemia and Austria (Altona 1824) pp. 134-135.

Müller would later do an invaluable piece of early Beethoven biographical work: in a May 23, 1827 article in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (Leipzig, Nr. 21, 234-354), just after Beethoven’s death the month before, he published a collection of memories from those who knew Beethoven, including anecdotes of his childhood in Bonn, many of which otherwise would have vanished unrecorded.

Curiously, in that article Müller summarily lists among Beethoven’s works “12 known and unknown Symphonies.” Are we today missing as many as three juvenile symphonies from the Bonn years that disappeared without any other trace?