BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, August 24, 1823

Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s former pupil, comes to visit for midday dinner around 2 p.m. this afternoon, and they have quite a long conversation. Czerny gives Beethoven his current address. He is always in Vienna on Fridays and Saturdays. Czerny inquires about the new opera he has heard Beethoven is writing, probably meaning Melusine, the proposed collaboration with Grillparzer. He has also heard that Beethoven is half finished with a cantata with libretto Joseph Bernard. [Der Sieg des Kreuzes, which also never got off the ground.]

Lithograph of Carl Czerny, by Joseph Kriehuber (1800-1876) Courtesy New York Public Library

Beethoven talks about doing a tour and taking Karl with him. Czerny thinks it would be a good idea, and six months away from his studies would not hurt Karl significantly.

Czerny is interested in seeing the fine German text for the Mass op.86. It could be used in Protestant Germany that way.

Johann Friedrich Kind (1768-1843) is in Czerny’s estimation the best of qualified living poets. Grillparzer ought to just get out of government.

Because the Italian opera does not come close to covering its expenses, this will be the last year for the Italian opera. The famous tenor Franz Wild is reported to have died. [Wild actually was the victim of a false report that circulated amongst many European newspapers, and he lived until 1860.] While there is money in opera, Czerny believes that instrumental music is more profitable by comparison.

Beethoven and Czerny discuss the differences between Italian and German declamation, the latter having a ways to go to match the Italian art.

Johann Streicher, the piano maker, will be coming to Baden on September 4. [Beethoven was good friends with Streicher’s wife Nanette, who was a pianist and piano maker in her own right in partnership with her brother Matthäus Andreas Stein.] His instruments are the only ones that Czerny likes. There is also some discussion about pirate reprints in Vienna.

They talk about Karl’s study of languages. Unfortunately, the Austrian universities are far behind those in foreign countries. Bachelor economy has its good points. He earns enough to live respectably with his parents, but will need several more years before he can support a wife.

In the winter, he teaches 11 hours daily, but there’s no point in trying to dedicate them to art. There are some very outstanding talents from Hungary, such as little Franz Liszt [whom Czerny had brought to visit Beethoven earlier this year in April.] During the summer he has more time to write and play.

Czerny suggests that sometime Beethoven should write his own Well-Tempered Clavier. Beethoven is skeptical of the interest in fugues. “But the fugue remains ageless as a work of art and is least likely to be governed by fashion,” Czerny observes.

“I don’t know anything for the voice more beautiful than your song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte.” [Op.98, 1816.] Engraving in Vienna has much improved and become more beautiful. But there are too many music publishers there, and they corrupt each other.

Ignaz Moscheles will be very rich. One of his concerts in London brought him 20,000 florins. He will be coming to Vienna next winter. [In fact, Beethoven will loan him his Broadwood piano to use in a concert later this year.] The compositions from foreign countries are “miserable or mediocre at best.”

Returning to the theme of a tour to England, Czerny thinks that it would be a great thing. Perhaps as a pleasure trip, and premiering the new Symphony. A lot of money could be made that way; in Vienna one has to count every kreuzer earned through difficulty and hard work. They have to support so many military and officials. Power, unfortunately, is often combined with injustice.

Czerny asks whether Beethoven has read Memoires de St Helène by Count Emmanuel de Las Cases (1776-1842), about Napoleon’s second exile. His journal was published in 1823. [Today these memoirs are foundational to the theory that Napoleon was slowly poisoned through arsenic.] Napoleon was not Machiavellian enough, Czerny thinks. The conflict between tradition and change is eternal, just like the conflict between the plebes and patricians.

Yet all the world gains through a masterwork; even the most cosmopolitan rejoice when something splendid is performed. Czerny believes that the American Revolution paved the way for the French, and thus Bonaparte. [Editor Theodore Albrecht notes that Beethoven appears to have cautioned Czerny at this point to be more discreet, lest he be overheard by Metternich’s spies and secret police.] Czerny says he needs to stop drinking wine, or he will write even more nonsense.

Czerny notes that Antonio Salieri has declined very much recently, and is already nearly 80. [He had in fact only turned 73 a week earlier.] Czerny finds it odd that Gluck and Cherubini both wrote their works in French, the most difficult of languages.

The French Empire did do good things for the arts, and especially music, such as the Conservatoire. That tradition continues since Louis XVIII is, unlike most monarchs, a connoisseur of the arts. Music is so dependent on equipment that the pianoforte has been the most perfected of instruments. Czerny says that he puts harmony above melody, since it is not so subject to fashion, and that’s particularly true with the clavier, which unites them both. He compliments Beethoven that “your immortal compositions have made the piano valuable to us.” Moscheles plays much in the manner of Beethoven.

As far as operas, Czerny thinks Mozart’s are probably best. His salary as kapellmeister was only 800 florins. His last works show a very noble spirit. Beethoven asks which was Mozart’s final work, and Czerny correctly responds his Requiem. “But he was one of the first who drew forth the aesthetic of refinement.”

The piano tuner comes to Beethoven’s apartment and Czerny tells Beethoven that he wants to know whether the tuner should be kept ready to tune the Archduke’s piano. That interruption brings an end to this long afternoon of master and former student.

Conversation Book 39, 8r-21v.