BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, July 7, 1822 (approximately)

Sometime before July 9, Beethoven makes a day trip to Baden bei Wien. While there, he runs into Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, whom he had met twice in Vienna. Rochlitz’s account, taken from a letter to publisher Christoph Härtel, is reprinted in Sonneck, Beethoven: Impressions of Contemporaries (New York: Schirmer 1926) at pp. 127-128:

1842 lithograph of Johann Friedrich Rochlitz by Carl Lange, Leipzig, after August Böhme, courtesy New York Public Library.

“Our third meeting was the merriest of all. He came here, to Baden, this time looking quite neat and clean and even elegant. Yet this did not prevent him – it was a warm day – from taking a walk in the Helenental. This means on the road all, even the Emperor and the imperial family travel, and where everyone crowds past everyone else on the usually narrow path; and there he took off his fine black frockcoats, slung it across his shoulder from a stick, and wandered along in his shirt-sleeves. He stayed from about ten in the forenoon to six o’clock in the evening. His friends Jener and [Franz] Gebauer kept him company. During the entire visit, he was uncommonly gay and at times most amusing, and all that entered his mind had to come out. (“Well, it happens that I am unbuttoned to-day,” he said, and the remark was decidedly in order.) His talk and his actions all formed a chain of eccentricities, in part most peculiar. Yet they all radiated a truly childlike amiability, carelessness, and confidence in every one who approached him. Even his barking tirades – like that against his Viennese contemporaries, which I have already mentioned – are only explosions of his fanciful imagination and his momentary excitement. They are uttered without haughtiness, without any feeling of bitterness and hatefulness – and are simply blustered out lightly, good-humoredly, the offsprings of a mad, humorous mood. In his life he often shows – and for the sake of his own subsistence only too often and too decidedly – that to the very person who has grievously injured him, whom he has most violently denounced one moment, he will give his last dollar the next, should that person need it.

“To this we must add the cheerful recognition of merit in others, if only it be distinctive and individual. (How he speaks of Handel, Bach, Mozart!) He does not, however, where his greater works are concerned, allow others to find fault (and who would have the right to do so?) yet he never actually overvalues them; and with regard to his lesser things is more inclined, perhaps, to abandon them with a laugh than any other person. He does this the more since once he is in the vein, rough, striking witticisms, droll conceits, surprising and exciting paradoxes suggest themselves to him in a continuous flow. Hence in all seriousness I claim that he even appears to be amiable. Or if you shrink from this word, I might say that the dark, unlicked bear seems so ingenuous and confiding, growls and shakes his shaggy pelt so harmlessly and grotesquely that it is a pleasure, and one has to be kind to him, even though he were nothing but a bear in fact and had done no more than a bear’s best.”