BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, March 14, 1824

Beethoven probably continues his proofreading of parts to the Missa Solemnis this morning and has not yet dressed when unpaid assistant Anton Schindler arrives around noon with the news that alto Caroline Unger and soprano Henriette Sontag are free to come here for dinner today. Beethoven, shocked at this, complains about the late notice, but Schindler says one of the women didn’t let him know that they were available until today. It’s still early in the day, so one could have soft boiled “Spanish partridges” [their joking name for potatoes.]

Schindler leaves to get the young women and bring them back. The housekeeper doesn’t like the idea that they will have unexpected dinner guests any more than Beethoven does. She goes out for some hurried shopping, but everything is already closed. She manages to get a hen and two portions of meat from the restaurant downstairs. She asks how many there will be for dinner. The answer is four: the two ladies, Schindler and Beethoven. [Karl appears to be elsewhere today; he will be at the Schuppanzigh Quartet concert at 4 p.m. with Brother Johann, and he may presently be at the concert at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, where a symphony by Mozart and the cantata Davidde penitente, K.469, are being performed. He might alternatively be at one of Carl Czerny’s private Sunday concerts.] There is salad, and they have Gugelhupf for a pastry, so she is able to scrape together something. Beethoven hurriedly gets dressed and tries to make himself presentable to receive two young ladies.

Probably between 1 and 2, Schindler returns with Sontag and Unger, while Beethoven is still shaving. They modestly turn aside and wait for him to finish, then Unger says they both rejoice that Beethoven was so kind as to invite them. They’ve just come from rehearsal, so they ask to be excused that they are so early. Unger jokes that they had a rehearsal of today’s weather: the opera Der Schnee [The Snow. That opera by Daniel François Esprit Auber is scheduled to premiere Friday, March 19, and as she suggests, it is snowing in Vienna both this morning and afternoon.]

Beethoven apologizes for the poor fare he has to offer them. Sontag says she hasn’t come to eat well, but to make Beethoven’s acquaintance which she has so looked forward to. Unger says Schindler told them “to the delight of all, you have finally decided to give a concert.” The ladies would be most grateful if they would be considered worthy to sing in it. She suggests they go into the room with the Broadwood piano, and they can sing Beethoven something, perhaps a piece from Fidelio. Unfortunately, Beethoven does not have a copy. Unger is surprised he doesn’t have Fidelio at hand.

Beethoven runs down the list of what’s intended to be played at the concert. Unger says that he needs to do the Benedictus from the Missa Solemnis. Beethoven protests that it’s too long. Unger scoffs, “How could the public find one of your works to be long?”

Possibly while the ladies are looking at the stacks of music on the piano to find something to sing, an angry Beethoven pulls Schindler aside and demands an explanation for why he brought them to dinner with almost no advance notice. Schindler repeats he did not find Fraulein Unger at home yesterday. “Therefore I could not find out until today; therefore, it’s not my fault.” Unger inserts herself, saying Schindler knew the day before yesterday that she was coming, but the only question was about whether Sontag could make it. But Unger did promise to bring Sontag. A cornered Schindler says that yes, he knew that, but couldn’t find out yesterday whether Sontag would come.

Over the modest dinner, the topic of summer comes up, and Beethoven mentions he will probably be in Baden again. Sontag protests that is too far away, and he should summer somewhere closer, so they can visit him often. [Beethoven does stay during the first part of the summer in Penzing, only about three miles southwest of Vienna.]

After dinner, Schindler takes the ladies home. They cannot stay late because they have a rehearsal for a Court concert at 10 a.m. tomorrow, for a concert scheduled the following day at the Hofburg. Schindler, wounded and humiliated, bitterly mulls over his rough treatment by Beethoven in front of these young women, but says nothing.

Conversation Book 59, 11v-13v.

1823 lithographic portrait of Caroline Unger, by Ferdinand von Lütgendorff (1785-1858)

In 1873, Unger wrote to Ludwig Nohl about her acquaintance with Beethoven, and this visit in particular. She believed that Beethoven’s friendliness to her was caused by the composer’s friendship with her father. About this visit, she wrote: “I can still see the simple room in the Landstrasse, where a piece of cord served as a bell pull, and where a large table stood in the middle, on which good roast beef was served to us with fine sweet wine. I see the second room next to it, filled to the ceiling with orchestral parts. In the middle of it stood the piano that Field (if I am not mistaken) had sent to Beethoven from London. Jette Sontag and I entered into this room as if into a church, and we attempted (unfortunately in vain) to sing for the esteemed master.”

“I remember my presumptuous remark that he did not understand how to write for the voice because a note in my part in the Symphony lay too high for my voice. To that he answered, ‘Just learn it, and the note will come.’ To this day, that phrase has remained a byword in my work.” Ludwig Nohl, Mosaik (1881), p.282.

Ferdinand Piringer, who has taken over as the conductor for the irregularly-held Concerts spirituel after the death of Franz Xaver Gebauer, writes to Beethoven today. Piringer addresses him: “Generalissime omnium compositorum!” Beethoven has agreed to provide parts for the Pastoral Symphony for use in the next Concert spirituel [to be held April 1], and Piringer asks whether he can come by for them, or he can send for them on Tuesday or Wednesday. Piringer also asks about Beethoven’s Akademie concert, whether it has been scheduled and when, and whether he can contribute something to it. “I am at your command with the greatest pleasure.” He signs it “Excellentissimi humillimus servus.” Beethoven arranges for the parts to be provided to Piringer, and the symphony is performed as planned on April 1.

Brandenburg Letter 1792; Albrecht Letter 347. The original is held by the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, aut.35,56. Schindler has written a note on the letter, describing Piringer as “a very funny man, who was often able to cheer Beethoven up with his facial expressions alone.” Schindler also explains that Piringer called Mozart the King of Music, and Beethoven his “Generalissimus.” Because of their relationship, Beethoven allowed Piringer to address him in this manner, though he would not tolerate it from others. On the letter after its receipt, Beethoven has written a number of notes, probably communications or reminders for the copyists, including that where there is no pause written, the copyists still need to supply them, and for the first flute to be written an octave lower with an 8va marking. There are also conversations with the housekeeper, who advises that the washerwoman is there, and they only have enough wood until Thursday [probably March 18th]. These notes confirm that when a conversation book was not at hand, any convenient scrap of paper could be used for communication with Beethoven, though few of them have survived.

The Schuppanzigh Quartet’s sixth and final concert in its fourth subscription series is held today. The program is a momentous one, for it features the premiere of “a new quartet by Schubert. One must hear this composition more often in order to judge it thoroughly.” [This premiere was the Rosamunde Quartet, Franz Schubert’s Quartet Nr. 13 in A minor, op.29, D.804, which was indeed just completed by Schubert. The composer dedicated the piece to Ignaz Schuppanzigh.]

Also on the program is Beethoven’s beloved Septet op.20 in E-flat major. The latter piece features Herrn. Joseph Friedlowsky on clarinet, August Mittag on bassoon and Michael Herbst playing horn. “All of the artists performed this powerful and at the same time lovely work by our highly revered Beethoven with particular diligence and fire; the Minuet and Trio had to be repeated, and the audience left the concert hall completely satisfied. Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung Nr.12, March 27, 1824 at 45.

Looking back over this just-concluded series, the critic of the Vienna AMZ held forth at length about the delights of the string quartet form. “We cannot help but thank the entrepreneur as well as all the participating artists. Mr. Schuppanzigh certainly had to believe that all it took was one decision to gather around him all the true connoisseurs and lovers of music. One can as a result view the violin quartet and its revival in these productions as a striving against the theatrical hypersthenia, i.e. against the opera arias and singspiels, and the form should be preserved. It takes a finely trained ear to follow the excitement of diversity in all its shades brought to the highest unity in this genre of music, to fully absorb the humorous turns of phrase and melody – such as the quartet alone is allowed to have – and not to lose sight of the flow of the whole over the pleasure in individual exciting places.”

“The quartet is a perpetual harmonious fireworks display, in which forward voices and figures constantly change places, but in which the true connoisseur can still find the highest effect despite such limited means. When one leaves a music room only to see the same menu served up again and again in the next, second and third, namely, the opera arias, as a daily roast, which are mixed into a ragu by the masters of potpourri just for the sake of variety, when you are so full of singing and feel almost exhausted from overfeeding of the same recurring themes – which are also repeated by the piano players without singing – one can view such a violin quartet as a tonic for the stomach and heart, which everyone should use for their own health.” The critic closes by begging Schuppanzigh to begin the month of May with a new series, but set in a broader outdoor arena, such as the lush gardens of the Augarten park in Vienna.

Vienna AMZ Nr.12, March 27, 1824, 45-56.

Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet is performed here live by the Hagen Quartet: