BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, May 19, 1822

Beethoven writes to Franz Brentano in Frankfurt am Main today. He begins by making excuses and promises related to the Missa Solemnis and his previous agreement to let Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn have the publication rights. The highly disingenuous, if not downright deceptive, letter, is designed to be shown to Simrock; it makes no reference to the fact Beethoven has also sold the Mass to Schlesinger. This letter quite clearly appears to be an indirect response to Simrock’s letter of May 13th, which has been forwarded to Beethoven in Döbling. However, the letter states that it is written from Vienna; this may be a prevarication by Beethoven, or he may simply be writing from his apartment in the City. It’s also conceivable that the letter is backdated so as to not appear to be in response to Simrock’s letter, but the dates of subsequent responses make that possibility seem unlikely.

“Who knows what you will think of my disorderliness, but I’ve been suffering from gout on my chest for 4 months and am only able to do a little to keep myself busy. The Mass will definitely arrive in Frankfurt finally by the end of June. Cardinal Rudolph, who is generally very taken with my works, although I’ve seen no sign of generosity from him so far, did not want the Mass to come out too quickly. I only received the score and vocal parts back from him 3 days ago. As his Highness put it, this way I can’t be harmed by the publisher. He also asked that it should be dedicated to him. I’ll just have the score copied again now, & take a good look at it.

“This is all going slowly with my frail health – at the latest the Mass will be there in Frankfurt by the end of next month. Mr. Simrock can deliver the agreed honorarium by then. [Beethoven seems to have forgotten that Simrock had the payment on deposit since October of 1820, even though Simrock mentions it in his letter of May 13.] This is the most efficient way, all the more so since everything is difficult for me now. – I have received even better requests here and elsewhere, and have rejected them all, because I once gave my word to Simrock, although I may lose out. Because, if my health only allows it, I will suggest several other works to him where it can make me whole again. – and one could also come to an agreement with him about the publication of an edition of my complete works. Since winter here almost always kills me, my health requires that I am finally leaving Vienna for a while. The friendly kindness you have shown me so often makes me hope that this whole affair will be handled for my benefit.

“With true respect, your friend and servant


“If you think it is a good idea, then send this letter to Simrock, to whom I send my best regards. I don’t want to bother you with complaints, because I couldn’t do anything else. We are destined both to have joy and to have sorrow, just so long as the share of the latter doesn’t become too great.”

The fact Beethoven remains unwell is supported by the repetitiveness of the letter and the odd wandering half-thoughts he puts down. His writing seems quite stream of consciousness: the entire letter in the original is only two sentences that each run on forever. Not only does Beethoven ask Simrock again for payment on the Mass, he twice insists that the finished copy will be in Frankfurt by the end of June.

The true situation is far from what he represents here, as Beethoven will still be working on the Missa Solemnis into 1823. Any good intent is rather overshadowed by his attempt to sell the Mass multiple times. If this letter was written with brother Johann’s involvement, it was not an auspicious start to their working together.

Beethoven obviously would not have received C.F. Peters’ letter of yesterday, May 18th, from Leipzig yet. Perhaps he would have approached Simrock differently, had he known there was yet another publisher possibly interested in publishing a new work such as the Missa Solemnis.

Brandenburg Letter 1466, Anderson Letters 1076 and 1077 (Emily Anderson treats the postscript as a separate letter, since at the time she was writing they were held by two different owners). The original is held by the Beethovenhaus in Bonn as BH 27 and NE 112.