BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sunday, October 22, 1820 (approximately)

Dr. Wilhelm Christian Müller and his daughter Elise come to Mödling to visit Beethoven about this time. Müller (1752-1831) lived in Bremen and was an enthusiastic lover of music. From 1784 he was music director at the Bremen Cathedral and teacher at the cathedral school. His daughter Elise (1782-1849), a skilled pianist, had corresponded with Beethoven since about 1816 and sent him gifts. It is conceivable that she is the “Elise” to whom Für Elise, WoO 59, was dedicated, but if so that dedication would have occurred many years after the piece was initially composed, circa 1808-1810, and thus it seems unlikely.

Dr. Wilhelm Christian Müller

After Müller’s retirement, he went on extensive journeys through Europe with Elise. The Müllers had arrived in Vienna on October 3, according to the October 5 Wiener Zeitung, on their way to Italy. Müller recounts the story of meeting Beethoven in his epistolary book about his travels, Letters to German Friends from a Trip through Italy, Saxony, Bohemia and Austria (Altona 1824). The attached portrait of Müller is the frontispiece from that book.

As the title suggests, Müller’s book is set up as a series of letters to friends in various German cities. The trip to Mödling is contained in letter 16, addressed to a Conference Councillor Gaehler in Altona, under date of October 26, 1820. After discussing the many Rossini operas they heard in Vienna, as well as pianists such as Carl Czerny, Pixis and Halm, Müller makes these charming and perceptive reminiscences about their call upon Beethoven in Mödling (pp.131-132):

“Beethoven is perhaps also the greatest aesthetic artist. His deeply felt works are far ahead of their age; as Seb. Bach’s works are now being hailed from the mountaintops after 100 years, after such a period his works will also be awakened from the grave. The finer world understood some of his earlier works. In Vienna they may understand him less now than then, or have already forgotten him.”

“Since I, with your kind permission, dared to compare Beeth. with Bach, you will want to read a little more about this strange genius. It was very important to my E. [Elise] to at least see this, her darling – for there was little hope to speak to him, since, as you know, he is deaf. His works gave us such infinite pleasure that we could not leave Vienna without seeing the outward form of the fantastic spirit. A few years ago he had invited us to visit him, uninfluenced by the judgments of the Viennese, who thought he was unhinged. It is true that the Viennese make unfavorable judgments about his peculiarities and eccentric manners. They all admit that he is a genius; but few really know him. Those who know his common sense, his irreproachable heart, testify to the purest friendship for him. That much is certain, he knows nothing about the world, the court, politics or pretending. He lives in his own world of art, in the realm of sound as a monarch.”

“Nobody knew where he lived. In the summer he was in Mödling, a beautifully situated village, three hours from Vienna. When we were looking for him there [“a few days” before October 26], his housekeeper said he had gone out for recreation early: he could return in the evening, or he might also return in three days. Between the rocks, behind the village, with overhanging spruce trees, lovely mountain meadows by the rushing brook – I shouted loudly: That’s how it must be, when Beethoven stays; this is his character!”

Müller leaves a message for Beethoven, who when he returns responds with a hasty note in pencil to Müller in Vienna, asking forgiveness for not being available to meet with him and his daughter. “A chance event, which is extremely distasteful to me, deprives me of the pleasure of seeing you. Perhaps you will stay on a few days more.” Beethoven says he will find out from their mutual friend Nanette Streicher how long the Müllers intend to stay in Vienna. The inability to see Müller today has something to do with the fact Beethoven is about to move back to Vienna, and it will take him “several days more to get straight.” What exactly the distasteful “chance event” was is a mystery. Anderson letter 1035, Brandenburg letter 1413. The original is in the Bonn Beethovenhaus, in the H.C. Bodmer Collection, BBr 135. The letter to Müller can be seen at the Beethovenhaus’ digital archive here:

Müller and his daughter will remain in Vienna until about November 6, and will twice more pay calls upon Beethoven before they depart.