BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, January 4, 1821 (approximately)

Despite the townsfolk of Bremen’s best wishes for long life and health, in the next few days after visiting Starke on New Year’s Day, Beethoven comes down with a serious case of rheumatic fever and is bed-ridden. Exactly when he falls ill is not known, but the illness is severe enough that about a week from today it will be reported in the musical press. Rheumatic fever is caused by the bacteria that causes strep throat. Typically it follows one to five weeks after a case of strep throat. The disease causes widespread inflammation, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, among other symptoms. In those days before antibiotics, there was little constructive that could be done for a patient, other than bed rest.

Beethoven spends much of 1821 ill with this and other ailments. He is largely unable to work, correspond or do much of anything. Without the conversation books for this time period, we have very little to go on as to how he is doing, who visits him, and to what extent he is able to work. Even Thayer’s massive biography of Beethoven spends only a handful of pages on this essentially lost year for the composer. Besides a couple canons and a small piano piece, the only composition of note Beethoven will complete this year is the piano sonata #31 in A-flat major, op.110.

Accordingly, the Beethoven 200 Years Ago Today feature will appear on a much more intermittent basis during this year.