BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, March 20, 1823

Beethoven writes a short note to nephew Karl, saying he cannot make it to visitation day at Blöchlinger’s Institute today because he is too busy. [Probably because he is expecting a visitor, Louis Schlösser, discussed below.] Beethoven mentions that he lost his wallet last night. It didn’t have a lot of money in it, but it leaves him embarrassed because that little was all the cash he had. Thus he would like to borrow 10 florins from Blöchlinger, until tomorrow. He is expecting money then and can quickly repay it.

Brandenburg Letter 1614, Anderson Letter 989. The original of this letter is held by the New York Public Library (JOG 72-34).

Photo of Louis Schlösser later in life

The conversation books resume today, with a morning visit about 10 AM by Louis Schlösser (1800-1886), a violinist and composer who would later be Kapellmeister in Darmstadt. Between April 1822 and May 1823, he studied with Seyfried and Mayseder in Vienna. He had tried to visit Beethoven at least once before during his stay but was unsuccessful. He also caught a glimpse of Beethoven at the second performance of Fidelio on November 4, 1822. Schlösser today actually has business with Beethoven, since he has a letter from Baron Türkheim of the Darmstadt legation accepting the subscription to the Missa Solemnis.

Following is Schlösser’s account of this first visit to Beethoven, written in the 1880s (from Thayer/Forbes 848-850):

“Climbing up the dark stairs to the first story of the Kothgasse No. 60, I turned as instructed to the door on the left. Finding no servant or maid, I opened the door which led into the kitchen through which one had to pass to gain the living-rooms….After repeatedly knocking in vain at the real living-room door, I entered and found myself in a rather commodious but entirely undecorated apartment; a large, four-square oak table with various chairs, which presented a somewhat chaotic aspect, stood in the middle of the room. On it lay writing books and lead-pencils, music-paper and pens, a chronometer, a metronome, an ear-trumpet made of yellow metal and various other things. on the wall at the left of the door was the bed, completely covered with music, scores and manuscripts. I can recall only a framed oil-painting (it was a portrait of Beethoven’s grandfather, for whom, as is known, he had a child-like reverence) which was the sole ornament I noticed. Two deep window niches, covered with smooth paneling I mention only because in the first a violin and bow hung from a nail and in the other Beethoven himself, his back to me, stood busily writing down figures and the like on the wood, already covered with scribblings.

Oil portrait of Beethoven’s grandfather Ludwig (1712-1773) by Amelius Radoux (1773).

“The deaf Master had not heard me enter, and it was only by stamping vigorously with my feet that I managed to attract his notice, and he at once turned around, surprised to see a young stranger standing before him. Yet before I could address a single word to him, he commenced to excuse himself in the politest manner imaginable because he had sent out his housekeeper, and no one had been in attendance to announce me, the while quickly drawing on his coat; and then first asking me what I wished. Standing so near this artist, crowned with glory, I could realize the impression which his distinguished personality, his characteristic head, with its surrounding mane of heavy hair and the furrowed brow of a thinker, could not help but make on everyone. I could look into those profoundly serious eyes, note the amiably smiling expression of his mouth when he spoke, my words always being received with great interest.

“My visit probably occurred shortly after he had eaten breakfast, for he repeatedly passed the napkin lying beside him across his snow-white teeth, a habit, incidentally, in which I noticed he often indulged. Steeped in my contemplation of him I entirely forgot the unfortunate man’s total deafness, and was just about to explain my reason for being there to him when, fortunately, I recalled the uselessness of speaking at the last moment, and instead reverentially handed him the letter with its great seal.”

After expressing his pleasure at the news in the letter of the accepted subscription, Beethoven “seized his ear-trumpet, so I explained the unbounded veneration accorded his genial works, with what enthusiasm they were heard, and what an influence the perfection of his intellectual creations had exercised on the cultural level of the day. Though Beethoven was so impervious to flattery of any kind, my words which came stammering from the depths of my soul, nevertheless seemed to touch him, and this induced me to tell him of my nocturnal pursuit of him after the performance of Fidelio. ‘But what prevented you from coming to see me in person?’ he asked. ‘I am sure you have been told any amount of contradictory nonsense; that I have been described as being an uncomfortable, capricious, and arrogant person, whose music one might indeed enjoy, but who personally was to be avoided. I know these evil, lying tongues, but if the world considers me heartless, because I seldom meet people who understand my thoughts and feelings, and therefore content myself with a few friends, it wrongs me.'”

“He had put down his ear-trumpet, for speaking into it agitated his nerves too greatly; his complaint, so he insisted, did not lie in the weakness of the auditory canals, but was seated in the intestines; his physicians in treating him had made a false diagnosis their point of departure.”

Schlösser then switched to using Conversation Book 27. Beethoven asked how long he is staying in Vienna, and he responded “for several months.” Schlösser offers to take any reply that Beethoven wishes to make to Darmstadt. He notes that since they both come from the Rheinland they are in essence fellow countrymen. Schlösser recounts his studies with Seyfried and that he was written several works, and a string quartet is being engraved. [Most likely the set of variations published by Pietro Mechetti and announced June 25, 1823.]

Schlösser suggests that Beethoven visit Darmstadt; the orchestra is quite excellent and the theatre is very beautiful. In about two months, Schlösser intends to continue on to Paris to continue his studies on Spohr’s recommendation. His understanding is that in Vienna in the summer there is nothing to hear. He reports that the university in Bonn is thriving. They also discuss the need to be exceedingly careful in Vienna as to what is said, due to the omnipresent spies of the secret police. Schlösser asks whether Beethoven considers himself an Austrian subject, and Beethoven almost certainly says he does not.

Schlösser reports that Beethoven’s quartets are heard quite often in Germany. He hopes Beethoven will write several more; Beethoven probably responds that he has just accepted a commission to write three of them. Schlösser says he would have immediately recognized Beethoven from his portraits. The topic of Luigi Cherubini comes up, and Schlösser informs Beethoven that he has retired from composing. Schlösser asks whether Beethoven would give him a letter of recommendation to Cherubini. Schlösser asks about Beethoven’s composition practices, and is surprised to know that he doesn’t use the piano, and that his deafness does not much interfere with his work.

Schlösser notes that in the Darmstadt area there are several excellent spas. Beethoven says he may be going to London next year. Schlösser says he will be going there himself to visit his uncle next year. Schlösser, apparently disturbed by Beethoven’s surroundings much as Rossini had a year before, regretfully notes that across the empire everyone believes Beethoven must “live in the most glorious circumstances.”

Beethoven inquires as to what the pay rate is for the Darmstadt court for the musicians. The Kapellmeister Karl Jakob Wagner (1772-1822), who died recently, was paid 4000 florins in silver per year. Musicians in the court orchestra are paid 800 florins. [Apparently Beethoven is still thinking of taking such a Kapellmeister position, despite the loss of musical freedom that would entail.]

They talk about musical education, and Schlösser agrees that travel is essential; one must hear a great number of works. He is on a two-year leave from Darmstadt to travel and study, and then he needs to return. Schlösser is somewhat discouraged that it is so difficult to get something produced in Vienna. He would like to show his cantata, Der Abend to Beethoven, who enthusiastically agrees. Schlösser asks when he should come to pick up Beethoven’s response to the Darmstadt court. Beethoven invites him to dinner on Saturday March 22nd. His parting words to Schlösser are “Do not hesitate to avail yourself of me whenever I can be useful to you or be of service to you in any way.”

After Schlösser departs, Beethoven heads to the Hofburg to give the Archduke his lesson. At a coffee house later, Beethoven writes down information about several apartments for the fall. He makes a note to write to Rampl, Odelga, and Brentano in Frankfurt.

That evening, Schindler comes to Beethoven’s apartment with news that Bavaria has turned down the subscription to the Missa Solemnis. However, while he was walking past Diabelli’s shop, the publisher called Schindler in and said he wanted to buy the Mass and issue it on subscription in two months. He guarantees Beethoven the 1000 florins he wanted, and Beethoven can have as many copies as he needs. Diabelli would like a decision within a few days. He will then begin work immediately, and can have it ready by the end of May. Schindler thinks this is a very good proposition. He doesn’t think it will interfere with the subscriptions solicited to the Royal Courts.

Beethoven tells Schindler about the lost wallet, and Schindler scolds him, saying he has often told him to protect his pocketbook better.

They then turn to Steiner. He is pushing back against Attorney Bach, claiming that he has nothing of Beethoven’s except the 12 Scottish Songs, WoO 156. [Beethoven had given them to Steiner in 1820, but he did not publish them.]

Schindler says that the calligrapher is demanding 5 florins for writing out the title page to the Archduke’s presentation copy of the Missa Solemnis.

They discuss the Diabelli Variations. Schindler suggests that it would be useful to dedicate the work to the Duchess of Parma; she is the only member of the Imperial family that distributes honors and honoraria in an Imperial manner. Schindler is hungry and asks whether he could have a little cheese.

Schindler says he spoke to Ferdinand Piringer about holding the Akademie benefit series. Piringer will visit Beethoven soon to discuss the arrangements.

Conversation Book 27, 1r-10r.