BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, October 26, 1820

Finally, Beethoven moves back to Vienna from Mödling. The moving day is known from a marginal note scrawled in pocket sketchbook BH 109 held by the Beethovenhaus, where he notes “Christ[hof] Moving Day Thursday,” and Wilhelm Christian Müller of Bremen’s dated accounts of his visits to Beethoven.

The new residence is no longer standing. The apartment Beethoven finally found is at Zu den zwei Wachsstocken (To the Two Wax Sticks, or Wax Tapers, i.e., candles), 8 Kaiserstrasse (now 57 Josefstädterstrasse), in the Altlerchenfeld suburb on the west side of Vienna, very close to Blöchlinger’s Institute where Karl was studying. But because Beethoven waited so long in the rental season, this apartment is quite cramped and there is not even enough room for all of his furniture, which Müller describes as stacked up on top of each other.

Here is Dr. Müller’s account of this visit to Beethoven on moving day (which I believe has never been fully translated into English before). The letter containing the anecdote is dated Thursday, October 26, 1820. The letter is probably derived from Müller’s diary entries. It picks up directly after the unsuccessful visit to Mödling a few days ago:

“After a few days, we learned that he had moved into town, and we hurried to him. He excused himself about his moving, spoke of the wrong things in the world, of bad taste in music, and bitter knowledge of politics. When I asked about his pension, he said that when he was going to go to Cassel [in Westphalia in 1808] to be Kapellmeister, three of them had promised him a large 2000 guilders pension if he stayed in Vienna. But one of them went bankrupt, another broke his neck – the third, the Archbishop Rudolph, his student, has so far paid him his third. He lost his savings with his brother; yet he has taken his son [Karl] home and is raising him like a father.”

[Fact check: Partially true, but Beethoven exaggerates. The bankrupt was Prince Lobkowitz; Prince Ferdinand Kinsky was thrown from his horse in November 1812 and died of a fractured skull about ten hours later. Beethoven in his “poor me” character neglects to mention that the Lobkowitz and Kinsky heirs nonetheless honored his annuity contract and still continue to pay Beethoven quarterly at this time, although the Lobkowitz payments were indeed interrupted for a number of years while he was bankrupt, and the payments are not as valuable as they once were due to the revaluation of currency. Beethoven did as he says go ruinously into debt by helping out Casper Carl and his wife Johanna; Beethoven asked the music publisher Sigmund Anton Steiner to lend the family 1500 florins, and he guaranteed repayment. Of course, Casper Carl died and Johanna did not repay the funds, leaving Ludwig holding the bag, which probably accounts for much of his resentment towards her. As of October, 1820, he still owed Steiner all of this money, plus more. While Steiner has been patient a long time, his patience is running out.]

“He lost his hearing due to a cold; probably because it was the most irritated, and therefore weakest, part of his body through its constant usage. He said the auditory tubes had completely destroyed the rest of his hearing. What can a person, whose whole life, enjoyment, thinking – consists only of sounds – lose more than his hearing? He no longer hears the effect of his own sound structures, not the sounds of nature, of which so many subjects inspired him – on the rocks, in the birch groves in Mödling – as we hear in his symphonies. In these beautiful figures I myself have in that main theme: g g g – e! heard the call of a familiar bird.”

“He led us with jubilation to his magnificent fortepiano that the Philharmonic Society in London had given him as a present. They are an honorable people who not only know how to judge art, but also how to reward it – yet they violate the freedom of speech and writing, and the king and the most powerful ministers do not prevent censors and tax collectors. He scolded himself for not accepting the invitation of the English friends of art, out of attachment to Vienna. where art is driven insane because of fashion, without understanding true art, or offering it too little reward. He added, ‘Sometimes I miss a warm, freely-spoken word; for that I am thought to be crazy.’

“In order to remove him from this dark episode, we asked him to improvise. But he could not be talked into it, probably because he cannot hear the expression of his playing and therefore thought that we would lose our great respect for him. E. had to play something instead. He asked her if she wasn’t composing? When she said that she had no teacher of composition, he replied: “You have Riem, he’s a capable man.” [Wilhelm Friedrich Riem (1779-1857), a composer and conductor who had served as organist for the Bremen Cathedral since 1814.]

“He invited us for coffee the day after tomorrow, since he wanted to put his stacked furniture in order.” Letters to German Friends from a Trip through Italy, Saxony, Bohemia and Italy (Altona 1824) pp.132-134.

In the midst of the hubbub and disorder of moving, Beethoven also gives Oliva a note for the Artaria & Co. publishing company. The letter is addressed to Carlo Boldrini, a partner in the firm, although Beethoven refers to him as “Falstaff.” [Like Ignaz Schuppanzigh, Boldrini was stout, earning them both this Shakespearean sobriquet.] Beethoven asks that 300 florins, which should have arrived in Vienna by now, be paid over to Oliva. He cannot come himself because he is busy moving into town. “I could not have the honor of expressing my thanks to you and, in particular, to Sir John Falstaff– Your most devoted servant, Beethoven.” Anderson letter 1036, Brandenburg letter 1414. The original is held by the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, in the H.C. Bodmer collection, Br 6. It is not known what this payment was for.