BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, April 8, 1823

In the late morning or early afternoon, Johann comes to Ludwig’s apartment, together with copyist Franz Baptist (1799-1856). The discussion appears to focus on the copying of the subscription manuscripts of the Missa Solemnis. Baptist notes that he uses a quill pen for the larger notes, and a reed pen for the smaller ones.

Ludwig is not pleased and thinks there are too many bars crowded onto the page. Johann asks whether it would be appropriate to have even fewer bars. He also wonders whether finer paper could be used. But Baptist says that the copyist has already rastrated the paper [drawn on the staves for the copyist]. But he can do it on finer paper; the difference is 18 kr. per sheet versus 20 kr. per sheet.

Baptist works with his brother. Johann confirms that it is only the score to be copied; parts need not be written out. Baptist will figure out how much paper he will need, and he will be back in an hour and bring it along with him. After Baptist leaves, Johann says that he believes he can make a copy in 12 days without errors, with his brother’s assistance.

Ludwig suggests that they might want to send a copy to London, probably for Ries to attempt to sell the English publication rights. Johann tells him that they can have another copy made; these brothers are the best and most skillful and most reasonably priced. Ludwig, with more experience dealing with copyists, is skeptical. Johann says he will go and check on them often.

Baptist returns with the different sheets of paper for Beethoven’s approval. At about 3 PM, Schindler arrives, having rehearsed from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Schindler tells Beethoven that he should specify with the copyist the date that the score is needed back. He should spend the entire day copying and proofreading. At this point the copyist departs, but Johann remains.

Schindler asks whether Beethoven would like to dictate a letter to the Augsburg book dealer J. Wolff, about the subscription to a supplement to the pocket edition of Schiller’s works. [This may be for the gift to Karl, who requested a nice edition of Schiller as a reward for passing his examinations.]

At about this time, the young Franz Liszt comes to visit Beethoven in his apartment, probably between 3 and 4 pm. Liszt writes in the Conversation Book, “I have so often expressed to Herr von Schindler my wish to make your esteemed acquaintance, and am very happy to do so now. I shall give my concert on Sunday the 13th, and I ask you most humbly to lend me your esteemed presence.” [It is not clear from the Conversation Book how Beethoven responded, but he did not attend the concert.]

Young Franz Liszt

In 1875, about fifty years after the event, Liszt recounted the meeting thusly:

“I was about eleven years of age when my venerated teacher [Carl] Czerny took me to Beethoven. He had told the latter about me a long time before, and had begged him to listen to me play sometime. Yet Beethoven had such a repugnance to infant prodigies that he had always violently objected to receiving me. Finally, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the indefatigable Czerny, and in the end cried impatiently: ‘In God’s name, then, bring me the young Turk!'”

“It was ten o’clock in the morning when we entered the two small rooms in the Schwarzspanierhaus which Beethoven occupied, I somewhat shyly, Czerny amiably encouraging me. [In fact, as we have seen from the conversation books, the meeting took place in the mid to late afternoon, and Beethoven did not live in the Schwarzspanierhaus until 1825, throwing some doubt on the accuracy of Liszt’s recollections.] Beethoven was working at a long, narrow table by the window. He looked gloomily at us for a time, said a few brief words to Czerny, and remained silent when my kind teacher beckoned me to the piano.

“I first played a short piece by Ries. When I had finished, Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C-minor Fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier.’And could you also transpose the fugue at once into another key?’ Beethoven asked me. Fortunately, I was able to do so. After my closing chord I glanced up. The great master’s darkly glowing gaze lay piercingly upon me. Yet suddenly a gentle smile passed over his gloomy features, and Beethoven came quite close to me, stopped down, put his hand on my head, and stroked my hair several times. ‘A devil of a fellow,’ he whispered, ‘a regular young Turk!’

“Suddenly I felt quite brave. ‘May I play something of yours now?’ Beethoven smiled and nodded. I played the first movement of the C-major Concerto [Piano Concerto Nr.1, op.15]. When I had concluded, Beethoven caught hold of me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead, and said gently: ‘Go! You are one of the fortunate ones! For you will give joy and happiness to many other people! There is nothing better or finer!’

“This event in my life has remained my greatest pride – the palladium of my whole career as an artist. I tell it but very seldom and – only to good friends!” [And regardless of any romanticization or faulty memory, Liszt very much acted upon that sentiment, promoting Beethoven’s cause throughout his life. In particular, he was the central mover behind the erection of the statue of Beethoven in Bonn in 1845.]

From Alan Walker, Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years 1811-1847, 83-84.

After Liszt and Czerny depart, Johann repeats that Franz Baptist is very fine and willing, and knows music well. He is fast, honorable and enthusiastic. He notes that Baptist did a fine job of copying Fidelio [so it appears that he was the copyist engaged to make the copy that is on its way to Dresden for Weber.]

Beethoven has Schindler write the standard Missa Solemnis subscription solicitation letter to Archbishop Sándor Rudnay (1760-1831) in Gran (Esztergom, Hungary).

After Schindler and Johann leave, Beethoven heads to a coffeehouse. There he runs into a man by the name of Sandra, who is from the Rheinlands as well. Since he, like Beethoven is deaf, both sides of the conversation are written out in full. Beethoven recommends the use of baths and country air; relying on machines [mechanical devices such as ear trumpets] is to be avoided. By this means he has preserved a little hearing in his left ear. Sandra has not had to use them yet, but fears that he is not far away.

Beethoven recommends the use of conversation books, thus sparing what hearing remains. Sandra jokingly says that until recently he was relying on a folk remedy he found in an old medical book, which used the top branches of a fir tree. Beethoven asks whether he has tried galvanization. He had tried it himself, but could not stand it. Sandra asks for Beethoven’s address so he can send the natural treatment with the fir branches.

Beethoven laments that it is “a sad malady; the doctors know very little, and in the end one gets tired, especially if one must always work.” Sandra notes that he found the book by happenstance in a secondhand market. It was by a famous physician of the 16th century, and he notes that the old ones were not fools. He has, over time, paid out over 800 ducats on treatments without success. At one time, he worked as a traveling representative for a merchant.

The discussion with Sandra turns to Johann. Beethoven writes in French that “He does not know honor or morality. It [his marriage to Therese] is an unfortunate union.” Beethoven adds in German, “He has abandoned his apothecary’s shop and lives here as an owner of an estate. I doubt that he did the best thing for himself by doing so. He is too much the ordinary person.” Sandra had dealt with him before, and calls Johann “avaricious.” Although he bought a great deal from Sandra, he did not set the world on fire. He compares Johann to a common miller or baker “who has really defrauded the public.”

Beethoven gets personal and adds, “My brother’s marriage already proved both his lack of morality and his lack of intellect.” Ludwig adds, “I have been continuously sickly for 3 years, otherwise I would already be in London.” Sandra agrees that they properly appreciate genius there. He suggests Beethoven should go and have Wellington’s Victory op.91 presented. Sandra notes that he was at the premiere of that work back in 1813.

Beethoven complains that Johann “always wants me to do things his way,” but that’s not possible. Then it’s back to complaining about Johann’s marriage to Theresa: “Everything was done to hold him back from this scandalous union, but in vain. He, however, as I know him, is not worth anything better! He always seeks out the commonest thing.” He used to be better, but the French corrupted him. [Johann had made his fortune selling pharmaceuticals to Napoleon’s occupying army.]

Beethoven says Johann arranged for him to move into his apartment in the Kothgasse. “What I have endured until now is unbelievable, because now I am parting company with him again.” Sandra says he does not speak to him. In French, Beethoven writes, “He is a barbarian.” [Translations by Theodore Albrecht.]

Sandra goes his way in the early evening of this busy day. Conversation Book 28, 37r-45r. There are no conversation books for the next two days, signifying either a lost book, or Beethoven did not go out or have visitors. The latter seems more likely, considering that Beethoven is writing a short cantata for Prince Lobkowitz’s birthday in a few days, and most likely is under the gun to get it finished in time.