BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, February 12, 1822

Beethoven writes to his cellist friend from his Bonn days, Bernhard Romberg (1767-1841). As we mentioned in our January 6 entry, Romberg was doing a series of concerts in Vienna with his daughter Bernhardine (1803-1878) and young cellist son Karl (1811-1897). Romberg had been in the Bonn Elector’s court orchestra from 1790 through 1793, which overlapped with Beethoven’s years there. The time is nearing for Romberg and family to move on from Vienna, and Beethoven had made arrangements to get together at one of the last Romberg concerts today.

An 1815 portrait of Romberg after Franz Krüger, from Gallica Digital Library and is available under the digital ID btv1b84242951, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1766635

Beethoven apologizes that he began suffering from a bad earache last night “as is usual for me at this time of year” and is unable to visit Romberg; “Even your playing would only cause me pain today.” If he is unable to see Romberg before he leaves, then the cellist should ascribe that as the reason. “Maybe it will be better in a few days, and I will be able to say goodbye to you – but if I have not visited, then remember the remoteness of my apartment, and my constantly being occupied, all the moreso because I have been constantly sick for a whole year. This has made me unable to complete so many works that I had already started – and in the end, there is no need for meaningless compliments to be exchanged between us anyway; rather I wish you metallic recognition [i.e., monetary rewards] in addition to the approval of your high art, which is so rarely seen any more.”

“If at all possible, I will certainly see you, your wife and children, whom I greet here with all my heart. Goodbye, great artist, as always, your Beethoven.”

Anderson 1072; Brandenburg 1457. The original of this letter is held by the State University Library at Tartu, Slg. L.A. Schradius, Nr. 211.

Romberg and family will give two more recitals in Vienna, on February 23 and 26, but it is unknown whether Beethoven attends either of these presentations. Romberg during his life made several innovations in the design of cellos, including lengthening the fingerboard, and was one of the first cellists to perform from memory.

Beethoven’s reference in this letter to “the remoteness of my apartment” strongly suggests that Beethoven has moved once again at some point over the winter. His previous known residence, at 244 Landstraße, a busy main road, is hardly remote. Walther Brauneis, in the Studien zur Wiener Geschichte Jahrbuch 1998 [1998 Yearbook of Studies in Vienna History] suggests that the new apartment may be the House of Two Wax Sticks at 8 Kaiserstrasse (now 57 Josefstädterstrasse) in the Altlerchenfeld suburb on the west side of Vienna, very near to Blöchlinger’s Institute where nephew Karl was studying.

We had assigned that move to the House of Two Wax Sticks to our entry for October 26, 1820, but the surviving documents are sufficiently vague on the date that this winter may instead be the time period that Beethoven lived at this house. According to Brauneis, the conscription form that is the sole source of information about Beethoven’s tenancy here only says that Beethoven rented the property at some point after 1820; the Beethoven literature has generally assumed that 1820 was the starting point of his tenancy, but that is not necessarily the case. Brauneis also notes that an August 1822 letter to brother Johann (Brandenburg 1492, Anderson 1090) makes reference to Ludwig’s belongings being at “my apartment at Karl’s Institute,” which also fits this house and this time period. When, exactly, Beethoven moved here remains unclear. but another move in December 1821 or early January 1822 when he was healthy would fit his pattern of rarely staying in the same apartment more than six months at a time. He will depart for Öberdöbling in late May for the summer.

House of Two Wax Sticks, Detail of Joseph Daniel Huber’s Scenographie (1769/1774)

The House of Two Wax Sticks would in any event better fit the description of being “remote.” The building was separated from a narrow suburban street by a fenced-in, tree-lined forecourt. It still stands today, though an additional floor was added in 1879 and a veranda in 1882, so it looks rather different. A detail from the 1769/1774 bird’s eye view of the city of Vienna (“Scenographie”) by Joseph Daniel Huber here shows the House of Two Wax sticks with its fenced courtyard, as it appeared in Beethoven’s time (photo by the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien).

Over in Olmütz (now Olomouc in the Czech Republic), the Emperor’s birthday today is celebrated by Archduke Rudolph. In the early morning, 101 cannon shots are fired from the ramparts of the fortress, announcing the day’s festivities. At 9 a.m., the whole garrison, as well as the local civil corp march in parade before the metropolitan church. As the bells of the carillon are rung, Rudolph, as archbishop, personally conducts a celebratory Te Deum and a solemn high mass. Guns are fired during the service, and cannons are also fired throughout. After the service, the Archduke receives congratulations from all civil and military authorities on behalf of His Majesty. The music choirs of two regiments sing popular folk songs, elevating the feelings of the populace. At noon, the Archduke hosts a feast for about 90 nobles, with toasts to the greatest health of the emperor, punctuated once again by cannon fire.

In the evening, a ball is held at the Archduke’s palace, and more than 300 persons attend. The local casino corporation opens a subscription among its members, raising 500 guilders for the benefit of five military educational establishments. The civic committee of Olmütz similarly raises 200 guilders, which will be handed over to be distributed among the poor, in celebration of this day.

The report from Olmütz is derived from the Wiener Zeitung of March 12, 1822, and the Brünner Zeitung of March 1 and 7, 1822.