BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, July 1, 1823

Beethoven today writes a very long (12-page) letter to Archduke Rudolph at his palace as archbishop of Olmütz. The delay in writing is because it has only been in the last 8 days that Beethoven has been able to use his eyes a little. He sees from the receipt dated June 27th that the corrected score for the Piano Sonata op.111 [engraved by Cappi & Diabelli, rather than the faulty French version published by Schlesinger] was received by His Imperial Highness. Since the Archduke enjoyed the sonata, Beethoven thought he would surprise him with a dedication [Beethoven had initially intended to dedicate it to Antonie Brentano.] Because of the problems with his eyes, he had to rely on copyist Wenzel Schlemmer to check over the Diabelli Variations, but the manuscript copy of the work forwarded to the Archduke should be correct. [This copy, unlike most of the Archduke’s musical library, is not known to survive.] Beethoven promises a finely engraved copy of the Variations will follow soon.

Rudolph had apparently been telling Beethoven he needed to get the Missa Solemnis out to a wider public. This leads to a lengthy explanation of the plan for the subscriptions. “My ailing condition, which has been going on for several years now, demanded that I should think of a remedy for my situation, especially since I had incurred heavy debts and had to renounce my plans to go to England because of my health.” So he was advised to offer the Mass to various courts. The fee was fixed at 50 ducats, which was not excessive but should still be profitable. The Kings of France and Prussia have so far subscribed, and a few days ago he heard word from St. Petersburg through his friend Prince Nikolai Galitzin that Czar Alexander I would subscribe, and that the Imperial Russian Embassy in Vienna should soon have the details.

At the same time, there a number of other subscribers, so that all told Beethoven has received about as much as he would have if he had sold it to a publisher, and he still owns the work. [By Sieghard Brandenburg’s computations, Beethoven is quite right here. After the expense of copying at 60 florins per copy under agreement with copyist Wenzel Schlemmer, plus 50 florins promised to Schindler for his efforts, Beethoven stood to make net 950 florins from the subscriptions, as opposed to the 1000 florins that he had been offered by Peters and Diabelli to publish it. So for all his complaining, the plan was successful and doubled his potential earnings from the Mass, though at some effort and the opportunity cost of significant distraction from writing other works.]

While the expense of having the Mass copied is substantial, those costs will increase because he intends to add three more movements, which Beethoven will forward to the Archduke as soon as they are completed. [These three new movements for the Missa Solemnis, which never materialized, are presumably related to the recent discussions in May and June with Nephew Karl about the texts of the Offertorio, Graduale, and Tantum Ergo.] Beethoven suggests that the Archduke might use his influence with his brother, Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany, to convince him to subscribe. An invitation was sent off to him a long time ago, and his envoy assured Beethoven that it would be accepted, but nothing has been heard so far. Beethoven is embarrassed to have to discuss his financial affairs like this, but it is a necessity.

More than anything he is glad he can begin to use his eyes again. Presently, Beethoven is working on a new symphony for Philharmonic Society in England [the Ninth] and hopes to finish it within 14 days. [The usual overconfidence of Beethoven in how long it would take a work to be completed. The symphony will not in fact be completed for about another eight months, though by this point the first movement is largely finished and the second is well under way.]

As of yet, Beethoven cannot use his eyes very long. He asks the Archduke to be patient about his request for approval of some variations that he wrote. While they appear very nice, they require a more thorough examination. The Archduke should continue his exercises in composition. “When sitting at the pianoforte you should jot down your ideas in the form of sketches. For this purpose you should have a small table next to the Klavier. In this way, the imagination is not only strengthened, but you can pin down even the most remote ideas immediately. It is also necessary to compose without a Klavier. For instance, one should sometimes work out a simple chorale melody and then set it first with simple and then different harmonies according to the laws of counterpoint, and then freely ignoring those laws. This will certainly not give Your Imperial Highness a headache; rather, it will afford you real pleasure when you find yourself in the midst of Art.”

Beethoven then closes this letter since his eyes allow him to write no more. He then (perhaps after resting his eyes) adds a lengthy postscript, telling him to address any response to “L. van Beethoven in Vienna,” since even when he is in Hetzendorf he receives all his mail quite safely. He also would ask that the Archduke suggest that Prince Anton of Saxony become a subscriber. [Anton, brother of the King of Saxony, was Rudolph’s brother-in-law.] Beethoven notes that his opera Fidelio was performed recently in Dresden, where Prince Anton lives, to great applause, including from the visiting King of Bavaria. He hopes that this request will not offend, but he is compelled to ask out of necessity and prefers to be frank. He is in debt to the tune of 2300 florins, and if the number of subscribers could only be increased that would help immeasurably. He hopes that his health will improve to the point that he can again stand firmly on his own feet. [Beethoven owed Steiner 1200 florins, and 900 more to Franz Brentano, and probably other small obligations of which we are unaware, though he might also have been exaggerating his financial plight in hopes of receiving some generosity from Rudolph.]

Brandenburg Letter 1686; Anderson Letters 1203 and 1204 (Anderson treats the lengthy postscript as a separate letter). The original is held at the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as A 84/129 and 130. Beethoven dated the letter June 1, but this is clearly a slip of the pen since he refers to things that happened in late June. The Archduke returns to Vienna on July 4, so the letter will miss him in Olmütz and have to follow him back to Vienna, and it probably arrives back in the City on the 13th or 14th of July.