BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, March 4, 1823

Today’s conversations entirely fill Conversation Book 26. However, the entries as they appear in the book appear to be out of order, so we have followed the chronological ordering of entries as set out by the German and English editors.

At about 9 AM, Schindler introduces Hermann von Hermannsthal (1799-1875), who is a poet and dramatist, with a day job at the Ministry of Finance. Hermannsthal shows Beethoven his proposed revised text for The Ruins of Athens, and tells him that he will make whatever changes Beethoven deems necessary. However, he needs an idea for the soprano-bass duet between Minerva and Mercury, “Ohne Verschulden.” A new plot will need to be put together. “Here, the execution is much quicker than the invention,” so he will need time to consider what needs to be done. Beethoven keeps the libretto, and Hermannsthal asks that when he’s done with it to have Schindler return it, with Beethoven’s annotations. Making reference to the current Greek War of Independence would lend interest, but it also would possibly run afoul of the censors.

Schindler has to go to a 10 AM rehearsal at the Josephstadt, but he can accompany Beethoven to the tailor in the afternoon. He departs, but Hermannsthal stays for a while. Hermannsthal will think further about the plot but will not work on anything without first clearing the plan with Beethoven.

Beethoven goes to the Hofburg to give Archduke Rudolph his daily composition lesson. Later, after he returns home, Schindler arrives about at dinner time and they eat together. Once again, “there is enough food for two gluttons.” Schindler reports that all of the ambassadors of the first rank accepted the subscription solicitation letters for the Missa Solemnis, except the one for Denmark. So he mailed it to the Italian tenor Giuseppe Siboni (1780-1839). [Siboni was a singing teacher at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. He will act as an intermediary with the King for Beethoven.] While Baron von Plessen from the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg also accepted the solicitation for the Grand Duke, he is a minister visiting Vienna, and not technically an ambassador.

Schindler has also shown invitations to subscribe to the Swedish chargé d’affaires and the Netherlands’ secretary, and both appear to be interested. The Swede is a young man who also plays Beethoven’s compositions.

Next Thursday (March 6) the Josephstadt Theater will be presenting Die Jäger; Schindler says he will reserve seats for Beethoven. He did not see Blöchlinger at last night’s performance of 1722, 1822, 1922, only his wife and Karl.

More gossip: Friedrich August Kanne, editor of the Vienna Allgemine musikalische Zeitung also has an injured foot and is limping. About three months ago a drunken grenadier came after him with a sabre drawn in the street after midnight. The grenadier had come into the Gasthaus where Kanne was. He started fighting with the waiter and owner, and Kanne tried to intercede. The soldier left, but he lay in wait for Kanne in the shadows outside. Kanne, running away, fell and hurt his foot, and now cannot walk without a cane.

The February 22 response from Zelter at the Berlin Singakademie has been received by Beethoven today, and Schindler dismisses Zelter’s request to have the Missa Solemnis recast as an a capella work. If he wants that, he can do it himself. Schindler spoke to publisher Domenico Artaria about having printed copies of the Mass made in small quantities. Since there are 539 manuscript pages to the Mass, he would expect that to run about 250 printed pages, so he would estimate that a copy could be printed for 60 to 70 florins. [At 4.5 florins to a ducat, that expense of roughly 13 to 16 ducats would significantly cut into the 50-ducat asking price.]

Since Grand Duke Karl August of Sachsen-Weimar declined to subscribe at a price of 50 ducats, Schindler suggests that it would be better than nothing to let him have a copy for 15 ducats. Beethoven recollects a compliment that the Grand Duke once paid him, and Schindler says he will include that in the letter. He will copy it now and give it to Karl later this afternoon, to have his professor translate it into French again.

After Schindler leaves, Beethoven goes for his walk to run errands. He visits Johann Schickh, a dealer in silk and linen wares, as well as publisher of the Wiener Zeitschrift. They talk about Sauer & Leidesdorf’s new pirated editon of four Beethoven songs, all of which had originally appeared in the Wiener Zeitschrift. Beethoven says he would have happily let him print them for a fee, but he had received nothing. Shickh was similarly surprised, and appears to have demanded a fee for the most recently published song, Abendlied, WoO 150, which had appeared in the Zeitschrift in March, 1820. He suggests Beethoven should demand payment for the others; after three years all rights in contributions to the Zeitschrift return to their authors, so Schickh would not be in a position to demand payment for the three earlier settings. Schickh says he was also at Fidelio last night and it was a great success. “The audience was most enthusiastic. People should worship you, Great Man!”

Beethoven walks on to Blöchlinger’s and there visits his nephew. Karl reports that his foot is still healing. He spoke to Frau Blöchlinger and he is now paid up until February 1 of next year. Beethoven makes some notes about Swedish stoves, possibly while Karl is called away for a few minutes. On his return, they talk a bit about the issues with Niederstätter; Ludwig sees that whenever anyone complains about the authorities, that is taken as a complaint about the emperor himself. Karl suggests that if it is too dangerous to write to Niederstätter himself in Salzburg, someone else could be reached in Salzburg who could deliver a letter to him.

Ludwig, flush with borrowed money, is thinking again that he will renounce his half of Johanna’s pension. Karl cautions him against doing that rashly. Why doesn’t rich brother Johann contribute something to her needs? [She is, after all, his sister-in-law too.]

Later, at a coffeehouse, Beethoven reads the newspapers. He makes notes of several apartments for rent. He also notes the idea of making his own competing edition of the four songs pirated by Sauer & Leidesdorf.

The conversation books for the next approximately two weeks are missing. Given the politically dangerous discussions about Niederstätter, the missing books (likely two or three) may well have been consigned to the fire by Beethoven himself. Usually contemptuous of what the nobility thought about his comments, and believing his relationship with Archduke Rudolph would be sufficient protection, Ludwig is more cautious now that Karl has gotten himself implicated.

Meanwhile in Leipzig publisher Carl Friedrich Peters today writes a very long and very outraged letter to Beethoven, complaining bitterly about the pieces Beethoven has sent him. Last August, Peters had sent Beethoven a fee for three kinds of works: four marches for military band, three songs with piano accompaniment that were large enough to each be published separately, in the vein of Adelaide, and bagatelles for piano. At that time, Beethoven offered these pieces and said they were finished, which cannot be true, and now after half a year he still does not have what was promised.

Instead of four marches, Peters received one march [WoO 24] and three Zapfenstreiche or tattoos [WoO 18-20, much smaller scale pieces.] While there might be a market for Zapfenstreiche in Vienna, Peters has no public for such things. Furthermore, they are plainly old compositions since one of the oboe melodies is now a well known one for military bands. [WoO 20 is the only one with an oboe part, so it must be the one Peters is referencing, and it was indeed written and performed in about 1809. And in fact, it was worse than Peters knew, since Schlesinger in Berlin had in 1819 already published the Zapfenstreich in F, WoO 18, a fact Beethoven had neglected to mention.]

Instead of three songs with piano accompaniment, he received an Arietta and two songs with orchestral and choral accompaniment. [Opferlied op.121b and Bundeslied op.122 were the orchestral songs, with choral parts. The Arietta, Der Kuss, op.128, is rather short and only about two printed pages in length, compared to the seven pages of Adelaide.]

Finally, the bagatelles are certainly small pieces for piano, but no one would believe they were by Beethoven. Most of them are too easy for better players, and there are passages too difficult for beginners. While nos. 1, 3 and 5 are appealing, he did not like the other three at all. [These were the first six numbers of what eventually be the 11 Bagatelles, op.119.] “I imagined having cute little pieces that, without having great difficulties, are quite genial and appealing; short pieces where the artist would show that he could write little pieces that would also be effective.”

Peters goes on to say that he will never print the bagatelles; he would rather lose the fee that he paid for them since he does not want to be suspected of defrauding his customers by falsely placing Beethoven’s names on the works. They are used to receiving excellent works from him and if he were to put out these old and neglected compositions, it would injure his reputation as well as Beethoven’s. He has paid Beethoven a higher-than-normal fee, and thus expected exceptionally successful works.

Peters recognizes that Beethoven will be angry. He means no offense; Peters does not find fault with the manuscripts themselves, but they were not what he paid for. If he is going to publish Beethoven, he wants the first thing from him to be something noteworthy, not Zapfenstreiche. If Beethoven likes, he would be happy to receive something else for piano, but it should pretty and appealing. As far as the other works are concerned, he must insist on receiving proper marches and two through-composed songs with piano accompaniment. [He apparently will accept Der Kuss grudgingly.]

“It is bad enough that I sent you the money already last August and now I must experience such unpleasantness.” Furthermore, Peters wrote last year that he would buy the Missa Solemnis, and Beethoven said he would have it to his agent Meisl by August 15th. It still has not been received, which has frustrated his plans. Peters had already begun making preparations for publishing this great work. Since Beethoven is so unreliable regarding scores, and now says he is also occupied with writing two other Masses, Peters releases him from his promise and has no objection to Beethoven offering it to someone else.

Peters knows that if they were together in Vienna and could deal face to face, these issues could be avoided, but at such great distances it simply is not practicable. Peters feels sickened that Beethoven used him to get rid of some old manuscripts after his unselfish offer. They may still do business, but not in writing; it will have to wait until Peters can come personally to Vienna so that they may deal in person.

He begs that Beethoven not take his frankness badly, but that he remember Peters is a merchant and must conduct himself accordingly. He does not blame the artist Beethoven, but rather the business deal he has made. This letter of complaint is not against Beethoven the artist, but Beethoven the artist as a businessman. Nothing has diminished Peters’ high esteem or affection for Beethoven.

Peters returns with this letter the Zapfenstreiche, the two songs with orchestra and chorus, and the six bagatelles. If Beethoven is unwilling to provide the replacement works as agreed, then Peters wants a full refund of the 360 florins he paid. Nevertheless, he asks Beethoven to keep him in mind for excellent pieces.

Brandenburg Letter 1604, Albrecht Letter 313. The letter is known from a transcription of the copy in C.F. Peters’ archives, which were destroyed in World War II. The transcription is in the State Archive of Saxony.

Varley Afanassiev here plays the first four of the six bagatelles rejected by Peters. Judge for yourself whether they are unworthy of the Beethoven name:

While the daily Beethoven Bicentennial Minutes will be more sporadic and shorter, they will appear until the Conversation Books resume on March 20th, 1823. Beethoven will continue to give daily lessons to Archduke Rudolph for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, the Conversation Book for March 19th when this letter from Peters is received by Beethoven is among the missing.