BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, October 10, 1820 (approximately)

Beethoven likely is in Vienna for a lesson for the Archduke.

Beethoven had promised that he would have the scores for the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108 on the next mail coach to Berlin, but that was as usual wildly overoptimistic. Beethoven has by now probably finished proofreading and revising the printer’s copy. He is ready to send them off to the publisher in Berlin. But then he remembers that Franz Oliva still has the original English edition published by George Thomson of the songs, which Oliva used to copy the English lyrics from. Beethoven would like to send that book along with the printer’s copy to Berlin, to be used as reference.

But Oliva is out of town at the Leipzig Trade Fair, which runs through October 22nd. Beethoven leaves him a brief and curt undated note imploring him to give back the Thomson edition so he can send it along by carriage with the printer’s copy. “I ask for the book for the Scottish songs, which were about to be expedited.” A few very high musical notes are found written in the lower right corner of the letter.

The original letter is now held by the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, NE 191 (Brandenburg Letter 1412). The letter was acquired from the family that owned the Schlesinger publishing company, so it seems to have survived only because Oliva tucked the letter into the book when he gave it back to Beethoven. There are no postmarks or addresses on the note, indicating that it was not mailed, but was left for Oliva, probably at his employer Joseph Biedermann’s offices. The note can be seen here:

Sieghard Brandenburg dates this letter as being written in late September, taking at face value Beethoven’s representations on September 20th that the scores would be on the next mail coach to Berlin. However, trusting the accuracy of such predictions by Beethoven is ill-advised. It is more consistent with Oliva being out of Vienna, and as we have seen that can only happen in October.

Our next update comes October 16.