BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, August 1, 1821 (very approximately)

Beethoven writes to Archduke Rudolph around this time, but the letter is undated. Beethoven had received a letter from the Archduke the day before, and is able to announce that he is improving somewhat. Beethoven’s doctor, Jakob Staudenheim, had told him yesterday that the illness was getting better, but he still has to empty a whole mixture of a powerful laxative every 24 hours, which makes him extremely weak. The doctor also has given him a list of rules of conduct to comply with for treatment. Beethoven hopes to see the Archduke soon. He may not yet be completely restored, but hopes to be able to do much with the Archduke while he is in the City. “While I live in this hope, my health will surely come back sooner than usual.” He asks the Archduke’s/Archbishop’s blessing. Brandenburg Letter 1438, Anderson letter 1248. The original letter is held hostage by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, A 84/137.

The precise date of this letter is unknown, but we can at least narrow it down to late July or sometime in August, 1821. Here are the clues:
1) The watermark of the paper, “A. KIESLING & S,” is of a type used only in other letters from 1821.
2) The reference to the treatment of Beethoven’s disease with a laxative suggests that it is the jaundice, rather than rheumatic fever, being treated, which narrows the time period to July or August of 1821.
3) Beethoven is showing some improvement, which suggests that this is being written a significant amount of time after the July 18 letter, where there was no such improvement mentioned and Beethoven continued to be quite ill.
4) It is in response to a letter from the Archduke received the day before, which could have been a reply to Beethoven’s letter of July 18. If so, this letter may have been written around July 21. On the other hand, there seems to have been a course of treatment established that was not in place yet on July 18th, suggesting this exchange of letters may come at least a week or two later.
5) Beethoven has not yet been sent to the baths in Baden bei Wien, so this letter must date from before September 7, 1821, when he arrived there. He doesn’t seem well enough to travel, let alone change households, so it is probably at least several weeks before that date.
Emily Anderson dated this letter to 1823, though she did not have the benefit of the watermark evidence.

There is no other documentary evidence of any kind that we have been able to find regarding Beethoven’s activities for the remainder of August, 1821, indicating his continued general incapacitation from the jaundice. There will be a brief update on August 29 as he again begins serious compositional activities. We look forward to the Conversation Books resuming (for a while) in late May, 1822.