BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, July 18, 1821

Beethoven writes to Archduke Rudolph today from Unterdöbling, having heard yesterday that the Archduke had arrived back in the City. Beethoven regrets that he was unable to see the Archduke, and suspects “it is likely to be quite a long time before I may enjoy the happiness of waiting upon I.K.H. [Your Imperial Highness] I had been feeling poorly for a long time when finally it turned into jaundice, and in my case it is a most loathsome disease.” Beethoven hopes he can see the Archduke before he departs. He blames his economic circumstances for his ill health, particularly the violent attacks of rheumatism that plagued him last winter. Beethoven trusts that God “will finally tear me away from these troubles once again.”

He then turns to the Missa Solemnis, and he promises that it will be delivered while the Archduke is still in Vienna. There follows an interesting exchange, where Beethoven seems to blame Rudolph himself for Beethoven’s silence: “I would very much have liked to have written to I.K.H. from here occasionally. But I.K.H. had told me here that I should wait until Your Highness should write to me. Well, what was I to do? Perhaps it would have displeased I.K.H. if I had not paid attention to what you had said. Besides I know that there are people who like to slander me to I.K.H.; and this hurts me very deeply. So I often think that all I can do is to keep quiet until I.K.H. desires to see or hear something from me.” [Beethoven had made previous references to slanders against him by the Archduke’s courtiers in a letter of April 3, 1820. The last known letter to the Archduke previous to the present one was written about a month earlier, while Beethoven was engaged in proofreading the piano sonata op.109. So something happened to create a bit of a rift between them during that time, but it’s not clear what exactly what that was. Perhaps the Archduke was getting impatient about not having a composition lesson for so long.]

Beethoven closes by mentioning that he heard the Archduke is also ailing. He asks for many blessings upon the Archduke, and he hopes he will soon be able to tell his highness in person how much he remains the Archduke’s loyal servant. [Beethoven gives the letter to his copyist, Wenzel Schlemmer, to deliver to the Archduke; as we have seen, Schlemmer was toiling in the Archduke’s massive music archives, trying to put them in order.]

The original is held by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, A 84/122. Anderson Letter 1054; Brandenburg Letter 1436. Beethoven will write a short followup tomorrow.

Copyist Wenzel Schlemmer visits Beethoven in Unterdöbling today, and the composer asks him to deliver this letter to the Archduke. Schlemmer appears to still be working in the Archduke’s music archives.