BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, July 23, 1823

Beethoven writes a short note to unpaid assistant Anton Schindler early this morning. “Since I want to talk to you, I ask you to come to my place for dinner at 2 p.m. It won’t rain much, and a second baptism won’t hurt you. When does the mail coach go to Dresden?” [Beethoven’s inquiry about Dresden relates to the letter to Hans Heinrich von Könneritz, which Beethoven will write on July 25, forwarding the King’s subscription invitation.]

Brandenburg Letter 1711, Anderson Letter 1327. The original is in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (aut. 36,50). This undated letter can actually be dated with some precision due to Beethoven’s reference to rainy weather in the morning. According to the Wiener Zeitung, there was no rain on July 21 or 22; the July 25 Wiener Zeitung at p.691 indicates that it was rainy at 8 a.m. on this date, which comports with Beethoven’s reference to a second baptism. On July 24, per the July 26 newspaper, there was rain in the afternoon, but not in the morning.

Probably while visiting Beethoven in Hetzendorf, Schindler writes out the usual subscription invitation on behalf of Beethoven to King Friedrich August I of Saxony.

Brandenburg Letter 1710, Albrecht Letter 330. The original letter is not known to survive, but a fragment of Schindler’s draft, with today’s date, is held in a German private collection.

Sometime about now, or possibly a few days earlier, Brother Johann feels well enough to leave Vienna, and likely returns home to his estate in Gneixendorf. His wife and her daughter appear to go with him, bringing to a conclusion this round of the family drama, in which the police were called and Schindler did his best to drive Beethoven into a fury with his lurid accounts of Therese’s activities. To what extent these tales were true remains uncertain, clouded by Schindler’s willingness to falsify documents and rewrite history to suit himself.

Today’s Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (Nr. 30) at 473-488 opens with a lengthy, thoughtful and enthusiastic (but rather fanciful) discourse by former editor Johann Friedrich Rochlitz (1769-1842), in the form of a letter to someone named Bernhard, on Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Nr.12 in A-flat, op.26, particularly the first movement Theme and Variations. Among the many comments from first sitting down to play a new printing of the piece: “I started, I went on, I ended –heaven with what pleasure! I started over again. I seized on the variations: O reader, there it was before me. Everything, everything stood before me, completely, clear, unmistakable. I myself was standing with the most crucial moments of my life in front of me, portrayed as if in a mirror, in this theme with variations. Six main movements, the theme with five variations, the last a short one leading to the final coda, on which I am standing in my life, and that, like this musical one, will be as short as it may be.”

“Now, it goes without saying that Herr Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna, when he wrote these variations, had no thought of me in rural Pomerania and my little fiefdom here, but that is just the vital point of the whole thing: anyone who when performing expressive instrumental music wants to think about something, would want to think of what is first of all important to him. Namely, what is necessary for the sense that the music would give as what was closest to his life, even if he himself is nothing more than a corpulent, sixty-nine year old bachelor [a bit of poetic license here, as Rochlitz was in fact only 54 years old, and married to a very wealthy widow], working as a clerk in a dirty disheveled courtroom. So I thought to myself, how I was as I am, and I noticed the more times I played the variations, the brighter the light dawned on me, the more that closer relationships I found and the more these came together and completed my real counterpart.”

Rochlitz describes the main theme in parallel to his life: “The Theme, what is given, the basis, what is to be further developed afterward: Andante, A-flat major, three-eight time, more serious than lively, yet gentle, kind and obliging. Yet not without power, and promise, in all modesty. Look, Bernhard, I said yes, your given theme is just like me, the basic song from the Lord God, which goes on to be developed hereafter, just as it should. Few remember you from your earliest childhood and boyhood, and the many things that others have told you about it. How sad it is to look at it again: a boy, more serious than cheerful, yet gentle, kind and obliging. And even there not without vigor and promising, in all modesty! Yes, yes, that’s how your creator equipped you, and how graciously! Your father received you, your pious mother nourished you, physically and spiritually, and how lovely! You did your things quietly; your wishes didn’t extend beyond a few plums for lunch, a massive workload in school on the weekday and a walk in the green on Sunday after church….It wasn’t much, but it was good, and it formed your basic theme. Look, Bernhard, that is exactly what should be further developed. Now ask yourself: what is it made of? What has it become? Memory, conscience, and Beethoven’s variations clearly answer.”

Rochlitz continues on in this vein, tying each of the five variations to a period of his own life. First is his high school years, punished by the overseers, and mocked by classmates, as the theme is fragmented, scattered and cracked. Second is the arrogance and defiance of his university years, where he considered himself wiser, stronger, nobler and higher than everything that surrounded him.

The third variation in A-flat minor is dealt with in the most detail (running over four columns of the newspaper!) as he recounts the sorrows and disappointments of his adult life, such as the deaths of his parents, his poems and plays not being wanted by publishers, with even his most excellent lyrical poem being rejected firmly and with the implication that he should not submit anything more for consideration. Finally, he is comforted by his aged pastor, who asks solemnly, “Are you no one?” inspiring him to carry on.

The fourth variation, back in the major, with the old basic theme in quiet simplicity surrounded by dark melancholy just as he was in deep doubt, but with soft, distant sounds of hope against defiance and bitterness. The final variation passes out of gloom and melancholy into a confident active character as his hands are full of things to be done. Finally the short coda, the mild exit of dying at his venerable age. The writer says he is now living with a vicar, putting the library and old yellowed sermon manuscripts into order and making a catalogue of them that no one will look at. But he is content and calm, as he reviews his life through Beethoven’s music.

“The rest of the coda continues partly in pure chords, and partly delights in small, quiet allusions to the past. Finally, everything being once more in the simplest of circumstances, one gently falls asleep. After turning the leaves, one then finds a new movement, much stronger and able to start again in free style.”

The first movement Andante con variazioni of Piano Sonata #12 in A-flat op.26 is here played by Igor Levit:

Another salvo in the war over Rossini’s operas is fired today in the advertisements of the Wiener Zeitung. Artaria & Co. gives notice that Sauer & Leidesdorf’s announced prospectus of the Complete Rossini Operas cannot in fact be complete. The operas Zelmira, Corradino, Maometto and Semiramide, for piano with and without voice, only exist in legitimate editions from Artaria. The company also notes that the operas Zelmira and Corradino were transcribed for Artaria by Herr Leidesdorf himself, and they are available now. To twist the dagger some more, Artaria makes it known that most of Rossini’s other operas have been completely transcribed for piano, with and without voice, by the most skillful musicians and are also available from Artaria at the cheapest prices.

This notice is followed up on Friday July 25 by Artaria’s advertisement filling nearly a quarter of page 692 of the Wiener Zeitung with an offering of various Rossini opera arrangements for sale.