BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, June 28, 1820

Conversation Book 14, leaves 59v through 70v

Today is a very long, busy day. Before taking the coach from Mödling to Vienna, Beethoven stops at a coffee house and notes the following book advertisements in yesterday’s Intelligenzblatt newspaper: a book Poe would have approved, “About Death, Those Who Appear Dead, and Premature Burial” by J.A. Dondorff (Leipzig, 1820), and the “General Ecological Lexicon, Which Contains Not Only the Complete Explanation of Agriculture…Fishery, Hunting and Appropriate Matters, but Also…” by D.G.H. Zinkens (Leipzig, 1820). Beethoven is particularly interested in an improved edition of the works of Caroline Pichner, being offered on a subscription basis. He also makes note of a red Ofner wine [Ofner being an old German white grape variety].

Once in Vienna, he meets up with his friend and financial advisor Franz Oliva. They discuss the housekeeper situation, and Beethoven waffles back and forth about whether the Jewish housekeeper he interviewed last week would be suitable. They float the idea of possibly giving her a trial to see whether her cooking is as poor as she seems to suggest.

Oliva inquires as to Beethoven’s progress on the Missa Solemnis and that topic seems toxic; it is not mentioned again. To answer Oliva’s question, the Kyrie, Gloria and first half of the Credo had more or less taken shape by late June, and the second half and fugue of the Credo would not be finished until later. However, having received Schlesinger’s commission for the three piano sonatas, Beethoven had by now turned his attention to working on the sonata op.109, which he had represented to Schlesinger on May 31 was already finished.

The subject is changed to a lengthy discussion of Beethoven’s bank shares that he purchased the previous year, and when the dividends on them will be available for Beethoven to collect. Oliva believes that the funds should be available around July 3 or 4.

Oliva notes that piano maker Stein is still not finished with adapting Beethoven’s Broadwood to be more readily audible by Beethoven, but that it is expected to be done by the end of the week. Oliva also knows a place that has real Ofner wine at low prices.

Beethoven shops for a used chest of drawers, and finds a suitable one that he considers buying on installments, but he does not yet conclude the purchase. The portable writing desk is next on Beethoven’s list, but Oliva points out he can have one made for next to nothing. At lunchtime, they agree to meet somewhere at 4 p.m., possibly at Beethoven’s small apartment he keeps for his trips to Vienna. Oliva goes to have his lunch at a boarding house. Oliva does very little work when Beethoven is in town; his employer must have been quite indulgent.

Beethoven has brought his laundry with him to be done in the City, since he has no housekeeper, and he drops it off with instructions to have it sent home to Mödling when finished. While Beethoven has his own lunch, he writes a little musical joke about the publisher Sigmund Anton Steiner, to the words “Es sind nur Steine” [They are only stones], Biamonti 727. This little joke is heard for the first time courtesy of The Unheard Beethoven (voice samples by Vienna Ensemble). The page for this little musical joke is here. A YouTube version is also presently available (with the score) as well:

Elsewhere, Beethoven complains about how slow Steiner is to publish his compositions, so that lack of speed may be what this joke is referencing. The composer was neverthless very good friends with Steiner and his employee Tobias Haslinger, making good-natured jokes regularly with them. Beethoven was in no position to complain too badly, since Steiner had advanced Ludwig a large sum of money in 1815 during brother Caspar Carl’s illness for support of the family. Beethoven still owed that money and had borrowed even more since, and has been paying it back piecemeal through the publication rights for compositions such as the piano sonata op.90.

At 4 PM, the composer dictates a letter for Oliva to write to publisher Adolph Martin Schlesinger in Berlin (Brandenburg 1397; not in Anderson). It is a followup to Beethoven’s May 31 letter accepting Schlesinger’s terms for the 25 Scottish Songs, op.108, and the three as-yet-unwritten piano sonatas, opp. 109, 110 and 111. Beethoven had then asked that Schlesinger designate a local merchant to act as financial intermediary so Beethoven can get paid reliably. But Beethoven has heard nothing, and asks Schlesinger for a prompt response. In an attempt to hasten payment, Beethoven falsely asserts that he has paid for the copying of the songs (which would not occur until September), that the first sonata is complete (although a draft is probably finished, Beethoven will continue revising it through December), and that the other two would be finished by the end of July (more like winter of 1821/early 1822). At Oliva’s urging, for dramatic effect they also include the unlikely claim that other publishers have been pursuing Beethoven for these compositions. The letter is postmarked July 1. Although the response from Schlesinger is not known to survive, a notation on the original of this letter indicates he answered Beethoven on July 4, confirming the terms.

After finishing the correspondence, Oliva and Beethoven talk in some more detail about the Jewish housekeeper applicant. Since he is now able to go into much more detail, Oliva must have spoken to her today while he and Beethoven were apart. She said she took care of the domestic affairs at her parents’ home, but did not do the cooking at the painter Klinkowström’s. She did go shopping with his cook, and knew how to cook the four or five dishes that were customary in that household. The woman, understanding her shortcomings in this department, went so far as to buy a cookbook in anticipation of working for Beethoven. She would like an answer soon.

Oliva notes that at lunch he also spoke to Joseph Bernard, who passes along his opinion that this woman would not be suitable. Bernard had asserted that she would be self-righteous and create unpleasantness with twaddle and gossip. Beethoven is well aware that Bernard is anti-Semitic, and probably took those opinions with a grain of salt. Oliva relates that Bernard said he will come to Mödling on Sunday, July 2 for a visit.

Beethoven agrees to give the woman at least a trial, if not the position outright, since he and Oliva launch into a long discussion of what clothing, fabric and linens she will need. The pair go shopping for what is required for her, and are told it will be ready this week.

They also discuss having the chest of drawers inspected, and Oliva says he will take a carpenter to do so today, and that if Beethoven comes along, Oliva can draw up the purchase agreement.

The laundry is done, and it along with the shopping, Beethoven’s umbrella and money sack go by coach back to Mödling.

Probably at a coffee or wine house, the discussion with Oliva turns to Steiner, who was referenced in the lunchtime musical joke above. Oliva tells Beethoven Steiner acknowledges he has taken on publication of too many works, which is why things are being released so slowly. He has the complete works of Mozart coming out in subscription form that he has been working on for two years, and he needs to complete that. But Steiner assured Oliva he is now printing the overture to The Ruins of Athens, op.113, as well as the March with Chorus from that work. In actual fact, Steiner would not print the March and Chorus until October, 1822, while the overture would not appear until February, 1823. Deceptions in the Vienna music industry ran in both directions.

The Overture and March with Chorus from The Ruins of Athens. Hans Hubert Schoenzeler conducting the Berliner Symphoniker, Berliner Konzertchor. Soprano: Neumar Starling; Baritone: Vladimir de Kanel.

They talk a bit about wines, although Oliva only drinks water due to his delicate stomach. No one has heard from Karl Peters, Karl’s co-guardian with Beethoven, since he writes letters from Italy only to his wife, and news from him can only be had indirectly through her.

Oliva adds up the expenditures for the day for oil, sugar, coffee, two types of wine, almonds, cheese and bread. He makes a comment that one of the wines Beethoven bought is too strong for daily consumption. Having clumsily touched another point of sensitivity, Oliva hurriedly adds a bit of fawning that Beethoven has become healthier looking every year and will surely live to 100 [Beethoven will in fact die at age 56, in less than seven years.]

Beethoven makes a note to write to Karl about a new butterfly catcher. Since butterflies are on his mind, Beethoven may have purchased a copy of Nagel’s Complete Guide for Young Butterfly Collectors, which he had noted in the conversation book back on June 9th.

When he arrives back in Mödling in the late evening, Beethoven learns his umbrella and money sack sent on the earlier coach have gone missing. At least the laundry is there. Beethoven angrily accuses someone (probably the coachman) of stealing his things. Frau Reyner (whom Beethoven had interviewed for the housekeeper position on June 10th) says she doesn’t believe it; she has known him a long while and he is an honest man. It’s not clear why Frau Reyner happens to be in Mödling. But it’s an upsetting conclusion to a very long day, as Beethoven goes home convinced he has been robbed.

The next conversation book entry dates from Sunday, June 2, when Bernard comes to visit. At leaf 71r, between the entries for Wednesday and Sunday, Anton Schindler later found this page had been left blank, and he inserted a phony entry to make it look like he knew Beethoven well years before he really did.

Our thanks to Matthew Barton for hosting Biamonti 727 while our website was down. As you can see, it has returned to more or less full functionality on a new server. Please let us know if you find any broken links.