BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, May 24, 1820

Although we don’t have any conversation books for the last two-thirds of May, we do have a few letters by Beethoven that date from this period. On May 24, 1820, Beethoven wrote to publisher Nikolaus Simrock in Beethoven’s birth city of Bonn. Beethoven notes that he is writing from Vienna, so this was presumably done at the room he rented in the city, on one of his weekly trips from his country rental in Mödling to shop and conduct business.

This letter was a followup to one Beethoven had sent to Simrock on April 23, 1820, regarding the sets of variations on folksongs for piano with either violin or flute, opus 107. Although the agreement with Simrock was for eight sets for a fee of 70 ducats, Beethoven had on April 22 sent two additional sets of variations for no extra fee. Beethoven had told Simrock in the earlier letter that he could substitute these two if he didn’t like any of the first eight, or add them to increase the set to ten. Beethoven sent these sets to Simrock in care of Franz Brentano in Frankfurt, who regularly acted as a go-between for them.

But now Beethoven has learned that the manuscript is still sitting, unclaimed, in Frankfurt a month later. Beethoven would like to have the matter concluded so he can get paid.

Beethoven also says that Simrock will receive the Missa Solemnis, op.123, by the end of May or beginning of June; in fact, Beethoven would not complete the Mass for three more years, and he surely knew that there was no possible way he could meet this deadline. Beethoven was asking advance payment of 100 louis d’or for the Mass, part of his not-entirely-ethical negotiations for this work. In February, Beethoven had asked 125 louis d’or from Simrock for the Mass, so this 20% price drop suggests he was becoming desperate to find a publisher for the massive work.

Beethoven had also tried earlier this year to get Simrock to publish Beethoven’s arrangements of 25 Scottish Folksongs, op.108, but having heard nothing, the composer now advises that they have been sold [to A.M. Schlesinger in Berlin]. Beethoven notes he is writing in haste, possibly to catch the mail coach. He adds a hurried P.S. to “Please settle this business soon,” indicating that Beethoven’s money worries that he expressed to Oliva a few weeks ago have not been resolved.

From this letter we get a flavor of just how difficult communication was in Beethoven’s time, and the problems he had with publishers (especially those not located in Vienna). The original letter is in the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, and may be seen here along with an audio version.

While there are many recordings of the Variations op.107 in the version for flute, the only place you can hear all of them performed on the violin is at The Unheard Beethoven, performed by Rachel Barton Pine, and provided by her kind perrmission.

The next Beethoven 200 Years Ago will come on May 31, 2020.