BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, September 12, 1821 (very approximately)

Today’s famous story comes from during Beethoven’s stay in Baden bei Wien.

Thayer passes on the following anecdote related to him by Professor Höfel, who was a professor of drawing in Wiener Neustadt, about 24 km south of Baden bei Wien. One evening Höfel was with colleagues in the garden of the tavern Zum Schliefen, a little ways out of town. “The Commissioner of Police was a member of the party. It was autumn and already dark when a constable came and said to the Commissioner: ‘Mr. Commissioner, we have arrested somebody who will give us no peace. He keeps on yelling that he is Beethoven; but he’s a ragamuffin, has no hat, an old coat, etc. — nothing by which he can be identified.’ The Commissioner ordered that the man be kept under arrest until morning, ‘then we will examine him and learn who he is.’

“Next day the company was very anxious to know how the affair turned out, and the Commissioner said that about 11 o’clock at night he was awakened by a policeman with the information that the prisoner would give them no peace and had demanded that Herzog, Musical Director in Wieder Neustadt, be called to identify him. So the Commissioner got up, dressed, went out and woke up Herzog, and in the middle of the night went with him to the watchhouse. Herzog, as soon as he cast eyes on the man exclaimed, ‘That IS Beethoven!'”

“He took him home with him, gave him his best room, etc. Next day came the burgomaster, making all manner of apologies. As it proved, Beethoven had got up early in the morning, and, slipping on a miserable old coat and, without a hat, had gone out to walk a little. He got upon the towpath of the canal and kept on and on; seemed to have lost his direction, for, with nothing to eat, he had continued on until he ended up at the canal-basin at the Ungerthor. Here, not knowing where he was, he was seen looking in at the windows of the houses, and as he looked so like a beggar the people had called a constable who arrested him. Upon his arrest the composer said, ‘I am Beethoven.’ ‘Of course, why not?’ (Warum nicht gar?) said the policeman; ‘You’re a tramp; Beethoven doesn’t look so.’ (Ein Lump sind Sie; so sieht der Beethoven nicht aus.) Herzog gave him some decent clothes and the burgomaster sent him back to Baden in the magisterial state-coach.” (Thayer-Forbes, pp. 777-778).

According to Höfel’s recollection, this incident occurred in 1821 or 1822. It seems most likely to have happened in 1821, since Beethoven has spent the last eight months ill and in extreme poverty; his resulting appearance at that time may well explain the situation related in this anecdote. Since he lost his way, this probably comes from early in his stay at the baths.

Our next update is September 17.