BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, September 3, 1823

Nephew Karl, living in Baden with Uncle Ludwig, has diarrhea today, perhaps from eating day-old roast last night. Uncle Ludwig wants Karl to get an Asperges Me, and a Gloria, Credo and Kyrie from a music archive. Karl tries to clarify whether a copy will be made, or whether they will let him take it as a loan. Karl reports that Sunday night, August 31, the Church am Hof in the Viennese square of that name was robbed; all the altars and monstrances and anything of any value was stolen. [If this rumor was true, it was kept out of the Vienna newspapers.]

Karl lost his watch while he was in Vienna. He had brought a book along with him and got so absorbed that he left the watch lying there. When Ludwig criticizes him, Karl reminds him that his uncle had recently lost his own watch.

Karl also complains of a headache. Lunch is Boeuf à la mode, a large piece of meat rubbed with salt and pepper then braised and then simmered for about 90 minutes. It then simmers in chopped pickles, vinegar and bay leaves for another two hours, making a spicy gravy. If uncle wants, Karl can bring wine out from the City.

Ludwig’s eyes continue to bother him, and Karl suggests that he should go to the eye doctor. But he isn’t sure whether there is one in Baden.

Karl notes that it is 3:45 p.m., but then corrects himself; it is 4:15. When Ludwig tells him he is writing too large [presumably filling up his conversation books too quickly,] Karl responds that if he writes too small, his uncle can’t read it.

Karl notes that one finds good people among the common classes. For instance, copyist Mathias Wunderl [who is finishing one of the copies of the Missa Solemnis] is taking care of Wenzel Schlemmer’s widow and making sure she continues to have an income by subcontracting out copying.

This launches Karl into an anecdote about the famous eye doctor Georg Beer (1763-1821), who was famous for providing medical care for the deaf, dumb and blind, at no charge. Karl disputes this reputation, saying that Beer did nothing that was not profitable to him. One time a blind Hungarian schoolteacher came to him with cataracts, asking for an operation. Beer asked whether he could pay for it and the schoolteacher said he would pay whatever was in his means. Beer asked whether he could pay 100 florins, and the poor schoolteacher did not have even half that much property altogether. Beer said, “You don’t have it? Good, stay blind.” Karl heard this story from one of Beer’s students.

Karl then begins discussing the philosophy of noble deeds, concluding that noble deeds took place before Christ, but the motives were not as great as in the Christian era. Karl then asks what Uncle Ludwig thought was the state of man after death. Karl’s opinion is that, “It goes without saying that one cannot say anything specific about this, but one can presume many things. Thus it is uncertain whether evil people will not be punished until after death, and good people not rewarded until after death. Because good things often happen to evil people here, and vice versa. One says that Nature punishes everything itself; that may be, as long as the conscience is not suppressed. Then the evil man receives no punishment. In the case of the good man, however, this is not so. Things often go poorly for him; therefore, shouldn’t there be some reward on the other side?” Unfortunately, Ludwig’s response is not recorded here, but he apparently was dismissive of the idea other than the evil man would be punished, since Karl then asks, “But the good man? How will he be compensated?” Karl promises to bring back his textbook on religions on Saturday when he goes back into Vienna.

Karl then adds, “One prophecy of Christ has not been fulfilled; he said that the Jews will never have their own realm; and yet they are forming their own state in America.” [This is a reference to Mordecai Noah (1785-1851), a politician and journalist who in 1820 proposed a self-governing Jewish colony in New York, between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Supported by Protestant Freemasons, he later purchased a large parcel of land on Grand Island, to be called Ararat, for this purpose. However, the European Jews he expected to populate his new utopian colony never came. Editor Theodore Albrecht explains that Karl’s reference means that Noah’s summons for European Jews to come to his new republic had reached Vienna by early September, 1823.]

Karl asks his uncle whether he knew that Prince Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia [who Karl calls Hohenzollern] is a great admirer. [Beethoven would dedicate the Ninth Symphony to him, so he did appreciate that fact.]

Conversation Book 41, 1r-7v.