Biografie 2

The yet little explored dynamics between the “natural laws” that may or may not come into force whenever a creative individual is faced with fighting for his or her survival in the face of a disability that outwardly threatens to prevent the individual’s survival as a creative force and that individual’s own personal strength of endurance and character shaped Beethoven’s “prime of life”. At the same time, his psychological “pre-conditioning” with respect to his ability or inability to find personal happiness is evidenced in the many, as Maynard Solomon called them, “romantic pretense” affairs with women Beethoven yearned for but could not make “his own”.

Beethoven around 1803

On that personal level, the years 1803 – 1804 saw Beethoven’s outward ease in “letting go” of his infatuation with Giulietta Guicciardi, the cousin of the von Brunsvik sisters. In January 1804, she married Count von Gallenberg, a mediocre composer of ballet music. They moved to Italy. Beethoven’s later personal secretary, Anton Schindler, preserved the conversation book of 1823 in which he discussed this subject with Beethoven in a sidewalk cafe.

Giulietta Giucciardi

Quite another matter was his following passionate yearning for Giulietta’s cousin, Josephine von Brunsvik-Deym. We may recall that this young lady was married off to the 49-year-old Count von Deym in the summer of 1799. He passed away in 1803 and left Josephine behind with several children and pregnant with their last child. After her delivery, she went through a nervous breakdown. Beethoven’s playing his music for her on his almost daily visits gave her a great deal of comfort so that she was able to slowly recuperate. Evident is that she certainly felt very grateful to him for his personal attention to her. The general impression that has been created by the review of the 1804 – 1805 correspondence between Beethoven and Josephine is that she may not have shared his “sensual” feelings. We do not know for certain, however, as to whether she had feelings for him or not and whether she followed her own dictates on the basis of her not sharing his feelings or the dictates of her family who discussed this issue in their correspondence with each other, such as in Therese von Brunsvik’s letter to her younger sister Charlotte, “she must have the courage to say no”. A draft letter of Josephine’s that was found later lists some of the excuses she may have used on her own accord or been persuaded to use in evading Beethoven’s courting her. She tried to express that she, as a widow and mother of several children, felt bound by a vow of chastity. {Cooper lists as main stumbling block in a possible union of Josephine von Brunsvik-Deym with Beethoven “the laws and customs of the time, which made it exceedingly difficult for a noblewoman to marry a commoner, especially if she had children. . . . Were she to marry Beethoven, she would lose her title and, far worse, the guardianship of her children, whose future would be unsure and unsafe, since Beethoven would hot have been granted the guadianship” (Cooper: 147, referring back to Tellenbach, ‘Psychoanalsysis’, 125).] At least outwardly, Beethoven appeared to have been willing to lay his passion for her to rest in the period between 1805 and 1808 while, in his last letter to her of 1808, he still maintained that he would always remain “ergeben” to her. Many translators bring this word over into English as “loyal”, it may, however, also take on the meaning of “devoted”.

The creative outburst of Beethoven’s new, so-called heroic style of composition is evidenced in the Third Symphony, the so-called Eroica. [With respect to the widely cherished concept of an entirely “clean break” between Beethoven’s first creative period and his second creative period, Barry Cooper cautions us that this might be “an oversimplification, and the idea is now frequently challenged. But it is undeniable that there was in a short space of time a dramatic change in his style, both in terms of new genres and new approaches to old ones, and the notion that this change markd in broad terms the beginning of the second great period of his oeuvre is likely to survive” (Cooper: 123).] We need not venture here into exploring in detail the presence or absence of his initial intentions to dedicate this symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte and his abandoning that concept in 1804 on hearing of Napoleon’s self-coronation as Emperor in Rome. These years also saw the painful creation of his only opera, Fidelio, based on a French text by J.N. Bouilly.

It had its roots in the actual incident during the French Revolution of a wife’s rescuing her husband from prison by infiltrating it in the disguise of a man. Beethoven’s thirty-year fascination with the text of Schiller’s Ode to Joy found its reflection in the lines of the opera’s final chorus, “Wer ein holdes Weib errungen”. The work was not very successfully staged in the half-empty theater before an audience of Beethoven friends and French military personnel. In an exhausting soiree at Prince Lichnowsky’s residence, the revision of the work was initiated.

Spring 1806 saw the re-staging of Fidelio which was received somewhat more politely this time, but it would not yet capture the audience as it would later in yet another revision.

Beethoven’s visit of the von Brunsviks at Martonvasar during the summer of 1806 may be as fictional as the evidently false diary notes with respect to Therese von Brunsvik’s secret, platonic engagement that might have referred to this occasion.

Beethoven certainly visited Prince Lichnowsky at his estate in Troppau in Silesia during this late summer and fall. Lichnowsky reportedly asked Beethoven to play for the French military officials who were present. Beethoven refused and left “on the spot” and made his way back to Vienna by coach from the nearest town or village. [With respect to this, Cooper mentions that on his three-day journey back to Vienna, Beethoven encountered a severe storm in which “water penetrated his trunk, damaging the ‘Appassionata’ manuscript” (Cooper: 159).] Back in Vienna, he reportedly smashed Prince Lichnowsky’s bust.

This incident, as characteristic as it may seem to us of Beethoven’s passionate, violent outbursts, bears a more factual significance due to its financial consequence: His falling-out with this important patron may well have cut him off from the 600 florin a year annual allowance he used to receive from him and gave way to his insecure financial status in Vienna during the years 1806 – 1809, in spite of the many astounding works he put before the Viennese audience in his occasional academy concerts.

Another question the musical lay person and the Beethoven enthusiast might ask her or himself is what precisely happened to the continuity of the Schuppanzigh Quartet which used to practice and perform Haydn’s and Beethoven’s works at Prince Lichnowsky’s residence. (We know that eventually, Prince Razumovsky’s palace took over that function).

The years 1897 – 1808 saw the completion of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies while Beethoven found yet another substitute family in the Erdödys. By this time, the young member of the Imperial family, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, was also Beethoven’s pupil.

On March 27th, 1808, Beethoven was present at the final concert of the Liebhaber Concerts at which Haydn, turning 76 on March 31st, was honored. [As Solomon reports, “it is said that Beethoven knelt down before Haydn and fervently kissed the hands and forehead of his old teacher” (Solomon: 76).]

In late 1808/early 1809, in spite of his December 22nd, 1808 academy concert in the Theater an der Wien, which premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Op. 67 and Op. 68 and the Choral Fantasy Op. 80, Beethoven considered to take Jerome Bonaparte’s (whom his brother Napoleon Bonaparte had installed as King of Westphalia) offer as First Kapellmeister to Kassel for an annual salary of 600 ducats.

With Countess Erdödy’s and Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein’s help, an annuity contract was negotiated for Beethoven with three of his most influential patrons, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz, for 4,000 florins annually, in the spring of 1809.


Archduke Rudolph



Prince Kinsky



Prince Lobkowitz


An argument over a servant matter may have caused a temporary rift between Countess Erdödy and Beethoven. On account of the ensuing French occupation of Vienna, most of the nobility left the city.

Late spring and summer (Haydn died in May) saw Beethoven during the bombardment of Vienna by the French in the basement of his brother Caspar Carl’s house when he covered his sensitive ears with pillows.

In 1809/1810, Beethoven joined a new circle of friends in the company of Baron von Gleichenstein, the Malfattis. Beethoven became infatuated with Therese von Malfatti, then eighteen years old, and even wrote to Wegeler and asked him to obtain for him his baptismal certificate. Stephan von Breuning advised Wegeler subsequently that Beethoven’s marriage plans “fell through”.

The years 1810 – 1812 are characterized by Beethoven’s friendship with the Brentano family, his relationship with the Immortal Beloved of his famous July 1812 letter to her (Solomon research favors Antonie Brentano, Kaznelson’s, Harry Goldschmidt’s and Marie-Elisabeth Tellenbach’s Josephine von Brunsvik, and Gail S. Altman’s Countess Erdödy), his ultimately not taking up or not being able to take up her offer to live with him, his summer 1811 and 1812 stays in Teplitz and his meeting there of an interesting circle of artists which, in the second year, also included his encounter with Goethe, his retreat from the company of the Brentanos (with whom he vacationed in Karlsbad from late July to the beginning of September) to Teplitz in a state of renewed illness and the comforting company of the Berlin singer Amalie Sebald, his October 1812 interference in Linz into his pharmacist brother Johann’s common-law living arrangements with his later wife Therese, and his return to Vienna in late fall, by which time his grieving process over the already pending(?) loss of the (in any event married) Immortal Belovedhad him in its grip.

The year 1813 saw the continuation of Beethoven’s grieving process over the loss of his Immortal Beloved. In this context, Solomon reports of Beethoven’s increasing discussions between Baron Zmeskall and himself of either only Zmeskall’s or their mutual frequenting, of the so-called Fortresses (which should be looked at very cautiously due to the fact that the proper translation of Beethoven’s original letters carries with it the burden of Beethoven’s unclear punctuation and, let us say his, at least ‘unusual’, use of German syntax)and his possible flight from the scene at Countess Erdödy’s Jedlersee estate in the summer, in an attempt to end his life {for which Cooper finds no convincing base].

In the spring of 1813, Beethoven’s brother Caspar Carl had his first serious bout with consumption. At its dramatic peak, Caspar Carl signed a declaration to the effect that he wished his older brother Ludwig to take over the guardianship of his son Carl in case of his death. Caspar Carl recovered once more. Beethoven’s own pecuniary situation had worsened with the 1812 accidental death of Prince Kinsky, as well as due to the decline in the actual value of the Viennese currency and due to the “non-payment of the Kinsky and Lobkowitz subscription to his annuity” (Thayer: 552).

Whether or not, as reported in Thayer-Forbes, the Streichers found Beethoven in a very deplorable state in the summer of this year, whether or not Nanette Streicher took it upon herself to replenish Beethoven’s wardrobe and to straighten out his household affairs, and whether or not the Streichers also urged Beethoven to set aside some money for the future, can neither be confirmed nor entirely ruled out. In the event that we can follow Thayer-Forbes in this respect, this would have allowed Beethoven to re-direct his energy towards improving his lot, and it would not come as a surprise that Beethoven should have let himself be “inspired” by the idea of the Regensburg musician and musical mechanic Johann Nepomuk Mälzel (he invented the musical metronome, developed a new and improved panharmonicum, and also built some very effective ear drums for Beethoven’s use) to write the Battle Symphony in celebration of Wellington’s June 21st, 1813 victory at Vittoria over Napoleon. The orchestra version was first performed at the December 8 and 12 University Hall benefit concerts for the Austrian and Bavarian veterans, at which time the Seventh Symphony was also first performed. The concerts were a resounding success and cemented Beethoven’s popularity as a composer. For ardent Mozart lovers it may be of interest to note that Antonio Salieri was found supervising the drum section of the orchestra….. In 1814, Beethoven’s and Mälzel’s plans to take the Battle Symphony to England did not materialize. An argument arose as to the exact authorship of each part of this work which led to a law suit Beethoven commenced. It lasted for several years before a mutual settlement was reached.

Beethoven’s new popularity led, however, to the performance of this long forgotten and recently more often played work at various benefit concerts and concerts for Beethoven’s own benefit throughout 1814. His popularity also led the directors of the Imperial Opera to select Fidelio to be staged at performances for their own benefit. Beethoven and the theater poet Treitschke thoroughly revised the work. A new overture was also planned. Beethoven had begun to write this piece but could not finish it. On the morning of the premiere at which he was supposed to lead the final rehearsal, he had to be fetched from his home, where he was found sound asleep in bed, with the score to the unfinished overture strewn around on the bed and on the floor, and a casket of red wine with a biscuit in it on his bedside table…..

Beethoven in 1814

The opera was performed sixteen times during this year and also contributed to Beethoven’s success as a composer. Whatever financial gain Beethoven made during this year was set aside. He bought bank shares, the use of which he would not find himself to have permission due to certain upcoming circumstances.

The Congress of Vienna brought Europe’s nobility to Vienna. They also “inspected” Beethoven at Count Razumovsky’s palace, at which occasion Beethoven, as he later admitted, “held himself admirably” (Thayer). On December 30, the Razumovsky palace burned down. In early 1815, for the remainder of the Congress of Vienna, Beethoven mingled with the dignitaries at Archduke Rudolph’s premises.

The year also saw the renewal of his friendship with the Erdödys in whose company he spent many hours at Jedlersee during the summer. Countess Erdödy left Jedlersee and Vienna in October, 1815. In his letter to her of October 19, Beethoven expressed his anxiety about her travel plans which she had formed by herself. He was afraid that she might experience ill health as she usually did when she traveled. Rather than carrying on in this vein, however, he tried to comfort her and himself with these words:

“We mortals with immortal minds are only born for sufferings and joys, and one could almost say that the most excellent receive joy through sufferings.”

On November 15th, 1815, Beethoven’s brother Caspar Carl died from his second bout with consumption. The deceased had appointed Beethoven, together with his widow Johanna, as co-guardians of his son Carl who was nine years old.

Scholars have often debated the significance of Beethoven’s composing, at this particular point in his life, the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), which he began in the fall of 1815 and which was completed in April of 1816. We could, however, venture as far as considering the departure of his best lady friend, Countess Erdödy, as the departure in Beethoven’s life of a positive feminine influence which may have provided the outward occasion to his artistic motivation.

Beethoven petitioned to the Landrecht on November 20th, 1815, and was granted sole guardianship of his nephew Carl on January 9th, 1816. He was sworn in on January 10th.

In February, he enrolled Carl in the boarding school of Cajetan Giannatasio del Rio. He also socialized with the Giannatasios to stay in close contact with Carl. An interesting source of information is the diary of Giannatasio’s oldest daughter Fanny. She, whose fiancé had recently died, became infatuated with Beethoven. He in turn tried to discourage her notions by calling her mother superior.

Carl van Beethoven

The composer’s former pupil, Ferdinand Ries, now lived in London, England, and acted for his former teacher as agent there. Various correspondences went back and forth between them as well as between Beethoven and Birchall, Sir Charles Smart and Mr. Neate, all with the aim of enticing the Philharmonic Society to buy his works. Unfortunately, the English were disappointed to receive only occasional works such as overtures. Beethoven’s subjectively felt need to market his works extensively so that he could provide for his charge may have been behind these ultimately disappointing endeavors.

This is a good occasion to invite the reader of this brief overview of Beethoven’s life to explore for him or herself the complex issue of Beethoven’s creative slowdown which had already begun during his grieving process over the Immortal Beloved. The fact that his hearing deteriorated dramatically after that event, the emotional impact it certainly must have had on him, as well as all the trials and tribulations of his struggle for the guardianship of his nephew and the responsibility for his care appears to have formed a powerful combination of facts to “facilitate” this process. On an artistic level, the dramatic change in the political situation of Europe with Napoleon’s defeat may have removed all incentive for Beethoven to continue to explore the creative possibilities this style may once have held for him, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, he may have considered that he had already exhausted all creative possibilities of this style.

Beethoven spent the summer in Baden and, on returning to the city, tried to re-arrange his domestic affairs so that he could raise Carl at home. This was not realized due to his problems with his servants. Carl remained at the boarding school.

The year also brought forth Piano Sonata Op. 101, the so-called Ertmann Sonata. While it was usually believed that the creative source of this work may have been the sad occasion of his acquaintance, Baroness Ertmann’s loss of her child, this concept would invite further exploration as to its veracity. This ‘creative legend’ assumed that the baroness had sought out Beethoven in his lodgings where he was to have improvised for her and comforted her with his music.

During the winter of 1816/1817, Beethoven was suffering from the effects of a severe cold he had in October, 1816. The winter months also saw the negotiations between him and Johanna van Beethoven with respect to her financial contribution to Carl’s education.

Beethoven spent the summer of 1817 in Nußdorf. In his June 9 letter, Ferdinand Ries conveyed to Beethoven the invitation to London for the following winter by the Philharmonic Society. Beethoven was requested to write two symphonies for that purpose. Negotiations went on, but nothing came of the entire project. Rather than working on the requested symphonies, Beethoven began to write his Op. 106, the Hammerklavier Sonata. Amongst its sketches can be found early sketches for the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony.

One of the underlying reasons for Beethoven’s “dragging his feet” with the travel plans for England may have been his increasing deafness. Thayer (690) mentions Czerny’s recollections that by 1817, Beethoven could barely hear music, anymore. Evidence of this may be seen in Beethoven’s July 7, 1817 letter to Madame Streicher, asking her to have her piano maker husband comply with the following:

” . . . Now I have to ask a big favor of Streicher; ask him in my name that he kindly tunes one of your pianos more for my weakened hearing. It should be tuned to produce an as loud as possible sound for my use.”

Mälzel returned to Vienna to get positive endorsements for his metronome. The lawsuit with Beethoven was amicably settled. Beethoven once again joined forces with those who endorsed Mälzel’s metronome.

Beethoven’s letter of November 1st to the Giannatasios indicated that he once again aimed at taking Carl home.

In early 1818, a Broadwood Piano was sent by Beethoven’s friends to the composer in Vienna. Beethoven thanked Broadwood in his letter of February 3 (written in French). Stumpff of London tuned the piano for him when he was in Vienna during that year. Thayer reports that, after Beethoven’s death, the Broadwood Piano was bought by the music publisher Spina “for 181 florins; Spina gave it to Liszt, in whose house at Weimar it was up to his death. In 1887, Princess Hohenlohe, the daughter of Liszt’s friend, Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, presented it to the National Museum in Buda-Pesth” (Thayer: 696).

Carl was to leave Giannatasio’s school at the end of January. Beethoven engaged a tutor for Carl to prepare him for the gymnasium entry exams. This experiment was not successful.

With respect to Beethoven’s health is to report that from March 1818 on, he could only communicate through the conversation books.

Beethoven spent the summer at Mödling, leaving on May 17th with Carl. Johanna van Beethoven bribed Beethoven’s servants so that she could see her son. Carl attended the Reverend Father Froehlich’s class.

August Kloeber, a young Breslau artist studying in Vienna, had Beethoven “sit for him” at Mödling for his charcoal sketch to a painting which has been lost. The charcoal sketch of Beethoven’s head i

Beethoven Sketch by Kloeber

Johanna van Beethoven petitioned to obtain custody of her son Carl. Proceedings began and were temporarily dismissed by the Landrecht on September 18th. Carl was at that time a student of the Grammar Class. Beethoven took up socializing with the Giannatasios again. Around December 3rd – 5th, Carl ran away from Beethoven to his mother, as Fanny Giannatasio’s diary entry shows. With the help of the Giannatasios, Carl was returned to Beethoven by the police. Johanna van Beethoven applied to the Court again on December 11th. The Landrecht dismissed the case on December 18th and referred it to the Magistrate, due to the fact that Beethoven was not a member of the nobility, as the van in his name generally led the Viennese to believe and which Beethoven never actively tried to clarify, either.

Beethoven completed his Op. 106 in 1818 and also worked on his first sketches for the Ninth Symphony again. His notes from the summer in Mödling also show first ideas on a new mass. This should be quoted here to bear testimony to what went on in Beethoven’s mind rather than only in his “outer life”:

“In order to write church music . . . Look through all the monastic church chorals and also to the strophes in the most correct translations and perfect prosody in all Christian Catholic psalms and hymns generally.”

“Sacrifice again all the pettiness of social life to your art. O God above all things! For it is an eternal providence which directs omnisciently the good and evil fortunes of human men.”

“Tranquilly will I submit myself to all vicissitudes and place my sole confidence in Thy unalterable goodness, o God! My soul shall rejoice in thy immutable servant. Be my rock, my light, forever my trust!” (Thayer: 715).

With respect to the new mass, an actual occasion to write it arose in 1819: Archduke Rudolph had been appointed as Cardinal and Archbishop of Olmütz. The date of the installation was to be March 20th, 1820. In his letter of early June, Beethoven congratulated the Archduke and declared that he wanted to have his new Mass ready for the festive occasion. He had actually begun first sketches for the Missa in the late fall of 1818; more preliminary work was underway in the early part of 1819.

In early 1819, the Magistrate suspended Beethoven’s guardianship of Carl, who went to stay with his mother for a few weeks. On February 11th, Beethoven submitted to the Magistrate in writing his plan for Carl’s education and upbringing. At the end of March, however, it was felt prudent that Beethoven should temporarily resign from his guardianship. On March 26th, the Magistrate appointed Magisterial Councillor von Tuscher as Carl’s Guardian (Thayer: 722).

Beethoven went to Mödling on May 12th. Carl was sent to the institute of Mr. Blöchlinger, a follower of Pestalozzi’s educational methods. On July 5th, von Tuscher applied to be relieved of Carl’s guardianship. On September 17th, the Magistrate awarded guardianship of Carl to Johanna van Beethoven, with the Municipal Official Leopold Nussboeck as co-guardian. The Magistrate disposed of Beethoven’s protest on November 4th and issued a decree to that effect on December 20th.

With respect to musical events in Beethoven’s life is to report that on January 17th, Beethoven appeared as conductor at a benefit concert of the widows and orphans of the Vienna Law Faculty, that he was elected honorary member of the Philharmonic Society of Laibach, and honorary member of the Mercantile Association on October 1st. Ferdinand Schimon portrayed Beethoven while he was writing on the Missa Solemnis.

Beethoven Portrait by Schimon

In October, Beethoven returned to Vienna. During the year, he worked on the Mass with occasional excursions to the Ninth Symphony, and on early sketches for the Diabelli Variations.

The close of the year saw the return to Vienna of his good friend Countess Erdödy. Her staff were questioned by the Vienna police with respect to the 1816 death of her son August. These intrigues were instigated by her sister-in-law.

The legal proceedings with respect to Carl continued. Beethoven filed a petition with the Court of Appeals on January 7th. He asked for the appointment of a co-guardian because of his “somewhat bad hearing”. He suggested Herr Peters, the private tutor of Prince Lobkowitz’ children. Part of his appeal reads as follows:

” . . . My will and my striving is only aimed at providing the best education for the boy, since his talents would allow the highest hopes, and at fulfilling his blessed father’s hopes which the latter based on my brotherly love. The young tree can still be bent, but if more time will be lost, it will grow into a crooked shape out of the hands of the gardener, and the building of an upright character and the instilling of knowledge will be lost forever. I know of no duty more sacred than the care that is to be taken in the raising and education of a child. The purpose of the supervision of this guardianship should only be to appreciate the good [of these high aims] and to ordain the necessary. Only then will it have dedicated its proper care to the benefit and well-being of the child. To prevent the good, however, would mean that it has neglected its duty.”

On April 8th, the Appellate Court decided in Beethoven’s favor and Peters was appointed co-guardian. Johanna’s counter-appeal to the Emperor failed. The Magistrate advised all parties of this.

These ongoing proceedings may have delayed Beethoven’s progress in the writing of the Mass. It was not ready for the Archduke’s Ceremony on March 20th. However, Beethoven continued to work on it. At about the same time, we can see the beginning of the process of Beethoven’s “marketing” of his work. He wrote to his old Bonn friend and music publisher Nikolaus Simrock about it.

Beethoven spent the summer once again in Mödling. In addition to his writing the Mass, he now also projected the Piano Sonatas, Op. 109 – 111. Op. 109 clearly belongs to 1820. He dedicated this work to Antonie Brentano’s daughter Maximiliane. Beethoven also appears to have been concerned with the publication of his complete works. He is reported as having discussed this with his friends.

In contrast to his final piano works, the sonatas Op. 109, 110 and 111, as well as the Diabelli Variations, the completion of Beethoven’s last major public works during these years, the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, would provide a last occasion for Beethoven to personally, yet also almost hesitantly, connect with the Viennese audience.

During the early part of 1821, Beethoven still lived at his Landstraße lodgings and was working as hard as his health permitted. Soon, however, namely according to a January 10 report in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Beethoven suffered from a rheumatic fever which would last until March (Thayer: 775-776).

His former love interest and old friend, Josephine von Stackelberg, née von Brunsvik, widowed von Deym, died on March 31st.

While he moved to Unterdöbling at the beginning of summer, jaundice set in. For his convalescence, he went to Baden in September.

On July 18th, he wrote to Archduke Rudolph and apologized for the Mass not being completed, yet, due to health reasons.

For the remainder of the year, he continued to write on the Piano Sonatas, Op. 110 and Op. 111, which were completed by January 13th, 1822.

Early 1822 saw Beethoven living at No. 224, Hauptstraße Landstraße. His election as an honorary member of the Musikverein of Steiermark was dated January 1st, while January 13th was the date he put on the autograph manuscript of Piano Sonata 32, Op. 111. His old Bonn friend and colleague, Bernhard Romberg, was in Vienna to give concerts with his children. In his letter to Romberg of February 12th, Beethoven apologized to him for not attending his concerts on account of his “usual earache” of the season.

The Missa Solemnis was completed in sketch form by the beginning of 1822, while the autograph score was ready by the end of the year (Thayer: 784).

Correspondence during this year with respect to the Mass occurred with Simrock of Bonn, Franz Brentano as an intermediary in Frankfurt, Schlesinger in Berlin, Peters in Leipzig and Artaria in Vienna.

Thayer lists as reasons for Beethoven’s “multi-level marketing”:

  • The need for cash to pay for his nephew Carl’s schooling and his own health care;
  • and Beethoven’s stress of his diminished health in view of financial demands,

while not “exonerating” the composer; rather, it is pointed out that the composer may not have entirely lived up to his own standards of conduct in this case [Cooper also contends that Beethoven’s behavior in this instance does him “little credit”].

Beethoven spent the summer in Oberdöbling, while he visited Archduke Rudolph trice a week. During the course of this year, he could welcome the Italian opera composer Rossini and Friedrich Rochlitz of Leipzig as visitors. Rochlitz conveyed the music publishers’ Breitkopf & Härtel’s request of Beethoven to write music to Goethe’s Faust I.

While in Baden in September, Beethoven wrote occasional music for the opening of the Josephstadt-Theater. Meisl re-vamped Kotzebue’s text of Die Ruinen von Athen into Die Weihe des Hauses. It was performed on October 3rd.

In the fall, Beethoven changed his lodgings from the Landstraße to the Windmühle Vorstadt to live next to his brother Johann’s lodgings. Johann began to play a part in the management of his brother’s business affairs. The Linz pharmacist had by now acquired the Wasserhof in Gneixendorf near Krems, where he spent his summers.

Fidelio was performed again on November 3rd. Beethoven wanted to direct the performance with the help of Umlauf. However, his deafness had gone too far for that. Repeat performances of Fidelio occurred on November 4th and 26th, December 2nd and 17th, as well as on March 3rdand 18th, 1823.

While the Mass received its finishing touches and while progress was made on the Ninth Symphony towards the close of the year, Prince Gallitzin of Russia commissioned one to three string quartets from Beethoven on November 22nd. The composer replied on January 25th, 1823, and accepted the offer.

Thayer reports that by early 1823, the Missa Solemnis was finished and that work continued on the Ninth Symphony (Thayer: 818). The score of the Mass was handed over to Archduke Rudolph on March 19th.

By the end of 1822, Beethoven had finally decided not to publish the Missa, yet, but to sell manuscript copies by subscription from various European courts for a price of 50 ducats each. Beethoven began his invitation to the courts by the end of January, 1823. Here, it should suffice to mention that ten courts accepted the invitation (Thayer: 822).

Beethoven’s silent hopes for being appointed as R.I. Court composer, after the November 1822 death of Court composer Anton Tayber, were not fulfilled. No new Court composer was appointed.

On July 6th, 1822, Beethoven had written to his former pupil Ferdinand Ries in London to see if the Philharmonic Society would buy the Ninth Symphony. Beethoven accepted their November 15th offer through Ries on December 20th, 1822, and apologized to Ries in his letter of February 5th, 1823, for the delay in sending the score.

In a letter of March 6th, 1823, to his lawyer, Dr. Bach, Beethoven declared his nephew Carl his sole heir and appointed Dr. Bach as his curator, authorizing him to find a guardian for Carl, to the exclusion of Johanna van Beethoven.

Beethoven in 1823

Franz Liszt, 11, was presented to Beethoven. Thayer (846-847) goes as far as featuring the Hungarian composer’s later (entirely correct?) recollection that Beethoven actually attended the concert and was supposed to have lifted the 11-year-old up and kissed him.

Schuppanzigh returned to Vienna after an absence of seven years. He gave a concert on May 4th. By June 14th, the quartet meetings were resumed with Holz, Weiss and Linke (Thayer: 853).

Beethoven spent the summer in Hetzendorf. During his stay there in the villa of Baron Müller-Pronay, while he worked on the completion of the Ninth Symphony, he also battled with ill health again, complaining of eye soreness.

Fidelio had been produced by Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden. Beethoven received a fee of 40 ducats from it. Weber also visited Beethoven in Baden in September and was, perhaps surprisingly, in light of the usual animosity between the two composers, received very cordially.

By this time, the management of Beethoven’s financial affairs was in the hands of Anton Schindler and Johann van Beethoven, with Count Moritz Lichnowsky also giving advice here and there. In order to overcome financial difficulties in paying monies Beethoven still owed the Vienna music publisher Steiner & Co., he sold off one of his bank shares. These difficulties are mentioned in Thayer as an impetus for the Missa Solemnis subscription plan.

This year ended with Beethoven working on the completion of the Ninth Symphony, while his eyes continued to bother him (which would last until late March 1824). The completion date of the Ninth Symphony that was given by Schindler is February 1824 (Thayer: 886).

To complete the recordings for the year 1823, we should first return to Beethoven’s creative plans and activities besides the completion of the Ninth Symphony:

— He spoke again of a “second mass”;

— He also had plans for a new opera and wanted a subject from the antique world. The most likely co-operation on this project emerged with the Viennese playwright, Franz Grillparzer. Subjects discussed were the Bohemian legend of Drahomira and Melusine. Grillparzer and Beethoven held several conferences, also in Hetzendorf. Beethoven would ultimately not pick up on this idea, while Grillparzer later had the honor of writing the famous and insightful oration for Beethoven’s 1827 funeral;

— Another “creative idea” that was realized in 1823 were the 33 variations to a waltz by Anton Diabelli. They were completed by March or April, 1823, and dedicated to Antonie Brentano.

In completing this section of Beethoven’s life, we will only trace the events of 1824 up to and including the premiere of the Ninth Symphony and parts of the Missa Solemnis as well as the after-effect of that premiere on the composer and his “associates” in this project. Anton Schindler, who was not only a witness but an active agent in the first performance of the Ninth Symphony, is the main narrator of its history.

Beethoven is reported as having had little confidence in the Viennese audience who at that time adored Rossini’s operas. The following conversation between him and the ultimate two female lead singers, Karoline Unger and Henriette Sontag, on January 25th, was noted down in one of the conversation books, in which Beethoven’s answers were verbal and not recorded:

Karoline Unger: “When are you going to give your concert? When one is once possessed by the devil, one can be content.

——–“On a regular day in lent, when 3 or 4 take place, would be best.”

——–“If you give the concert, I will guarantee that the house will be full.”

——–“You have too little confidence in yourself. Has not the homage of the whole world given you a little more pride? Who speaks of opposition? Will you not learn to believe that everybody is longing to worship you again in new works? O obstinacy!”

At his lowest point, Beethoven even sought to have the two works performed in Berlin. On hearing of this, his Viennese friends and admirers addressed a lengthy memorandum to him, urging him to perform his works in Vienna, soon. The declaration was signed by many Viennese dignitaries. However, rumors were spread that Beethoven himself had instigated this appeal. Beethoven was, of course, disgusted and dismayed. When the appeal was presented to him in person, however, it did sway him to allow the works being premiered in Vienna.

During the decision-making process as to which theater should be chosen, Beethoven was at first hesitant and, when urged on to decide, became obstinate again and saw a plot against him developing behind his back. By April, the Kaertnerthor-Theater was finally decided on with Umlauf and Schuppanzigh directing. May 7th was then formally confirmed as the date for the premiere. To be played were the new Overture, Op. 124, the Mass in D and the new Symphony. Realizing that this was too long, the Gloria and Sanctus were omitted from the Mass. One more obstacle was the church authorities’ opposition to a Mass being performed in a theater. Beethoven wrote to the censor, Sartorius, that the three pieces from the Mass were to be listed as Hymns (Thayer: 906). Although this failed, by appealing to the Police President (with the help of Count Lichnowsky), the performance was finally approved.


During the rehearsals in Beethoven’s apartment, Unger pleaded with him to ease the strain on the high female voices, but to no avail. Her laconic reply to Henriette Sontag: “Well, then we must go on torturing ourselves in the name of God!” (Thayer: 907).

At the final rehearsal on May 6th, Beethoven was “dissolved in devotion and emotion” at the performance of the Kyrie, and after the Symphony ” . . . Embraced all the amateurs who had taken part” (Thayer: 907).

While the theater was crowded on May 7th, the Imperial Box was empty. The Emperor’s family was not in Vienna, and Archduke Rudolph was in Olmütz. Thayer reports that:

“The performance was far from perfect. There was a lack of homogenous power, a paucity of nuance, a poor distribution of lights and shades. Nevertheless, as strange as the music must have sounded to the audience, the impression which it made was profound, and the applause which it elicited enthusiastic to a degree. . . . At one point in the Scherzo, the Ritmo di battate, the listeners could scarcely restrain themselves, and it seemed as if a repetition then and there would be insisted upon. To this Beethoven, no doubt engrossed by the music which we was following in his mind, was oblivious. Either after the Scherzo or at the end of the Symphony, while Beethoven was still gazing at his score, Fräulein Unger, whose happiness can be imagined, plucked him by the sleeve and directed his attention to the clapping hands and waving hats and handkerchiefs. Then he turned to the audience and bowed” (Thayer: 909).

Subsequent conversation book entries of those who attended the concert confirm the tenor of the above:

“Never in my life did I hear such frenetic and yet cordial applause.”

——–“Once the second movement of the Symphony was completely interrupted by applause . . . And there was a demand for repetition.”

——-“The reception was more than imperial.”

——–” . . . For the applause burst out in a storm four times. At the last there were cries of Vivat!”

——–“When the parterre broke out in applauding cries the fifth time, the Police Commissioner yelled ‘Silence!'”

“Court only 3 successive times but Beethoven 5 times.”

——–(Beethoven): “My triumph is now attained. For now I can speak from my heart. Yesterday I still feared secretly that the Mass would be prohibited because I heard that the Archbishop had protested against it. After all, I was right in at first not saying anything to the Police Commissioner, by God, it would have happened!”

Beethoven’s nephew Carl was to go to the box office to receive the money in the presence of his uncle, as Beethoven wanted him as a witness to the transaction. The profit for Beethoven was meager: only 420 florins remained of the receipts after all costs, from which some petty expenses were yet to be paid. Beethoven vented his anger at all those who had helped in staging the event at the dinner he had invited them to. Umlauf, Schuppanzigh and Schindler walked out of it.

A second concert was held on Sunday, May 23rd. As the weather was very warm and nice, the theater was only half full. Duport, the organizer, had to suffer a deficit of 800 florins, while Beethoven had been guaranteed 500 florins.

In the meantime, Beethoven had sent a copy of his Symphony to the Philharmonic Society in London and had, on April 24th, 1824, receipted the sum of fifty British Pounds.

Financial gain and re-affirmation of old friendship ties not having been the ultimate outcome of Beethoven’s efforts of composing and staging his two latest public masterpieces, we may wish to return in our minds to the composer’s own notions on the presence or absence of joy in his life. It appears, then, that Beethoven had appeased his outcry in the Heiligenstadt Will,

“When, O Godhead, will I be able to feel it again in the temple of nature and men–never–no–that would be too cruel”,

himself by the only means available to him, as he already hinted at his capacity to bring joy to himself and to others:

“O blissful moment, how fortunate I consider myself that I can summon you, create you myself”,

in his 1801 letter to Wegeler, thereby creating his very own day of joy at the May 7th, 1824, premiere of his works.

In this context, the words Friedrich Schiller, the writer of the Ode to Joy, had put into the mouth of Marquis Posa in his play Don Carlos, which he wrote at the same time as the Ode, come to mind:

“To me, however, virtue has a value of its own. This happiness . . . I would create it myself, and joy would be to me and my own choice, what should only be my duty.”

Much has been written about the spiritual quality of Beethoven’s Late String Quartets. A brief biographical overview of Beethoven’s life such as this can not dare to endeavor to even slightly touch the meaning of these masterworks. What it can do, however, is to provide a faithful chronological account of the outer events as well as of the basic history of the creation of these works during that period. It might, at least, provide to that friend of Beethoven music who is still a “beginner” in the enjoyment of those works a “road map” to all of the events surrounding their creation.

During the spring of 1824, while preparations for the premiere of his last two great public works in May were underway, Beethoven also negotiated with the publishers Schott & Sons in Mainz for the publication of these two works. These as well as the first Gallitzin String Quartet, Op. 127, would eventually be published by this company.

By the summer of 1824, Beethoven’s nephew Carl was continuing his classical language studies at the University of Vienna. In one of the conversation book entries of that time he expressed his wish to become a soldier. Beethoven was continually worried about as to whether Carl put forth all possible efforts in his studies. With respect to Carl and to his Will, Beethoven wrote the following letter to his lawyer, Dr. Bach, on August 1st:

“Most worthy friend!

My heartfelt thanks for your kind recommendation here; I am really well taken care of–I must remind you of the part of my Will concerning Carl. I think that I might have a stroke some day, like my worthy grandfather whom I take after. Carl is and remains the sole heir of all that I have and that may be found after my death. However, since one must leave something to one’s relatives, even when they are quite uncongenial, my brother is to receive my French piano from Paris.- . . . ” (Thayer: 918).

In September 1824, Andreas Streicher, out of concern for his friend Beethoven’s financial security, suggested a plan of action for Beethoven: He should hold six high-class subscription concerts during the next winter which, on the basis of 600 subscribers, should have yielded him a total of 4,800 florins, and that Beethoven’s plans of having his collected works published, should now be realized, hopefully resulting in a profit of 10,000 florins. Moreover, he suggested that piano and organ transcriptions of the Missa Solemnis be sold to Singing Societies.

To a friendly visitor from London, the Thuringian-born Johann Andreas Stumpff (not the Stumpff who tuned his Broadwood Piano), Beethoven admitted that he revered Handel above all other composers. Stumpff made a secret vow to find and send Beethoven the complete works of Handel. He would fulfill this secret promise two years later.

Beethoven’s concern over his nephew Carl’s conduct never abated, as is evidenced in his letter to Tobias Haslinger of October 6th and in some conversation book entries from Baden.

On his return to Vienna, Beethoven had trouble in that his life-style as a deaf composer (excessive piano noise!) and his quarrels with Carl affected his stay at the first apartment he moved to. It is not clear, however, if he had to move or if he could stay there. Gerhard von Breuning, in his Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards,lists another residence, namely Krügerstraße 1009, for the winter of 1824/25.

With respect to his state of health, Beethoven mentioned in his November 18th, 1824 letter to his pupil, Archduke Rudolph, that he had returned to Vienna in ill health.

Beethoven’s main composition of 1824 was the Quartet in E-flat, Op. 127. We know that Prince Gallitzin requested this work from Beethoven in the fall of 1822, while Beethoven must already have had ideas for a quartet in his mind when he mentioned these to Peters of Leipzig in June, 1822. Work on it began after May 1824. In the meantime, Prince Gallitzin had also subscribed to the Mass and paid Beethoven 50 ducats for it.

Gallitzin’s letter of April 8th, 1824, described to Beethoven the first full performance of the Mass in St. Petersburg on April 7th. Gallitzin’s opinion was that the work’s beauties would only be fully understood in the future. The composer sent the completed quartet to Gallitzin at the end of the year, who, in turn, acknowledged its receipt in his letter to Beethoven of April 29th, 1825, after he had already performed it several times.

Charles Neate of London, in his letter to Beethoven of December 20th, 1824, extended an invitation by the Philharmonic Society for him to visit London. Beethoven replied on January 15th and 27th, 1825, basically accepting the offer and asking for an advance which, according to Neate’s letter of February 1st, could not be extended by the Philharmonic Society. Neate promised to extend it in person. Beethoven’s friends urged him to go to England, but his fears about his health and his concerns over Carl prevented him from making up his mind in favor of this journey.

Beethoven’s former pupil Ries had, in the meantime, bought an estate at Godesberg and settled there, from where he continued to correspond with Beethoven, inviting him to Godesberg. Ries reported to Beethoven on the successful performance on May 23rd, 1825, of the Ninth Symphony in Aix-a-Chapelle. He sent Beethoven 40 Louis d’Or as a fee.

In March and April, Beethoven and Carl were also “at it again”. Beethoven wanted Carl to continue his studies of classical Greek, having the lofty goal of a Professor of languages in mind for Carl who, if Beethoven was not willing to let him become a soldier, wanted to at least change his studies to a business course at the Polytechnicum. In the end, after consulting his friend and co-guardian of Carl, Peters, Beethoven gave in to this. Carl entered the Polytechnical institute around Easter of 1825. Beethoven tried to continue to monitor Carl’s leisure hours to ensure himself of his moral conduct and of his diligence as a student. This put, of course, a new strain on their difficult relationship. A passage of Beethoven’s June 9th letter to Carl reveals some of his frustration with Carl:

” . . . I would have liked not to have spent so much in order to have given the world an ordinary man . . . ” (Thayer: 952).

Ignaz Schuppanzigh was anxious to have his quartet, consisting of himself and Holz playing the violin, Weiss the viola and Linke the violoncello, performing Beethoven’s new String Quartet in a new subscription series of quartets and concerts. Since the new quartet was not ready, yet, Schuppanzigh had to substitute Op. 95 for it. A letter of Beethoven to Schuppanzigh from early March indicates that Beethoven allowed Schuppanzigh to have the Quartet for about a week. It was, with little rehearsal time, performed on March 6th. Beethoven then gave the work to Boehm for his performance (Boehm had led the Viennese String Quartet performances during Schuppanzigh’s absence). Beethoven watched the rehearsals and was able to detect the slightest change in tempo or rhythm, but on observing that the quartet did not carry out his indication of meno vivace on the score, he allowed Boehm to leave it, by saying, “Let it remain so”, going to his desk and crossing out meno vivace on the scores for all four instruments. This performance received enthusiastic applause. Actually, three performances were held around March 23rd and one for Boehm’s benefit in April. On April 15th and in late April, it was also performed by Joseph Mayseder.

Here we should also note the Berlin poet Rellstab’s recollection of his visits with Beethoven in early April. Rellstab apparently told him that he was moved by the performance of Op. 127 which he had just heard.

“Beethoven read and remained silent, we looked at each other mutely, but a world of emotions surged in my breast. Beethoven, too, was unmistakably moved. He arose and went to the window” (Thayer: 948).

Thayer mentions that Holz had, by this time, already made the personal acquaintance of Beethoven and that he shortly thereafter began to fill the void Schindler’s 1824 departure as personal secretary had left. He even advised the composer on his choice of publishers and assisted the composer in monitoring the activities of Carl.

Coming back to the early spring of 1825, we can note that Beethoven, having felt encouraged by the successful performance of Op. 127 by Boehm, gladly continued to work on the next Quartet, Op. 132, with sketches for the first two movements in good progress when a severe illness befell him. We may quote his April 18th letter to Dr. Anton Braunhofer:

“My honored friend,

I am feeling poorly and hope you will not deny me your help since I am suffering great pain. Is it possible for you to visit me as early as today, this I beg of you from the bottom of my heart–with everlasting gratitude and respect, your

Beethoven” (Thayer: 945).

Dr. Braunhofer’s orders for a strict diet were: no wine, no coffee, no spices of any kind. By the beginning of May, Beethoven’s condition had improved to the point that he could set out for Baden. By May 17th he confirmed to Carl that he was composing again on the A minor Quartet, Op. 132. In a conversation book in use during May and June, Beethoven wrote: “Hymn of Thanksgiving to God of an invalid on his convalescence. Feeling of new strength and reawakened feeling.” This was to be the “theme” for his third movement of the new work.

The new work was written down by the end of July. Beethoven’s anxiety over the first performance of this work and of his agitation and exhaustion is documented in this letter to his nephew Carl:

“Baden on Aug. 11 [1825]

Dear Son!

I am worried to death about the quartet, namely the third, fourth, fifth and sixth movements. Holz has taken them along. The first measures of the third movement have been left here, that is to say, thirteen in number . . . I hear nothing from Holz–I wrote him yesterday. Usually he writes. What a terrible misfortune if he should have lost it. Just between us, he is a hard drinker. Give me reassurance as quickly as possible–you can find out Linke’s address at Haslinger’s. Haslinger was here, yesterday, was very friendly, brought out the periodicals and other things and begged for the new quartets. Don’t engage in idle talk, it leads to vulgarities–but for God’s sake give me some peace of mind concerning the quartet: what a terrible loss, the main ideas have been written on nothing but small scraps of paper, and I shall never be able to write out the whole thing again in the same way.

Your true Father” (Kolodin: 294).

On October 15th, a Saturday, Beethoven moved back to Vienna into a spacious apartment in the Schwarzspanierhaus, his last lodgings in Vienna, and thereby became an immediate neighbor of his lifetime Bonn friend, Stephan von Breuning. Actually, they had met in Vienna in August on occasion, and Stephan von Breuning’s wife assisted Beethoven in hiring, for a change, reliable household staff which would remain with him until the end, namely his housekeeper Sali. Stephan von Breuning’s son, Gerhard von Breuning, about 12 – 14 years of age during these years, to whom the composer took a great liking, vividly described his memories of Beethoven in his book, Erinnerungen aus dem Schwarzspanierhause, which has been edited by Maynard Solomon in its first publication in the English language.

Depiction of Beethoven’s Study at the Schwarzspanierhaus

The Quartet in a minor was first performed publicly on November 6th in the Music Society’s room at the Roter Igel in a benefit concert for Josef Linke. This concert, which also featured a Carl Maria von Bocklet as pianist, playing the Trio in B-flat major, was a great success. Schuppanzigh received permission to perform the Quartet again on November 20th.

During late summer and fall of 1825, Beethoven also wrote the next Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, which was completed in November. This work was sold to Artaria and did not appear until May, 1827. It was first performed publicly in March, 1826, with the Great Fugue as its original finale.

The year 1826 would see the creation of Beethoven’s greatest String Quartet, the Quartet in c-sharp minor, Op. 131, that of his last String Quartet, Op. 135, as well as a new last movement to Op. 130, all of which took place in the midst of Beethoven’s constant worries over and arguments with Carl about his conduct. To this, Thayer has to say: “That he could continue to write amidst all the disturbing circumstances of this year in the higher and purer regions of chamber music was a source of admiration and wonder to his friends.” (Thayer: 973).

Those who were in closest contact with Beethoven during this time were, of course, Holz as his private secretary, Stephan von Breuning and his family, Schindler here and there as a partly jealous observer (of Holz) and advisor, and last, and maybe least, his brother Johann. There were also conversation book entries to be found of Schuppanzigh, Kuffner, Grillparzer, Abbé Stadler and Matthias Artaria.

Near the end of January, Beethoven’s old abdominal complaints returned. He also complained about his eyes. He was told to refrain from alcohol and coffee. He appeared to have improved during March.

At this time, Beethoven also became interested in the first performance of his Leibquartett,Op. 130. It was performed on March 21st. Most of the movements, particularly the moving Cavatina and the Danza alla Tedesca, were immediately liked by the audience. The second and fourth movements had to be repeated. The Great Fugue, its finale, however, was not understood. Of the Cavatina, Holz reported that “it cost the composer tears in the writing and brought out the confession that nothing he had written had so moved him; in fact merely to revive it afterwards in his thoughts and feelings brought forth renewed tributes of tears.” With respect to the Great Fugue, Beethoven agreed to write a new ending for the quartet and to let the Fugue stand as a separate work, Op. 133.

With respect to Dembscher’s desire to have this Quartet performed at his house, Beethoven refused to give him the score as the former had not attended Schuppanzigh’s premiere. A “compensation” of 50 florins was arrived at with Dembscher asking, “Must it be?”, and Beethoven humorously supplying the canon, “Es muss sein!” (It must be). Out of this joke arose the finale of his last quartet, Op. 135.

In May, Beethoven suffered from anxiety in not receiving from Prince Gallitzin payment for his second and third quartets of the series that he had already sent to Russia. It took until November to receive an informative reply from Russia in which Gallitzin explained that he had suffered great losses from several bankruptcies but that he would send the payment, soon. Beethoven was made to sign one last letter of appeal for his money on his deathbed and did not see it arriving during his life.

In his ongoing negotiations with respect to Op. 131 with Artaria, Beethoven finally turned about and gave it to Schott & Sons in Mainz.

With respect to the history of the creation of Op. 131, Thayer mentions first notes of it appearing in a December 1825 conversation book, while Beethoven was busy writing the work during the first part of 1826. It is not known for certain if the work was ever publicly performed during Beethoven’s lifetime. On March 28th, the composer asked of Schott 60 Gold Ducats for it. The score was finally given to Schott’s agents in Vienna on August 12th, and published in June, 1827. In a letter of Beethoven to Schott of February 22nd, 1827, mention was made that the work was originally to be dedicated to Beethoven’s friend and admirer, Johann Wolfmayer, but in his March 10th , 1827, letter to Schott, Beethoven asked them to change the dedication to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim, Lieutenant Field-Marshal, whose significance in Beethoven’s and his nephew Carl’s lives would become apparent in late 1826.

In the midst of Beethoven’s plans to finally spend the rest of the warm season either in Ischl or in Baden, an event took place which turned his life upside down: his nephew Carl’s failed suicide attempt. In order to trace the development leading up to this event, we have to “track back” to a certain extent.

While Carl’s spring 1825 beginnings at the Polytechnicum showed some promise, he also needed a tutor to catch up for having entered the term late. It appears that he may never have been able to entirely achieve that. Beethoven estimated that he would spend 2,000 florins a year for Carl’s schooling, lodging and tuition, and wanted to see some positive results for it, while Carl’s real occupational aim was that of becoming a soldier. His change from classical language studies to business studies was a compromise that did not work to either his or Beethoven’s advantage.

Beethoven had Schlemmer, at whose house Carl lodged, confirm to him as to whether Carl spent his evenings there, studying, or if he went out. Schlemmer confirmed that Carl was always at his lodgings after classes and at night and that any of his amusements, such as playing billiards, must have taken place in lieu of his going to classes. During the carnival season of 1826, Beethoven was almost anxious enough to personally supervise Carl’s attendance of a ball, should he decide to go to one. Holz agreed to observe Carl in Beethoven’s stead. Beethoven also wanted Carl to move back in with him and only reluctantly agreed to his staying at Schlemmer’s house. Their conversations now seemed to mainly consist of Beethoven’s sermons and reproaches and Carl’s self-defenses. Johann van Beethoven also tried to intervene, on the one hand speaking for the boy, on the other strongly advising Beethoven to see to Carl’s immediate employment on completion of his course in summer. Beethoven also mistrusted Carl in money matters and wanted to see receipts for his expenses. Beethoven visited and reproached Carl at Schlemmer’s several times, on which occasion, at least once, Carl appears to have grabbed his uncle in a violent reaction which Holz’ entering interrupted. As if Beethoven could foresee the outcome of this development, he urged Carl on thus in a letter to him:

“If for no other reason than that you obeyed me, at least, all is forgiven and forgotten; more today by word of mouth. Very quietly–do not think, that I am governed by anything but thoughts of your well-being, and from this point of view judge my acts–do not take a step which might make you unhappy and shorten my life–I did not get to sleep until 3 o’clock, for I coughed all night long–I embrace you cordially and am convinced that soon you will no longer misjudge me; I thus judge your conduct yesterday–I expect you without fail today at one o’clock–Do not give me cause for further worry and apprehension–meanwhile farewell!

Your real and true father.”

“We shall be alone for I shall not permit Holz to come–the more so since I do not wish anything about yesterday to be known–do come–do not permit my poor heart to bleed any longer” (Thayer: 994).

Beethoven’s monitoring of Carl went as far as coming to pick him up from school. Schindler reports of Carl’s reply to the rebuke by his teachers: “My uncle! I can do with him what I want, some flattery and friendly gestures make things all right, again, right away.” Alas, during the last days of July, Beethoven received news that Carl had vanished and intended to take his life. The reasons Carl gave for this step were his debts. Beethoven had Holz go after Carl to detain him, but Carl gave him the slip. Carl pawned his watch on Saturday, July 29th. He bought two pistols, powder and balls. He drove to Baden, spending the night with writing letters to his uncle and to his friend Niemetz. On Sunday he climbed up the ruins of Rauhenstein in the Helenenthal and fired both pistols at his left temple. The first bullet missed, and the second only ripped his flesh and grazed the bone, but did not go into his skull. A coach rider found Carl and brought him to his mother’s house in Vienna, where Beethoven found him. Holz, who went with Beethoven, reported the matter to the police and Beethoven went home, while a doctor already looked after Carl. Police transported Carl from his mother’s house to the general hospital on August 7th. As was usual in such cases, a priest was ordered to provide religious instruction to the suicide candidate and to extract a conversion. Holz reported to Beethoven that Carl had grown tired of life which he perceived differently from his uncle, and to the Police Magistrate Carl said that Beethoven “tormented him too much” and that “I got worse, because my uncle wanted me to be better.”

While the event began to pave the way for Carl’s personal career choice, it had a devastating effect on Beethoven which soon had him, aged fifty-five, according to Schindler, look like a man of seventy. A decision had to be reached as to Carl’s future. Stephan von Breuning, a court councillor in the war department, advised on a military career and also suggested that Beethoven relinquish his guardianship. In the meantime, Beethoven had already begun to work on the last String Quartet, Op. 135. The question arose as to where Carl should recuperate after his dismissal from the hospital, while Stephan von Breuning arranged for Carl to enter the regiment of Baron von Stutterheim as a cadet on his full recovery, and he also agreed to act as co-guardian of Carl in lieu of Professor Reisser of the Polytechnicum who had laid it down.

Finally it was decided that Beethoven and Carl should spend the time Carl needed to recuperate at Johann van Beethoven’s estate in Gneixendorf. Johann was in Vienna at that time and offered them that choice. On September 28th, they set out for there. It was only to be a short visit, but turned into a two-month-stay.

Beethoven’s Room at Gneixendorf

Beethoven arrived in Gneixendorf already in a serious state of health. He did also not enjoy the company of his brother and sister-in-law. A servant named Michael was assigned to him whom he grew to trust. On the occasion of Michael’s falling out of graces with Therese van Beethoven, the composer urged her to re-hire the just fired Michael. From then on, Beethoven stayed in his room for his meals. He also walked through the fields around Gneixendorf, gesticulating, humming, beating tact to the music in his “inner ear”. Thus Op. 135 was completed in Gneixendorf as well as the new last movement of Op. 130. The date on the autograph of Op. 135 is October 30th, on which Johann took it to Vienna. The new finale for Op. 130 was delivered by Haslinger to Artaria on November 25th. Beethoven’s relationship with Carl was still as touchy as could be expected, with both acting “in character”, as usual.

Beethoven’s health worsened in Gneixendorf. Soon, he could only eat soup and soft-boiled eggs, but still drank wine and contracted diarrhea. Towards the end of November, he had lost his appetite, altogether, complaining of thirst. He also developed edemous feet. All of this pointed to a serious liver disease. Johann now also became concerned with Carl’s future and urged Beethoven to take him back to Vienna so that he could join his regiment soon, but did so in a letter and not in a personal argument. Beethoven’s state of mind was in such a disarray at that time that he even asked his brother to leave his entire estate to their nephew Carl, thereby cutting out Therese. As for the vehicle in which they returned to Vienna, one should not rely on Schindler’s biased interpretation that Johann had denied Beethoven the use of his carriage. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that they traveled in an open wagon, as Beethoven later stated to his physician, Professor Wawruch.

They arrived back in Vienna on Saturday, December 2nd, with Beethoven in a fever from a chill he had caught in their overnight stay in an unheated room. The circumstances of Carl’s delayed summoning of a doctor for his uncle are anything but clear so that we have to refrain from laying the blame on Carl. Dr. Braunhofer and Dr. Staudenheim apologized for not being able to attend on Beethoven. On the third day of his fever, Professor Wawruch of the General Hospital took Beethoven on as a patient. He treated the inflammation and lowered his fever. On the seventh day, Beethoven could get up and read and write. Now he found time to answer Wegeler’s letter of a year ago. On the eight day, however, Wawruch found his patient worse after a severe colic attack. Dropsy developed from then on. The illness progressed to nightly suffocation attacks in the third week. Johann, who had come to Vienna on December 10th, attended to his brother as did Carl as long as he was still in Vienna. Stephan von Breuning also attended, as did Holz and Schindler. On December 20th, Beethoven’s abdomen had to be tapped to release the water. This was performed by Dr. Seibert, chief surgeon at the General Hospital. Present were also Johann and Carl, as well as Schindler. Dr. Seibert’s comment on Beethoven’s endurance was, “You bore yourself like a knight.” One joyful occasion in this gloom was the arrival of the collected works of Handel Stumpff had now sent Beethoven. Gerhard von Breuning vividly recalls this event in his book. The boy was now a daily visitor who cheered Beethoven up.

Stephan von Breuning had finalized the arrangement for Carl to enter von Stutterheim’s regiment. Carl left Vienna on January 2nd, 1827, and would never see his uncle again. On January 3rd, Beethoven wrote yet another letter to his lawyer, Dr. Bach, in which he reiterated his declaring Carl as his sole heir. On January 8th, Beethoven was tapped a second time. The patient had by now grown impatient with Wawruch. When he entered the room, Beethoven would turn around in his bed towards the wall, commenting, “Oh, the ass!” He requested that Dr. Malfatti, his former physician, be called in. The composer had had a falling-out with Malfatti ten years prior to that. They were finally reconciled after initial hesitation by Malfatti. The latter prescribed ice punch and the rubbing of Beethoven’s abdomen with ice. While this treatment brought some relief at first, its abuse by Beethoven led to a “violent pressure of the blood on the brain . . . Began to wander in his speech . . . And when . . . Colic and diarrhea resulted, it was high time to deprive him of this precious refreshment” (Thayer: 1031). Malfatti did not take over from Wawruch as Beethoven’s main physician, however. Beethoven had to be tapped a third time on February 2nd.

The conversation book entries of February show the names of Haslinger, Streicher, the writer Bernard and the singer Nanette Schechner. A letter from Wegeler arrived on February 1st. Beethoven replied on February 17th. On February 18th, he also replied to his old bed-ridden friend, Baron Zmeskall’s inquiry. In his letter of Feburary 8th, Beethoven thanked Stumpff of London for the gift of the Handel edition. He also mentioned his writing to Charles Smart and Ignaz Moscheles for financial aid from London. On Stumpff’s initiative, the Philharmonic Society sent Beethoven the sum of 100 pounds in financial support during his illness.

During February, Beethoven became very melancholic over the outcome of his illness, over financial worries, and over the neglect of Carl’s writing to him. Friends visited to take his attention away from his melancholy.

The fourth tapping took place on February 27th. To Wawruch’s attempt at cheering him up, Beethoven replied, “My day’s work is finished. If there were a physician who could help me ‘his name shall be called wonderful'” (Thayer: 1038). On March 1st, Beethoven wrote to Schott in Mainz and also asked for a delivery of Moselle wine. On March 18th, he gratefully acknowledged the receipt of the 100 lb. From London.

In March, no-one denied Beethoven the simple pleasures of wine and good food, anymore, as the outcome of his illness was clear by now. Baron Pasqualati, von Breuning and Streicher sent their gifts of that kind. During those days, in addition to Handel’s works, Beethoven also studied those of his young Viennese colleague, Franz Schubert, crying out, “truly a divine spark dwells in Schubert” (Thayer: 1043). With his friend, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, as Thayer reports, Schubert allegedly visited Beethoven eight days before his death. Johann Nepomuk Hummel also visited on March 8th.

It was now time to bring his affairs into order. His last written statement with respect to his Will reads as follows:

“My nephew Carl shall be sole heir, but the capital of the estate shall fall to his natural or testamentary heirs.–

Vienna on March 1827

Ludwig van Beethoven” (Thayer: 1048).

All other signatures for more particular documents with respect to his estate that had been drawn up before had to be obtained with great difficulty, as from about March 20th on, Beethoven was already very weak. Schindler reports that on March 23rd, after the signing of his Will, Beethoven is to have said, “plaudite, amici, comoedia finita est”, implying that nothing could be done for him, anymore.

As to Beethoven’s submitting to and receiving the last rites, Anselm Hüttenbrenner recalled that “Beethoven was asked in the gentlest manner by Herr Johann Baptist Jenger and Frau van Beethoven, wife of the landowner, to strengthen himself by receiving Holy Communion . . . On the day of her brother-in-law’s death, Frau van Beethoven told me that after receiving the viaticum he said to the priest, ‘I thank you, ghostly sir! You have brought me comfort!” (Thayer: 1049).

Around one o’clock on March 24th, the shipment of Moselle wine had arrived. Beethoven, looking at the bottles, mumbled, “pity, pity, too late!” These were his last reported words. He was given spoonfuls of the wine. Later that day, he fell into a coma which would last for two days. Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was present when Beethoven died on March 26tharound five-thirty in the evening, recalls:

“There came a flash of lightning accompanied by a violent clap of thunder, which garishly illuminated the death-chamber . . . Beethoven opened his eyes, lifted his right hand and looked up for seconds with his fist clenched and a very serious, threatening expression . . . When he let the raised hand sink to the bed, his eyes closed half-way. My right hand was under his head, my left rested on his breast. Not another breath, not a heartbeat more!” (Thayer: 1051).

While Hüttenbrenner was present during Beethoven’s last moments, Schindler and von Breuning had gone to make arrangements for his burial in the nearby Währing cemetery. The day after, von Breuning, Schindler, Johann van Beethoven and Holz gathered in the apartment to look for Beethoven’s papers and for the seven bank shares. Johann van Beethoven insinuated that the search was a sham. In a rage, von Breuning left the house and returned later. The shares were then found in a secret drawer of Beethoven’s cabinet, along with his letter to the Immortal Beloved.

Beethoven’s funeral took place at three o’clock in the afternoon, on March 29th. A crowd of possibly over 10,000 (and maybe not quite 20,000, as Gerhard von Breuning reports) had gathered in front of the Schwarzspanierhaus to bid farewell to him.

Funeral Procession

Eight Kapellmeisterwere the pallbearers, among which were Hummel and Seyfried. Among the torchbearers were the actor Anschütz, the journalist and Beethoven friend Bernard, his former pupil Carl Czerny, Grillparzer, Haslinger, Franz Schubert, Andreas Streicher, Schuppanzigh, Wolfmayer and others.

Anschütz read Grillparzer’s funeral oration in front of the gate to the Währing Cemetery. Part of it reads as follows:

“He was an artist, but a man as well. A man in every sense–in the highest. Because he withdrew from the world, they called him a man-hater, and because he held aloof from sentimentality, unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself to be hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are those most easily blunted and bent or broken. An excess of sensitiveness avoids a show of feeling! He fled the world because, in the whole range of his loving nature, he found no weapon to oppose it. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them his all and received nothing in return. . . . Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live to the end of time.”


Beethoven-Briefe. Ausgewählt und herausgegeben von Dr. Leopold Schmidt. Berlin: Volksverband der Bücherfreunde. Wegweiser-Verlag GmbH, 1922. (As source for the translation of Beethoven letters).

Beethoven Remembered. The Biographical Notes of Franz Gerhard Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries. Foreword by Christopher Hogwood. Introduction by Eva Badura-Skoda. Translated from the German Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven (1838-1845) by Frederick Noonan. Arlington, Va:Great Ocean Publishers, 1987.

Breuning, Gerhard von. Memories of Beethoven. From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards. Edited by Maynard Solomon. Translated from the German by Henry Mins and Maynard Solomon. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Cooper, Barry: Beethoven(Master Musician Series, edited by Stanley Sadie). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Kolodin, Irving: The Interior Beethoven. New York: A. Knopf, 1975.

Ludwig van Beethoven in Briefen und Lebensdokumenten. Ausgewählt und erläutert von Anton Wurz und Reinhold Schimkat. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam Jun., 1961. (As source for the translation into English of Beethoven letters).

Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. New York: Schirmer Books, Paperback Edition 1979.

Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, edited by Elliott Forbes. Princeton, New Jersey Princeton University Press, 1964.

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