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Beethoven's Letters

Beethoven's Letters

by Ludwig van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), the protagonist of freedom for music, disentangled music from the control of the ruling class. In publishing his music and writing for the rising classes, Beethoven claimed freedom and expressed the emotions of the new rulers, the artists. The Eroica, Fidelio, and the piano works express the emotions of the new rulers


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), the protagonist of freedom for music, disentangled music from the control of the ruling class. In publishing his music and writing for the rising classes, Beethoven claimed freedom and expressed the emotions of the new rulers, the artists. The Eroica, Fidelio, and the piano works express the emotions of the new rulers — the intense love, the need for companionship of people, the forces that conspired to defeat the artist, and the strength and superiority of the artist in overcoming the weaknesses. The letters of Beethoven are the principal nonmusical expression of his personality in its relationship with the world of his time.
In what he called the "dry letters of the alphabet," Beethoven depicted his fears, his loves, and his friendly relations: his fears of deafness and of corrupted texts by pirating printers; his loves, Bettina Brentano and Giulietta Guicciardi; and his friendly relations with Baron Zmeskall, Frau Nannette Streicher, and the music publishers Steiner and Company. He praises the poetry of Goethe and Schiller but condemns Goethe for his obeisance toward royalty. He solicits help during his perpetual trouble with his health and with his servants. He castigates publishers, sets prices for his works, and calculates letters of dedication. He expresses his love for his nephew, Carl, but documents the trouble that Carl was causing him by taking up his precious time. And although Beethoven liked to decorate the letters with musical openings and closings and an occasional song to the receiver, he increasingly signed his letters, "In haste."
The 457 letters collected here are the most important of the letters of the spirit that was to shape and move a century. Explanatory notes comment upon works, on persons mentioned, and on the puns of which Beethoven was fond. The letters chronicle his business, his needs, his humor and bitterness, and his philosophy. They will give many insights into Beethoven's methods, his influences, his moods, and the conditions under which the master worked.

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ISBN: 978-0-486-31728-1



1. Dedication Letter to the Prince Elector, MAX FRIEDRICH of Cologne

Most illustrious!

Music from my fourth year began to be the first of my youthful occupations. Thus early acquainted with the gracious muse who tuned my soul to pure harmonies, I became fond of her, and, as it often seemed to me, she of me. I have already reached my eleventh year; and since then often has my muse whispered to me in inspired hours: "Try for once and write down the harmonies of thy soul!" Eleven years old—methought—and how would an author's air become me? And what would masters of the art probably say to it? I almost became diffident. Yet my muse so willed—I obeyed, and wrote.

May I now venture, most illustrious Prince, to place at the foot of your throne the first-fruits of my youthful works? And may I venture to hope that you will bestow on them the benevolent paternal look of your encouraging approval? Oh yes! the arts and sciences have always found in you a wise protector, a generous patron, and budding talent has prospered under your noble, paternal care.—

Full of this encouraging assurance, I venture to approach Your most serene Highness with these youthful attempts. Accept them as a pure offering of childlike homage, and look graciously on them, and on their young author.

The above appears on the reverse side of the title-page of the first publication. The title is as follows:

"Three Sonatas for pianoforte dedicated to the Most worthy Archbishop and Prince Elector of Cologne, Maximilian Friedrich, my most gracious Lord.

"Dedicated and composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, "Aged eleven."

Published by Councillor Bossler, Spires.

No. 21.

Price 1 fl. 30 kr.

[According to the original edition of the three pianoforte sonatas in E flat, F minor, and D, published in 1783. In that year Beethoven was not eleven, but thirteen years old. Not only the composer, but many of his friends, maintained for a long time that he was born in 1772. Even Joh. Aloys Schlosser, in the first small Beethoven Biography, which appeared in 1828, wrote: " Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the year 1772."]

2. To Councillor Dr. Von SCHADEN, Augsburg

September 15th, Bonn, 1787.

Well and nobly born and specially worthy Friend,

I can easily imagine what you think of me; and I cannot deny that you have good cause for not entertaining a good opinion of me. In spite of that, I will not offer any excuse until I have shown the causes, whereby I venture to hope that my excuses will be accepted. I must acknowledge that since I left Augsburg, my happiness, and with it my health, began to fail; the nearer I approached my native city, the more frequent were my father's letters urging me to travel faster than I should have done under ordinary circumstances, as my mother's state of health was far from satisfactory. I hurried as fast as I could, for I myself, indeed, became unwell. The longing once more to see my sick mother caused me to make light of all obstacles, and helped me to overcome the greatest difficulties. I found my mother still alive, but in the weakest possible state; she was dying of consumption, and the end came about seven weeks ago, after she had endured much pain and suffering. She was to me such a good, lovable mother, my best friend. Oh! who was happier than I, when I could still utter the sweet name of mother, and heed was paid to it; and to whom can I say it now? —to the dumb pictures resembling her, the creations of my imagination? Since I have been here, I have enjoyed only a few pleasant hours; during the whole time I have been troubled with asthma, and I much fear that it will lead to consumption. I also suffer from melancholy which for me is almost as great an evil as my illness itself. Imagine yourself now in my place, and I hope that you will forgive my long silence. As you showed extraordinary kindness and friendship at Augsburg in lending me three carolins, I must beg of you to be still patient with me. My journey was expensive, and here I have not the slightest hope of earning anything; the fates have not been favourable to me here in Bonn.

Please excuse my having detained you so long with my prattling, but was it absolutely necessary to vindicate myself. I hope you will not refuse still to extend to me your honoured friendship; I have no greater desire than to prove myself to some degree worthy of it.

I am, with all respect,

Your most obedient servant and friend, L. v. Beethoven, Organist to the Prince Elector of Cologne.

A Monsieur, Monsieur de Schaden Conseilièr d'augspurg à augspurg.

[This, the first real letter by Beethoven which we possess, first appeared in the Vossische Zeitung, 21 August, 1845, at the time of the inauguration of the Beethoven monument at Bonn.]


[Bonn, about 1791] Fragment.

.. The neckcloth worked with your own hand came to me as a great surprise. It awoke in me feelings of sadness, however pleasant the thing in itself. It reminded me of former times; also your magnanimous behaviour filled me with shame. In truth, I did not think that you still considered me worthy of your remembrance. Oh! if only you could have seen how this incident affected me yesterday, you certainly would not accuse me of exaggeration, if I now say to you, that your token of remembrance caused me to weep and feel very sad. I entreat you, however little I deserve faith in your eyes, to believe, my friend (let me still ever call you thus), that I have deeply suffered, and still suffer, through the loss of your friendship. Never shall I forget you and your dear mother. Your kindness was so great that it will be long ere I can make good my loss. I know what I have forfeited, and what you were to me, but—to fill up this blank I should have to recall scenes unpleasant for you to hear, and for me to describe. As a small return for your kind remembrance of me, I take the liberty of sending you herewith these Variations and the Rondo with violin. I am very busy, otherwise I would have copied for you the long-promised Sonata. In my manuscript it is little more than a sketch, and it would have been difficult even for Paraquin, clever as he is, to copy it out. You can have the Rondo copied and then the score returned to me. I am sending you the only one of my compositions of which you could probably make any use; and as, besides, you are going away to Kerpen, I thought this trifle might give you some pleasure.

Farewell, my friend. It is impossible for me to call you otherwise; and however indifferent I may be to you, pray believe that I honour you and your mother just as much as formerly. Moreover, if it be in my power to please you in any way, I beg you not to ignore me; it is the only means left for me to show gratitude for the friendship which I have enjoyed.

A pleasant journey, and bring your dear mother back fully restored to health. And think sometimes of one who still always esteems you.

Your friend, Beethoven.

4. To the Prince Elector, MAX FRANZ, Cologne

[VIENNA, end of April or beginning of May, 1793.]

Most reverend and illustrious Prince Elector, most Gracious Sovereign,

A few years ago it pleased your Highness to pension off my father, the court tenor singer, van Beethoven; also, by a most gracious decree, to assign to me 100 rix-thalers of that pension, so that I might be able to clothe, feed, and educate my two younger brothers, also to discharge our father's debts.

I wished to place this decree before your chief land-steward, but my father earnestly begged me not to do it, so that it might not publicly appear as if he himself were incapable of providing for his family. And he added that he himself would hand over to me twenty- five rix-thalers every quarter, and that promise was always duly kept.

Now after his death (which followed last year in December) I wished to make use of your most gracious kindness by presenting the above-named decree, when I was startled to find that my father had made away with it.

With highest respect, I therefore beg your Serene Highness most graciously to renew this decree, and to instruct your land-steward to hand over to me the gracious salary for the quarter just elapsed (due at the beginning of February).

Your Serene Highness's most dutiful and faithful

Lud. v. Beethoven (Court Organist).

[Both writers consulted the Rhenish archives at Düsseldorf. This petition, circumspect as it is, gives a clear insight into the sad relationship between Beethoven and his unfortunate father, who died suddenly on 18 December, 1792—very soon, therefore, after his son's arrival in Vienna. The petition was answered. According to Deiters, Beethoven received fifty thalers every quarter up to March 1794. With that, all connection between Beethoven and the Electorate ceased.]

Beethoven at the age of twenty-one (1791)

From a miniature by Gerhard von Kügelgen, in the possession of Sir George Henschel


Vienna, November 2, 1793.

Honoured Eleonore, my dearest Friend,

I shall soon have been in this capital a whole year, yet only now do you receive a letter from me, but you were certainly constantly in my thoughts. Frequently, indeed, did I hold converse with you and your dear family, but, for the most part, not with the tranquillity of mind which I should have liked. Then it was that the fatal quarrel hovered before me, and my former behaviour appeared to me so abominable. But the past cannot be undone, and what would I not give if I could blot out of my life my former conduct so dishonouring to me, so contrary to my character. Many circumstances, indeed, kept us at a distance from each other, and, as I presume, it was especially the insinuations resulting from conversations on either side which prevented all reconciliation. Each of us believed that he was convinced of the truth of what he said, and yet it was mere anger, and we were both deceived. Your good and noble character is indeed a guarantee that I have long since been forgiven. But true repentance consists, so it is said, in acknowledging one's faults, and this I intended to do. And now let us draw a curtain over the whole story, and only learn from it the lesson that when friends fall out it is always better to have no go- between, but for friend to turn directly to friend.

Herewith you receive a dedication from me to yourself, and I only wish that the work were more important, more worthy of you. I have been worried here to publish this small work, and I make use of this opportunity to give you, my adorable Eleonore, a proof of my high esteem and of my friendship towards you, and of my constant remembrance of your family. Accept this trifle, and realise that it comes from a friend who holds you in high esteem. Oh, if it only gives you pleasure, I am fully rewarded. Let it be a small re- awakening of that time in which I spent so many and such happy hours in your home; it may, perhaps, keep me in your remembrance, until one day I return, but that will not be for a long time. Oh, how we shall then rejoice, my dear friend. You will then find your friend a more cheerful being, for whom time and his better fortune have smoothed down the furrows of the horrid past. If you happen to see B. Koch, please tell her that it is not nice of her not to have sent me a single line. For I have written twice; to Malchus I wrote three times—and no answer. Tell her that if she would not write, she ought to have urged Malchus to do so.

As conclusion to my letter, I add a request; it is that I may be lucky enough, my dear friend, again to possess a waistcoat worked by you in goat's wool. Forgive this indiscreet request from your friend. It arises from the great preference I have for anything coming from your hands, and as a secret I may say to you that in this there is at bottom a little vanity, viz., to be able to say that I possess something given to me by one of the best, most worthy young ladies in Bonn. I still have the first one which you were kind enough to give me in Bonn, but it is now so out of fashion that I can only keep it in my wardrobe as a precious gift from you. If you would soon write me a nice letter, it would afford me great pleasure. If perchance my letters give you pleasure, I certainly promise that I will willingly send news as often as I can. For everything is welcome to me whereby I can show you in what esteem you are held by

Your true friend, L. v. Beethoven.

P.S.—The V[ariations] will be somewhat difficult to play, especially the shakes in the Coda. But don't let that alarm you. It is so arranged that you need only play the shake; the other notes you leave out, as they are also in the violin part. I never would have written anything of the kind, but I had already frequently noticed that there was some one in V. who generally, when I have been improvising of an evening, noted down next day many of my peculiarities in composing, and boasted about them. Now as I foresaw that such things would soon appear in [print], I resolved to be beforehand with them. And there was another reason for perplexing the pianists here, viz., many of them are my deadly enemies, so I wished in this way to take vengeance on them, for I knew beforehand that here and there the Variations would be put before them, and that these gentlemen would come off badly.

[This first letter of Beethoven to his honoured friend, about a year after his arrival in Vienna, offers to us a last glimpse of the great quarrel between him and the Breuning family in Bonn, where already harmony had been restored; of this the above-mentioned Album offers substantial proof. The Variations mentioned in the above letter are those for pianoforte and violin on the well-known theme Se vuol ballare, from Mozart's Figaro. They were published, with dedication to Frl. von Breuning, in 1793, by Artaria as Op. 1, but afterwards as No. 1, when the three Trios were marked as Op. 1. B. Koch was Barbara Koch, who afterwards became Countess Belderbusch, one of the most distinguished women of her day.]

6. To the Music Publisher N. SIMROCK, Bonn

Vienna, August 2, 1794.

Dear Simrock,

I deserved a bit of a scolding from you, for having kept back your Variations so long, but I am telling you no lie when I say that pressing business prevented me from correcting sooner. What is still amiss, you will find out yourself. For the rest, I must congratulate you on your printing, which is beautiful, clear, and readable; in fact, if you continue thus, you will become chief in the art of printing—I mean, of course, music-printing.

In my last letter I promised to send you something of mine, and you interpreted it as cavalier talk; why, then, have I deserved this predicate? Faugh! who in these democratic times would accept such language? In order to forfeit the predicate you have dubbed me with, as soon as I have completed the grand Revue of my compositions, and that will not take me long, you shall have something that you certainly will print. I have been on the look-out for a Commissionaire, and have found a first-rate, able man. His name is Traeg. You have only to write to him or to me what terms you will accept. He wants from you a third discount. Only the devil would understand business of that sort.

It is very warm here; the Viennese are afraid that it will soon be impossible for them to have any ice-creams; for as the winter was mild, ice is rare. Many persons of importance have been arrested; they say there was fear of a revolution breaking out—but it is my belief that so long as an Austrian can get his brown beer and sausages there will be no revolution. The gates in the suburbs are ordered to be closed at ten o'clock at night. The soldiers have loaded guns. One dare not speak too loud, otherwise the police will accommodate you for the night.

Are your daughters already grown up, train one to be my bride, for if I am in Bonn unmarried I shall certainly not stop so long. You also must really have an anxious time of it!

What is good Ries doing? I will soon write to him. He must surely have a bad opinion of me, but that cursed writing is always a trouble to me.

Have you already performed my part [Partie] ? Write to me occasionally.

Your, Beethoven.

Please send me also some copies of the first Variations.

[The tone of the letter shows us that in Beethoven's fiery mind revolutionary ideas had already found the right soil in which they could continue unceasingly to develop. The variations in question are most probably the " Waldstein " Variations for four hands in C and the thirteen variations for pianoforte solo in A on Es war einmal ein alter Mann, both of which were published by Simrock in 1794 without opus number.]


Excerpted from BEETHOVEN'S LETTERS by A. EAGLEFIELD-HULL, J. S. SHEDLOCK. Copyright © 1972 DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

The triumphant genius of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) casts a long shadow over classical music — no other composer of the past two centuries has exercised an influence more profound than his. A product of the classicist generation, he was the first of the Romantics, and his exhilarating works remain undiminished in their powers of enchantment.

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