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The Year 1816—Guardianship of the Nephew-Giannatasio
del Rio-Beethoven's Works in London-Birchall and Neate New Distinctions.
TOMPARED with the years immediately preceding, the year
1816 is comparatively barren of large incidents in the life
of Beethoven; its recorded history, therefore, is to be found to a still larger extent than before in the composer's extended correspondence together with explanatory annotations. Some of the letters, especially those written to his English friends, are likely to make a somewhat melancholy, and to that extent erroneous, impression. The real record of the writer finds expression in the letters which he wrote to Steiner and Co. and Zmeskall. These are bubbling over with playfulness and jocularity, proving that the writer was generally in a cheerful humor and in this year was anything but the melancholy Beethoven of the romance writers. He seems to have endured the rapid and disquieting increase in his malady, an inevitable consequence of the exertions and excitement attending the rehearsing and conducting of so many large concerts, with surprising patience and resignation. And why not? His pecuniary affairs were in good condition, notwithstanding his lamentations to Ries and others; he had won his lawsuit with his brother's widow, and his artistic ambition must have found complete satisfaction in the great fame which he had won. A letter concerning a new operatic project first invites attention. The eight rôles which Madame Milder had played in the past summer in Berlin, had given such keen delight that she had been reëngaged for a second and much longer series. Domestic troubles and sorrows, in which her husband, the jeweler Hauptmann, appears to have been entirely the guilty party and which embittered all her future life, rendered her utterly unable for the present to appear upon the stage; and “because of illness and weakness” it was not until several weeks after her return from the baths at Pyrmont that she could begin the new engagement on
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October 3d. Meantime “Fidelio” had been put upon the boards and “given for the first time on October 11th with great success.” “This opera,” said the Berlin “Dramaturgisches Wochenblatt" in its notice of the event, “bears within itself the seeds of a dramatico-musical reformation and will hasten the end of the bastard music.” And yet on this evening, the Leonore was Mad. Schultze
-Schuppanzigh's sister-in-law. When, three days after, Mad. Milder took the part, its greatness was for the first time fully appreciated; and of the twenty-four evenings to which her engagement extended, this greatest representative then living of Gluck's grandest inspirations devoted eleven to “Fidelio.” This triumph of his opera in Berlin, drew from the composer a letter (dated January 6, 1816) full of expressions of gratitude and enthusiastic appreciation of the singer's talents, and giving voice too, to a rekindled dramatic ambition. He says:
If you were to beg Baron de la Motte Fouqué-in my name—to invent a grand opera subject which would at the same time be adapted to you, you would do a great service to me and the German stage. I should like, moreover, to compose it exclusively for the Berlin stage as I shall never bring about another opera for the parsimonious management here.
The next letter relates to the oratorio for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde: My dear Zmeskall!
With dread I observe for the first time to-day that I have not yet answered the application of the Gesellschaft der Musif. of the Austrian capital for an oratorio.
The death of my brother two months ago, the guardianship of my nephew which thereby devolved upon me, together with many other unpleasant circumstances and occurrences are the cause of my tardy writing. Meanwhile the poem by H. von Seyfried is already begun and I shall also soon set the same to music. That the commission is highly honorable, I scarcely need tell you; that is self-evident and I shall try to execute it as worthily as my small powers will allow.
As regards the artistic means to be employed in the performance I shall be considerate, but do not wish not to be allowed to depart from those already introduced. I hope that I have made myself understood in this matter. As they insist upon knowing what honorarium I ask, I inquire in turn whether the Society thinks 400 ducats in gold agreeable for such a work. I again beg pardon of the society for the tardiness of my answer; meanwhile, you my dear friend have at least reported by word of mouth my readiness to compose the work, before this, which sets my mind measurably at ease-My dear Z.
Your B. The next selections require the preliminary statement of certain facts. Beethoven's dissatisfaction at the appointment
grounds wit on the 15thely excluded weighty ra
(on November 22d) of his sister-in-law as the guardian of her son, now nine years old—was expressed in an appeal to the Upper Austrian Landrecht on the 28th, to transfer the guardianship to himself. Next day, the 29th, that tribunal ordered the petitioner and Dr. Schönauer to appear before it in this matter on December 2d at 10 o'clock a. m. At that time the subject was deferred to the same hour on the 13th. Beethoven then appeared and declared that he could produce "weighty reasons why the widow should be entirely excluded from the guardianship.” Whereupon, on the 15th, it was ordered that he produce those grounds within three days, “failing which, the preparation of the guardianship decree to the widow would be proceeded with without further delay.” The same day Beethoven signed a petition to the City Magistrates for an official certificate concerning the "condemnation of his (Karl’s) mother, Johanna van Beethoven, on an investigation for infidelity.” The magistrate answered him on the same day through their secretary that they could not legally grant him a copy of the judgment against her, but would communicate the “necessary disclosures" to the tribunal. This was done on the 21st. Then came the Christmas holidays, and no further action was taken until the 9th of January, when a decision was rendered in Beethoven's favor, and he was ordered to appear on the 19th to take the “vows for the performance of his duties.” He complied, and on the outside of this order is written:
To-day appeared Ludwig van Beethoven as the legally appointed guardian of his nephew Carl and vowed with solemn handgrasp before the assembled council to perform his duties.
This document also empowered the new guardian to take possession of the boy, who of course was still with his mother. But what to do with him? Beethoven could not take him into his own lodging; a child of that age needs a woman's care and tenderness.
A certain Cajetan Giannatasio del Rio was at that time proprietor and manager of a private school in the city for boys, which enjoyed a high and deserved reputation. His family consisted of his wife and two highly accomplished daughters, young women of fine talents, of much musical taste and culture, and-especially the eldest- enthusiasts for Beethoven's music. The composer, accompanied by Bernard and the boy, visited and inspected the school, and was so much pleased with it and the family, that he determined to withdraw his nephew from the public school, and place him there as pupil and boarder. On February 1st, he wrote to Giannatasio:
With sincere pleasure I inform you that at last on to-morrow I shall bring to you the precious pledge that has been intrusted to me. Moreover I beg of you again under no circumstances to permit the mother to exercise any influence, now or when she may see him, all this I will talk over with you to-morrow. You may impress this also on your servants, for mine in another matter was bribed by her! More by word of mouth though silence would be preferable to me-but for the sake of your future citizen of the world, this melancholy communication is necessary.
[In Karl's hand]: I am very glad to come to you, and am your Carl van Beethoven.
The next day, February 2, the boy was taken from his mother. The intolerable annoyance caused by her appearing in person or sending a messenger daily to take him from the school, drew from Giannatasio on the 11th a written application to the guardian for “a formal authority in a few lines for refusing without further ado to permit her to fetch her son.” In his reply, Beethoven writes: “as regards the mother I request that on the plea that he is busy you do not admit her to him at all.” He then consulted Joseph Edler von Schmerling, a member of the Landrecht, upon the measures proper for him to adopt, and communicated that gentleman's advice to Giannatasio by letter, on the morning of the 15th. The same day, taking Bernard with him, he went to the school, and there meeting Giannatasio, the three prepared a formal petition to the Landrecht, praying that tribunal to grant the guardian plenary authority to exclude the widow and her agents from all or any direct communication with the boy. This was signed by Beethoven and immediately presented. On the 20th, the Landrecht granted, essentially, this petition; but its decree contained this proviso: that the mother might still visit her son “in his leisure hours, without disturbing the course of his education or the domestic arrangements, in the company of a person to be appointed by the guardian or the director of the educational institution.” Armed with this authority, Giannatasio on March 8th informed in writing “Madame Jeannette de Beethoven, Vorstadt, Alsergasse, No. 121," that she has in future “to apply solely to the uncle as to whether, how and when” she can see her son. And thus this wretched business again for the present rested. In these days belongs a letter by Beethoven to Giannatasio:
The Queen of Night surprised us yesterday and also delivered a veritable anathema against you; she showed her usual impertinence and malice against me and set me back for a moment and I almost believed that what she said was right, but when I reached home later I received the result of the decision of the L. R. which turns out to be just what was
desired and I communicate the most necessary point, although you' will probably receive a copy of it towards evening. ...
Neate was now gone to London. On his departure Beethoven wrote in his album two canons entitled "Das Schweigen” (Silence) and "Das Reden” (Speech), adding with the date, “January 24, 1816,” the words:
My dear English compatriot in silence and in speech remember your sincere friend
Ludwig van Beethoven. The document concerning the sale of the three overtures to the Philharmonic Society which Beethoven promised to give Neate (which Moscheles printed in his paraphrase of Schindler's biography in translation, as if it had been written in English and not altogether correctly)' ran as follows:
In the month of July, 1816 [sic] Mr. Neate in the name of the Philharmonic Society in London, received from me 3 overtures and paid me for the same an honorarium of 75 guineas in consideration of which I bind myself not to permit them to be published in parts2 anywhere, though the right is reserved by me to perform them wherever I please as well as to publish them in pianoforte arrangement though not before Mr. Neate shall have written to me that they have been performed in London. Moreover, Mr. Neate has assured me that he will kindly take it upon himself (to assure me) that the Philharmonic Society will give me permission after a lapse of one or two years to publish the 3 overtures in score and parts, inasmuch as I can do this only with their consent, with which I present my compliments to the P. S. Vienna, February 5, 1816.
Ludwig van Beethoven. The three overtures had already been sold to Steiner, but were not published till six years later. The works entrusted to him, as remembered by Mr. Neate forty-five years afterwards, were: 1. A copy of the Violin Concerto, Op. 61, with a transcription of the solo for Pianoforte on the same pages, which Beethoven said he himself had arranged and was effective; 2. The two Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violoncello, Op. 102, with a dedication to Neate; 3. The Seventh Symphony in score; 4. “Fidelio” in score; and 5. The String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95—all in manuscript. There is some reason to think that besides these works Neate also took a copy of “Der glorreiche Augenblick.” On January 20, Beethoven wrote the following letter to Ries in London:3
The German original was acquired in 1913 at a sale of autographs by Mr. Richard Aldrich.
2Also in score.