Rediscovered Beethoven Letter
The Brahms Institute of the Lübeck School of Music (in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany) announced on Monday, January 9th, the discovery of a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna in 1823. It is estimated that the three-page document, which has turned yellow with age and needs to be preserved in special conditions and handled with gloves, is worth up to €150,000 (approximately £125,000).
Beethoven was fifty-three when he wrote the letter to the harp virtuoso and composer Franz Anton Stockhausen (1789-1868), who was living in Paris at the time. It is part of a collection belonging to Franz Anton Stockhausen’s great-granddaughter, Renate Wirth, a former music teacher based in Frankfurt, which she bequeathed to the Brahms Institute following her death last year.
In the letter, Beethoven asks Stockhausen to help him find sponsors for his Missa solemnis on which he had begun work in 1819. The piece was completed in 1823, three years after the date that it was originally due, and was first performed in St Petersburg on April 7th, 1824. Beethoven complains of illness and that he is short of money: ‘My low salary and my illness demand efforts to make a better fortune’. He also writes about his nephew Karl, the son of his brother Carl who died of consumption in 1815. After his brother’s death, Beethoven became embroiled in a long fight for Karl’s custody and in the letter he mentions the high cost of his nephew’s education and that he will need support after his own death. Beethoven explains at the end of the letter: ‘all letters to me need nothing more than "To L. v. Beethoven in Vienna," where I receive everything'. He died four years after the letter was written, on March 26th, 1827, and was buried in Vienna where he had lived since 1792.
Stefan Weymar, a music researcher at the Brahms Institute, told Reuters:
Beethoven was not a composer with beautiful handwriting. It is spontaneous and he wrote things, then crossed them out, his thoughts changed as he went on and that is the impression the letter gives.
The letter will be on public display in the Brahms Institute's museum from January 18th until January 19th.
From the archive
Why the premiere of Beethoven's Violin Concerto at the Vienna opera house was not a success.
In our series in which historians look back on the changes that have taken place in their field in the 60 years since the founding of History Today, Daniel Snowman takes a personal view of new approaches to the study of the history of culture and the arts – and of music in particular.
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