Read CHAPTER XVI - THE DAY’S TRIALS of Beethoven, free online book, by George Alexander Fischer, on

Those who are furthest removed from us really believe that we are
constituted just like themselves, for they understand exactly so
much of us as we have in common with them, but they do not know how
little, how infinitesimally little this is.

WAGNER: Letter to Liszt.

Beethoven was in no sense a hero to his servants. In their eyes he was not the great artist, whose achievement was to go ringing down the ages; he was simply a crank or madman, who did not know his own mind half the time, from whom abuse was as likely to be predicated as gratuities, who could be ridiculed, neglected, circumvented with impunity. When the dereliction became glaring enough to arrest his attention, he would deliver himself of a volley of abuse which sometimes had to be made good by presents of money. At other times, he desired nothing so much as to be left alone.

That he found the world a more difficult problem than ever in these later years, goes without saying. “Have you been patient with every one to-day?” he asks himself in one of the note-books of this period, indicating the dawn of a perception that fate is too much for him, that it can be defied no longer, but rather must be propitiated. Had he answered his question, it would no doubt have been in the negative; but this attitude, so new to him, is significant. It comes up also in his letters to Zmeskall, in which he speaks of his patience in enduring the insolence of a butler, who had been sent him by Zmeskall.

Complaints about servants appear frequently in his correspondence. Peppe, the “elephant-footed,” and Nanny, who seems to have had a particular faculty for making trouble, are specially in evidence. “I have endured much from N. (Nanny) to-day,” he writes in a letter to his good friend Madame Streicher, who was very helpful to him in his domestic matters. On one occasion, when her conduct became unbearable, he threw books at her head. Strangely, this method of disciplining the refractory Nanny produced better results than could have been expected. He reports soon after to Madame Streicher, “Miss Nanny is a changed creature since I threw the half dozen books at her head. Possibly, by chance some of their contents may have entered her brain, or her bad heart. At all events we now have a repentant deceiver.”

In another letter of this time he writes to the same lady, “Yesterday morning the devilry began again, but I made short work of it, and threw the heavy settle at B (another servant), after which we had peace for the remainder of the day.” “Come Friday or Sunday,” he writes Holz. “Better come on Friday, as Satanas in the kitchen is more endurable on that day.” This advice to come on Friday when purposing to dine with him, is repeated in a subsequent letter to Holz. “If I could but rid myself of these canaille,” he writes to another person, when complaining of the hostility and insolence of his servants.

That his own mode of life helped largely to bring about this state of things, did not make it any easier to bear. As stated, system was out of the question in this household. There was no regular time for meals, often no meals were thought of by the master while occupied with his work. When hungry, if nothing were forthcoming at home, he sought a restaurant. Careless in general as regards his food, abstemious to a degree in this respect, he was particular only on one matter, his coffee. He delighted in making it himself, often counting the beans that were required for each cup.

“My house resembles very much a shipwreck” is a remark attributed to him by Nohl. Even under favoring conditions, discipline was not to be expected, but matters were further complicated by Karl’s mother, who made a practice of bribing the servants to get information about the young man. There is no doubt her influence tended to increase the discomfort and disorder that would have existed in any event. “Some devils of people have again played me such a trick that it is almost impossible for me to mix with human beings any more,” he said in a letter to Madame Streicher, which remark Mr. Kalischer (Neue Beethovenbriefe, Berlin, 1902), attributes to intrigues against him by his sister-in-law.

To illustrate the slight regard his servants had for Beethoven and their absolute ignorance of the value of his work, an incident related by Schindler about the loss of the manuscript of the Kyrie of the Mass in D is in point. On reaching Doebling in 1821 on his annual summer migration, he missed this work and the most diligent search failed to bring it to light. Finally the cook produced it; she had used the separate sheets for wrapping kitchen utensils. Some of them were torn, but no part was lost. No copy had yet been made, and its loss would have been irreparable.

The difficulties which he experienced with the world in general existed with his copyists and engravers to an exaggerated degree as may be supposed, since proofreading was a matter on which he was extremely particular. He was apt to make unreasonable demands on them, not understanding human nature. He wanted them to work quickly and accurately and they were very often slow and careless; they tried his patience more than his servants did. A little deftness on his part when in contact with them, would have made things easier all around. As it was, they received little consideration from him, and gave but little in return. He was so deeply interested in his compositions that he frequently recalled them after they were in the engraver’s hands, in order to make alterations and additions. The Sonata, opus 111 was withdrawn twice, after the engraver had actually begun work on it. It had been sold to Diabelli, who finally refused to return it again, as the engraver’s work in each case was thrown away. This called out a sarcastic letter from Beethoven to Schindler, in which he refers to Diabelli as an arch-churl (Erzflegel), and threatens him (Diabelli), if he is not more amenable.

“I have passed the forenoon to-day, and all yesterday afternoon in correcting these two pieces and am actually hoarse with stamping and swearing,” he wrote the copyist in reference to the A minor Quartet. Elsewhere he complains about the carelessness of the publishers of his earlier quartets, which are “full of mistakes and errata great and small. They swarm like fish in the sea, innumerable.”

When referring to the testimonial concert, allusion was made to the enormous labor involved in copying out all the parts required for the occasion, in which over one hundred persons participated. To examine and correct each copy before placing it in the hands of the performers was in itself no slight task. The labor of making the seven subscription copies of the Mass, was probably a still greater one. In these days of cheap publications, one can hardly form an estimate of what it really meant. Many months elapsed after the Mass was completed, before a clean copy could be gotten for the Archduke even.

No doubt the copyists often misunderstood the master’s instructions, always given in writing in his later years. He was so careless with his handwriting that some of his letters are undecipherable in part, to this day. Schindler, with good common-sense made a practice of transcribing Beethoven’s words on the back of any letter received from him before filing it away. The master’s extraordinary carefulness in proof-reading has already been mentioned. This was to him a matter of the utmost importance, second to none. Press of work, illness even, was not allowed to interfere with the careful revision of his work.

He might write about patience in his note book, but it was exercised very little when dealing with his copyists. There were times in this connection in which the situation became so strained that they refused to work for him. In one such instance a man, Wolanck by name, returned the manuscript which the master had sent him, writing him at the same time an impertinent letter. This copyist was evidently of a literary turn, with a talent for satire. He begins by begging to be permitted to express his gratitude for the honor which Beethoven has done him in being allowed to drudge for him, but states that he wants no more of it. He then proceeds to philosophize on the situation, saying that the dissonances which have marked their intercourse in the past have been regarded by him with amused toleration. “Are there not” asks this Junius, “in the ideal world of tones many dissonances? Why should these not also exist in the actual world?” In conclusion he ventures the opinion that if Mozart or Haydn had served as copyist for Beethoven, a fate similar to his own would have befallen them.

A wild Berserker rage took possession of Beethoven on receipt of this letter which he appeased characteristically by writing all sorts of sarcastic comments over the sheet, and by inventing compound invectives to suit the case. He heavily criss-crossed the whole letter, and across it in heavy lines wrote, “Dummer Kerl” (foolish fellow), “Eselhafter Kerl” (asinine fellow), “Schreibsudler” (slovenly writer). On the edges at the right: “Mozart and Haydn you will do the honor not to mention”; at the left: “It was decided yesterday, and even before, that you were not to write for me any more.” On another spot he writes: “correct your blunders that occur through your fatuity, presumption, ignorance and foolishness.” (Unwissenheit, Uebermuth, Eigenduenkel, und Dummheit). “That will become you better than to try to teach me.”

In better vein is a letter from Beethoven to the copyist Rampel, who had worked for him during a period of many years. He had Beethoven’s favor more than any other copyist, on account of a peculiar faculty he possessed for deciphering the master’s handwriting.

Bestes Ramperl,

Komme um morgen frueh. Gehe aber zum Teufel mit deinem Gnaediger
Herr. Gott allein kann nur gnaedig geheißen werden._


You can come to-morrow morning, but go to the devil with your
“Gracious Sir,” (Gnaediger Herr). God alone should be addressed as
“Gracious Lord.”

This letter was published in the Beethoven number of Die Musik, February, 1902.