Six Days to Charity

Beethoven, Ludwig van, composer (1770-1827). Autograph letter signed ("Beethoven").

Vienna, 23. III. 1812.

Small 4to (ca. 160 x 158 mm). 1 p. Stored in custom-made burgundy morocco chemise, interior finished with navy-blue morocco, inner front cover with a steel-engraved portrait of Beethoven under a silk matte.


To the Viennese civil servant Franz Rettich (1768-1818), who was to help Beethoven send urgently needed scores to Graz for a charity concert on March 29th, only six days hence:

"Es dürften bis Morgen abend wohl sicher noch die 2 overturen folgen, und so wird Ihnen geholfen, jedoch mit der äußersten Anstrengung. Schreiben Sie nur gefälligst, daß man in Graz sicher alles erwartete erhalte, jedoch muß man sich im Voraus gefaßt machen zur Probe, da die Sachen mit dem Postwagen zwar nicht zu spät, aber doch auch nur eben zur rechten Zeit ankommen werden [...]" ("The two overtures ought quite certainly to follow by tomorrow evening, and so you shall be accommodated, but only thanks to the greatest exertions. Just kindly write that everything expected in Graz will dependably be received, but everyone must prepare for the rehearsal in advance, as the things will arrive by stagecoach, not indeed too late, but still only just in time [...]").

In summer 1811 Beethoven had met the civil servant and patron of Graz, Joseph von Varena (1769-1843), who had persuaded the composer to support his charity concerts with music. Beethoven was enthusiastic and in late January 1812 promised Varena several pieces, including the overtures of "King Stephen" (op. 117) and "The Ruins of Athens" (op. 113), both of which were already intended for the inauguration of the German theatre in Pest on 9 February and were therefore in Hungary at the time of writing. Franz Rettich, secretary at the Superior Court of Justice in Vienna, was chosen to act as intermediary and messenger. (The father of the actor Karl Rettich, he had himself been a supporting actor at Vienna's court theatre between 1789 and 1797 before entering the civil service.) - In fact, the timing turned out to be extremely tight, as Beethoven's copyist Wenzel Schlemmer, the only man the composer would trust with the job, had fallen ill. In his present note to Rettich, Beethoven promises that the work will be finished in time, but warns that the orchestra in Graz will have very little opportunity to rehearse. Anxious to keep his word, Beethoven even forced Schlemmer to sign a declaration that he would complete the copies by March 26, noon - a pledge he would prove unable to keep. Ultimately, the copies were finished too late to go to Graz with Rettich by regular stagecoach and had to be sent by special courier, whom Rettich paid 21 guilders for the service, arriving at high noon on the day of the concert. The programme began at 6:30 that evening with a (very probably unrehearsed) performance of the "King Stephen" overture, but the overture from "The Ruins of Athens" had to be skipped. Still, the concert played an important role in making Beethoven known in Styria: "Varena, an ally from the very beginning, contributed much to that important first boost which launched a serious and lasting reception of Beethoven's works outside Vienna, enriching the musical life of Graz and amplifying with remarkable swiftness the structure of local concert programmes in the 19th century" (cf. Nemeth, p. 29).

Traces of original vertical and horizontals folds; in excellent condition. On the verso, Rettich has certified the receipt: "This message was written to me and I received it on March 23."

Beethoven, Briefwechsel (ed. S. Brandenburg), vol. 2, p. 251, no. 562. F. Bischoff, "Beethoven und die Grazer musikalischen Kreise", Beethovenjahrbuch 1 (1908), pp. 6-27, here at p. 11. Cf. M. Nemeth, Beethoven-Rezeption in Graz im frühen 19. Jahrhundert unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner Symphonik und des Grazer Konzertwesens (unpublished M.A. thesis, Graz, 2003).

Stock Code: BN#57849 Tags: ,