Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, edited by Michael Hamburger (Anchor books, 1960).
In a month when Google has just introduced another online service that is based on instant electronic communication between millions of people, I picked up a volume of letters written by Beethoven, selected from the thousands that he wrote during his life. This is not a great number for a busy, educated, and famous man living between 1770 and 1827, when a letter was the only way to communicate with absent friends or business partners, even those who lived in the same city. As this volume shows, Beethoven’s daily life involved not just writing music, but sending the manuscripts out to copiers, communicating with his publishers, his aristocratic patrons, musical societies and orchestras across Europe that wanted to perform his works, his family, his would-be lovers, dealing with solicitations from people who wanted to visit him – all of which required a written note, from a few lines to pages of detailed instructions.
This volume concentrates less on the letters devoted to his music-business dealings and more on those that bring alive his voice and his character. On this, my third, re-reading, what I find most fascinating are the accounts of meetings with Beethoven written by other people. The editor’s decision to include these next to the contemporaneous letters written by Beethoven provide a consistent picture of the composer’s life, particularly after the serious deterioration in his hearing around 1805. Here is an extract from a little later, written by Beethoven's friend Gerhard van Breuning:
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