Tag Archives: compositional process

Beethoven’s shutters

Beethoven moved often, and his landlords were not always keen to have him back. While he was working on the Ninth Symphony in 1923, Beethoven couldn’t stand his present lodgings in Hetzendorf, as the landlord, Baron Pronay, constantly bowed to him when they met.He sought lodgings where he had previously stayed in Baden.  The landlord initially turned down the request, but eventually agreed under certain conditions. Beethoven’s friend Schindler (the mediator), recalled:

Yet the was another unconditional requirement, Beethoven must have shutters put on the windows overlooking the street as he had had the year before.  In vain we tried to guess the reason for this strange request.  When the landlord explained that the shutters were needed to spare the composer’s suffering eyes from the harsh sunlight, Beethoven complied immediately.  Within a few days the move was completed.

But what was the reason for the shutters, and why were they a condition of Beethoven’s tenancy?  The reason was simple: Beethoven … would, during his stay at the same house the year before, stand at one or another of the unpainted window-shutters and, as was his custom, make long calculations – for example, how many florins were 50, 100, or 200 ducats?  Then there were some musical ideas, and in short a whole stream of consciousness written out in pencil so that these thin boards formed a kind of diary.  In the summer of 1822 a family from North Germany lived across the street.  They used to watch him at his occupation, and when he moved away they paid the landlord a piece of gold for the value of his window-shutters and their inscriptions, the landlord had no trouble in selling all four pieces to other guests of the baths.  When the apothecary T. in Baden told Beethoven of this strange commerce, the master is said to have exploded in Homeric laughter.1

Louis Schlosser recalled visiting the house, at No. 60, Wiedener.

I entered and found myself in a rather commodious but entirely undecorated apartment; a large, four-square oak table with various chairs, which presented a somewhat chaotic aspect, stood in the middle of the room. On it lay writing books and lead-pencils, music-paper and pens, a chronometer, a metronome, an ear-trumpet made of yellow metal and various other things. On the wall at the left of the door was the bed, completely covered with music, scores, and manuscripts. I can recall only a framed oil-painting (it was a portrait of Beethoven’s grandfather for whom, as is known, he had a childlike reverence) which was the sole ornament I noticed. Two deep window-niches, covered with smooth paneling I mention only because in the first a violin and a bow hung from a nail, and in the other Beethoven himself, his back to me, stood busily writing down figures and the like on the wood, already covered with scribblings.2

(1) Cited in: Marek, George (1969) Beethoven: Biography of Genius. London: William Kimber, p. 563.

(2) Cited in ibid., p.573.