February 7 1815: Beethoven Wants His Money, Dammit!

On February 7 1815, Beethoven is again writing to George Thomson, a Scottish publisher who began a correspondence with him in 1803.  Beethoven’s letter to Thomson dated October 5 1803 is the composer’s first letter to Britain. The exchanges and business between the two continued until 1820.

During that period, Thomson asked Beethoven to compose various works based on traditional Scottish, English and Welsh melodies. In turn, Thomson published the adaptations sometimes with words added by poets such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and even Lord Byron.  Beethoven also wrote various works including piano variations on the English folk songs “God save the King” and “Rule Britannia.” Beethoven initially received three ducats for each adaptation, later on he received four and then five.

On February 29, 1812, Beethoven wrote to Thomson asking for payment for the Scottish songs he had sent him. Beethoven was annoyed that Thomson had implied that Beethoven was charging to much because Monsieur Kozeluch was charging less for adaptations. Leopold Kozeluch was a Czech composer. He was also Mozart’s successor as Court composer and imperial Capellmeister in Prague. Beethoven may have resented being compared to him, as early in Beethoven’s career, Kozeluch had been held up as a model for Beethoven to follow. Beethoven does not care that Kozeluch only charges two ducats for each song. “Moi je m’estime encore line fois plus superieur en ce genre que Monsieur Kozeluch (:Miserabilis:)”, Beethoven indignantly wrote in reply. He also added that he knows that Hayden charges four ducats. He wanted his money.

Now almost three years later, on February 7 1815 Beethoven in Vienna is again writing to Thomson in Edinburgh, and money is again the main topic. “I own that the honorary you offered is totally inadequate. Circon stances here are much altered and taxes have been so much raised after the English fashion that my share for 1814 was near 60£,” Beethoven writes. The full letter reads:

Wien, 7 February, 1815.

Sir!  Many concerns have prevented my answers by your favors, to which I reply only in part. All your songs with the exception of a few are ready to be forwarded, I mean those to which I was to write the accompaniments; for with respect to the 6 Canzonettes, which I am to compose.

I own that the honorary you offered is totally inadequate. Circumstances here are much altered and taxes have been so much raised after the English fashion that my share for 1814 was near 60£; besides an original good air — and what you also wish — an Overture, are perhaps the most difficult undertakings in musical compositions. I therefore beg to state that my honorary for 6 songs or airs must be 35£ or seventy imp 1 Ducats and for un Overture 20£ or 50 imp 1 Ducats. You will please to assigne the payment here as usual, and you may depend that I shall do you justice. No artiste of talent and merit will find my pretensions extravagant.

Concerning the overture you will please to indicate in your reply whether you wish to have it composed for an easy or more difficult execution. I expect your immediate answer having several orders to attend, and I shall in a little time write more copiously in reply of your favors already received. I beg you to thank the author for the very ingenious and flattering verses, which obtained to be means.

Allow me to subscribe myself, Sir, your very obed, humble servt ,

Ludwig van Beethoven.


More information on the relationship between George Thomson and Beethoven can be found here. The above post is based almost verbatim on my earlier post in 1812now.

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