Lifestyle & Belief

New Beethoven letter reveals composer's money troubles


Beethoven: great composer, messy handwriter.


Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler

BERLIN, Germany — A letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven has been discovered in Germany, testifying to the composer's money troubles.

The six-page document was left to the Lübeck Brahms Institute by a music teacher, Renate Wirth, who died last year, the Spiegel reported.

Her great-grandfather, the composer Franz Anton Stockhausen, received it from Beethoven in July 1823.

It wasn't just a friendly hello. Beethoven asked Stockhausen for his help finding advance buyers for his Missa Solemnis mass.

"My low salary and my illness demand efforts to make a better fortune," he wrote.

The 53-year-old Beethoven was completely deaf and suffering from an eye complaint at the time. He died four years later.

So perhaps we can forgive him his messy handwriting. The letter is covered in corrections and crossings-out – much like his scores, the Brahms Institute's Stefan Weymar told Reuters:

"Beethoven was not a composer with beautiful handwriting. It is spontaneous and he wrote things, then crossed them out, his thoughts changed as he went on and that is the impression the letter gives."

Ironically, given the money troubles Beethoven complains of, his scrawled missives are now worth thousands of dollars. This one has been valued at up to 150,000 euros ($190,000), while one of his six-word shopping lists sold for 60,000 euros ($76,000) last year. 

The letter will be on display at the Brahms Institue from Jan. 19 to 29.