• Jam Session alerts

The all Beethoven and all Schubert concerts at the Summer Fest got me to thinking about the relationship between these two composers. The details are disputed but one thing is for sure, Schubert was one of Beethoven's torch bearers at the funeral service.

There are two occasions when Schubert is supposed to have met Beethoven. One was a visit Schubert paid to Beethoven to present him with a composition composed in the master's honor.

One version of the story says Beethoven found a minor harmonic discrepancy in the composition and that Schubert left defeated and despondent. Another version says Schubert paid Beethoven a visit but Beethoven wasn't home.

The other proposed meeting was on Beethoven's death bed. Beethoven was presented with a series of Schubert's compositions and was impressed. Schubert was then supposed to have visited Beethoven several times before his death.

The reason these incidents are question is because they were reported by Anton Schindler. Schindler was an early biographer of Beethoven's and has been proven to be a manufacturer of exaggerations and outright lies.

This does not mean that everything he wrote about Beethoven is false but it does mean that we can't trust anything he wrote.

The incident of Beethoven correcting Schubert would be a nice metaphor for who they were as composers--if it is true.

Beethoven would be playing the role of the overbearing, thundering German while Schubert could be the over-sensitive Austrian smashed by Prussian aggression.

Did the two composers meet? I'd like to believe Beethoven was visited by Schubert on his deathbed but we will never know for sure.

  • Jam Session alerts

More like this:


Quintus Aug. 14, 2012 @ 1:28 a.m.

Ludwig van Beethoven was not a Prussian. Born in Bonn in December of 1770, he was essentially a Rhinelander with Flemish family connections (hence his name being styled as van, not von, Beethoven). He became a permanent resident of Vienna by the age of twenty-one (November of 1792).

Another crucial Austrian link was that the composer, as a Rhenish youth, had followed in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather (a Fleming named Lodewijk van Beethoven) when he took employment in the courtly musical establishment of Maximilian Francis, Archduke of Austria (son of Maria Theresa, Empress of the Habsburg lands, and Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor), who at that period reigned in residence at Bonn as Elector of Cologne.

It is not without some justification that Austrians often claim Beethoven as one of their own.

In any case, the typical Rhinelander, like the Bavarian, has always shown an antipathy for Prussia.


Quintus Aug. 14, 2012 @ 2:03 a.m.

As for the sometime designation of "Rhenish Prussia" (Rheinpreußen), this was a term of administrative import from Berlin as underpinned by repellent feudal tendencies, rather than one of local Rhenish allegiance. In fact, it drove resentment during the 1848 uprisings that autocratic Prussia had regarded the Rhineland and its freedom-minded people as subjugated under Prussian rule.

And as Poultney Bigelow wrote in 1915 :

Two great wars came to magnify the Kingdom of William I., during my days at Bonn, but the Rhine province was populated mainly by Germans who had been French a short half-century before, and had not quite decided whether Koelnisches Wasser sounded more patriotic than eau de Cologne. If you asked a man on the street as to his nationality, he would proudly say "I am a Rhinelander," and if you called him a Prussian, he might add "Yes, a Muss-Preussen," or Must-Prussian. - p. 16, Prussian Memories 1864 - 1914


Garrett Harris Aug. 14, 2012 @ 10:20 a.m.

Good Lord Quintus. I KNOW Beethoven wasn't Prussian. I was using the term as an adjective. The further reference is to the Austro Prussian War of 1866 which only lasted 7 weeks.


Quintus Aug. 14, 2012 @ 11:51 a.m.

"War of 1866" - yes, before German unification.

Metaphors are a temptation for any writer, but murkiness is another matter. Readers might wish to know that —contrary to the article's adjectival implication— Beethoven was a native Rhinelander who had strong Austrian connections from an early age.


Garrett Harris Aug. 15, 2012 @ 10:05 a.m.

The murkiness is there for those who already know. This post is written on two levels and those familiar with the further history of the 19th century should recognize the reference to Austria being crushed by Prussia. If this interview happened and the Austrian Schubert had been crushed by the German Beethoven then the metaphor stands. Since the German state that defeated Austria was Prussia, I used the term "Prussian". Before German unification or not, there is a general distinction between Austria and the Germanic Tribes. As a Roman, Quintus, you should know that first hand!

Since this is an online forum, I paint these posts with a broad brush. The broad brush stroke here is the difference in personality between Beethoven and Schubert. Some of the finer bristles of the brush contain the difference between German composers and Austrian composers. Beethoven vs. Mozart/Haydn/Schubert--Wagner vs. Bruckner. A further refinement leads to German, and specifically Prussian, industrialization of their military vs. Austria's reticence and how these cultural/social attitudes were reflected in music, art, architecture, and literature leading up to the Oedipal revolt of fin de siecle Vienna and the complete collapse of the Hapsburg and Prussian Empires at the end of WWI.

I have written on these topics previously but getting into these details on a consistent basis isn't practical.


Quintus Aug. 15, 2012 @ 8:37 p.m.

That reply does give a fuller picture than the original post. It is interesting subject matter. Still and all —broad brush or fine brush— one might expect more paint in the first application. If that should require an artful recap of "these details" incorporated from older Jam Session articles, so be it. Readers will love the convenience !


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Sept. 4, 2012 @ 12:33 p.m.

Quintus and Garrett,

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this discussion.


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader