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This exhibit was created with funding from the American Beethoven Society and grants from Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts (a program of Arts Council Silicon Valley) and the GRAMP Foundation




Ira Brilliant (center, light jacket) and friends at Lowell Textile Institute

Ira Brilliant (center, light jacket) and friends at Lowell Textile Institute

The existence of the Beethoven Center is due solely to the passion of the man for whom the Center is named. Although he began to build his collection in the mid-1970s, Ira F. Brilliant’s enthusiasm for the composer dated back at least to his college years, and on one of his first dates with his future wife Irma, they attended a concert at which a Beethoven symphony was performed. Ira’s dream was motivated by this statement of purpose: “I must translate my love of Beethoven’s music into a tangible act of devotion.” That sense of purpose, devotion, and discipline resulted in the finest collection of first editions and manuscript letters in private hands in the United States by 1983, at which point Ira felt that they must serve a better purpose than sitting on the shelves of the special room that had been built for the treasures in the couple’s home in Phoenix. On Memorial Day that year, he called Arlene Okerlund, Dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts, SJSU, and history was made. Arlene described their first contact with these words: “From the first moment I met Ira Brilliant, I knew that he was a man on a mission. It was not just that HE loved Beethoven, he was determined to share that love with the world.” President Gail Fullerton agreed: “If we shared his vision, he would work with us to make it a reality. His enthusiasm was contagious. … Thus Ira Brilliant gave us his treasures: his first editions and other manuscripts, a fortepiano among other tangible gifts. With these gifts, he gave himself: his knowledge, his contacts, his energy, his passion.”

Since the Center originated in Ira’s gift of eighty first editions, we decided that the best way to celebrate the Center’s twenty-fifth anniversary was to create an exhibit of twenty-five of our most significant treasures. The hardest task was winnowing down the treasures to a manageable number, and Patricia and I elected to show off even more items by surrounding many of the treasures with auxiliary items. For each treasure, I have written an introductory paragraph to orient the reader to the significance of the item and a brief description about the treasure.

Bearing in mind that the exhibit will be viewed by people of all ages, children to seniors, and by experts on Beethoven as well as people who know nothing about him, I have tried to strike the right balance in writing these texts with the hope that everyone could take away something new and valuable. In several cases, I have translated German texts into English where there was a problem with the standard English edition of the letters; I would especially like to thank Dr. Michael Lorenz, Vienna, for his assistance sorting out two puzzles. As you will see, all of the treasures have been gifts from donors.

The exhibit would not be possible were it not for a generous 2010 Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts Project Support Grant from the Arts Council Silicon Valley. I must also thank Paul Hertelendy, a board member of the American Beethoven Society, and the GRAMP Foundation for its generous support, as well as the individual donors who have helped make this exhibit a reality. On the occasion of the Center’s fifth anniversary, Ira wrote a six-page statement on the Center. It ends, “Finally, at the risk of sounding pompous and overdramatic, I want to claim that a principal purpose for the Center is to preserve in an appropriate setting the symbol of Beethoven. The concepts of brotherhood, freedom, and struggle to triumph over adversity are interwoven into our democratic traditions and they have been expressed most eloquently in his language.Our presence on the scene will serve as a constant reminder of these concepts and will help to inspire us with mission type fervor.”

To Ira we pledge to continue to build a center that will honor Beethoven’s humanitarian values and unequalled music with missionary fervor.

— William Meredith




In 1792 Beethoven arrived in the imperial capital of the Holy Roman Empire from the small town of Bonn as a twenty-one year old fortepianist and composer who had been sent to receive “the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn.” However lofty this musical goal was, musicians, including composers, were mere servants and far from the equals of the aristocracy and nobility at whose pleasure they served. With letters of introduction to the nobility in hand, Beethoven entered the palaces of Vienna to prove himself their equal and within a decade had succeeded.

Hand-colored “perspective view” engraving of the Schwarzenberg Summer Palace engraved by Chez Huquier fils, Paris, 1760-80

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005

Prince Joseph Johann Nepomuk Schwarzenberg (1769-1833) was a famous music lover in Vienna who maintained his own private orchestra, supported composers such as Haydn and Salieri (both of whom were Beethoven’s teachers), and served as one of the vice-directors of the Royal Imperial Court Theater. He regularly arranged performances of chamber music and oratorios at his winter and summer palaces. The premieres of Haydn’s oratorios The Creation and The Seasons were given in the prince’s winter palace in 1798 and 1801 respectively, performances that Beethoven surely attended. Prince Schwarzenberg did not become one of Beethoven’s important patrons, but Beethoven dedicated his Quintet for Fortepiano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon, Opus 16, to him in 1801. This type of engraving, known as a “Vue d’Optique,” is meant to be viewed through an optical machine such as a zograscope or “peep box” with a curved lens and mirror that makes the print appear to be three-dimensional and reverses the mirror image of the title of the print on the top.

Also on display:

Engraving of the Hohe Markt by Johann Emanuel Fischer von Erlach engraved by Johann Sigrist, ca. 1720, Augsburg, Akadamie Imperiale d’Empire des Arts liberaux, Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2007

Engraving of the Hohe Markt by Johann Emanuel Fischer von Erlach engraved by Johann Sigrist, ca. 1720, Augsburg, Akadamie Imperiale d’Empire des Arts liberaux, Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2007

Hand-colored engraving of a general view of Vienna engraved by chez Daumont in Paris, ca. 1780; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005

Hand-colored engraving of a general view of Vienna engraved by chez Daumont in Paris, ca. 1780; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2005




The heart of the Beethoven Center is its collection of first and early editions, which began with the 75 first editions given to the University by Ira Brilliant to found the Center in 1985. Mr. Brilliant’s collection had been carefully built over the 1970s and early 1980s through his contacts and friendships with the most important antiquarian music dealers in the United States, England, and Germany. As his expertise increased as the collection grew, dealers began to give him first offers on rare materials. Especially concerned with the quality of the first editions he was searching for, Mr. Brilliant ended up with many first editions, such as the one for the Ninth Symphony, that look like they have been newly printed. From 1985 until his death in 2006, Mr. Brilliant continued to purchase first editions and rare materials for the Center. On its twenty-fifth anniversary, the Center owns 349 first editions and over 2,845 early editions from the nineteenth century.

First edition of “Schilderung eines Mädchens,” WoO 107, and the Rondo in C Major, WoO 48, published by Bossler in Speyer, 1783

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Also on display:

First edition of the complete sets of parts for the Triple Concerto for Fortepiano, Violin, and Cello, Opus 56, published by the Bureau des arts et d’Industrie in Vienna, 1807; Gift of American Beethoven Society member Vance Carney, 1996

First edition, first issue, of the Sonatas for Fortepiano, Opus 2, nos. 1-3, containing printed corrections marked by Beethoven in his proof copy and issued for sale by Artaria in Vienna, 1796; Gift of the American Beethoven Society in honor of Patricia Stroh, 2005

First edition of the Ninth Symphony, Opus 125, including a list of subscribers, published by Schott in Mainz and Paris, 1826; Gift of Ira Brilliant, 1985

Publisher’s proof of the first edition of the Sonatas for Fortepiano, Opus 2, nos. 1-3, containing engraving errors that were corrected in later copies, 1795; Gift of Ira Brilliant, 1991

Reprint of the first edition of the Sonatas for Fortepiano, Opus 2, nos. 1-3, issued for sale by Artaria in Vienna after 1801, with replaced plates for the title page and some music pages; Gift of the American Beethoven Society




When the Center opened in 1985, Ira and Irma Brilliant donated Ira’s collection of seventy-five first editions, funds for a newly-commissioned replica of a 1795 fortepiano in memory of their daughter Maxine, and a sum of money intended to be used to begin to build the Center’s rare book collection. Because the search for the permanent director took place over two years, the initial task of selecting materials was given to the well-known English antiquarian dealer Richard Macnutt, who assembled an impressive collection of materials by the date of the Center’s opening in September 1985. Since the opening, the members of the American Beethoven Society have contributed funds to add continuously to that rare book collection, which now includes, for example, all of the most important biographical sketches and biographies published before 1850. One of the rarest is the first published notice about the twelve-year-old Beethoven, which appeared in Cramer’s Magazin der Musik in 1783.

Cramer’s Magazin der Musik, first half of 1783, published by the Musikalische Niederlage in Hamburg in 1783

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2002

“Louis van Betthoven, son of the above-mentioned tenor, a boy of eleven years [sic] and of very promising talent. He plays the keyboard skillfully and powerfully, sight-reads very well, and to sum it up, he mostly plays The Well-Tempered Clavier of Sebastian Bach, which Mr. Neefe has placed in his hands. Whoever knows this collection of preludes and fugues in all keys (which one could call the non plus ultra) will know what that means. Insofar as his other duties allow, Mr. Neefe has also given him some instruction in the thoroughbass. Now he is training him in composition, and to give him encouragement has had his variations on a march for keyboard engraved in Mannheim. This young genius deserves the support to enable him to travel. He would certainly become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he were to continue to progress as he has begun.” (Translation by Wayne Senner)

Also on display:

Johann Aloys Schlosser, Ludwig van Beethoven : eine Biographie desselben, verbunden mit Urtheilen über seine Werke; The first biography of Beethoven, published by Prague by Buchler, Stephani and Schlosser, 1828; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1991

Anton Felix Schindler, Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven; First edition of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven, published in Münster by Aschendorff, 1840; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1993

Anton Felix Schindler, Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven; Second edition of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven, published in Münster by Aschendorff, 1845, with the addition of excerpts from Beethoven’s conversation books and the essay “Beethoven in Paris”; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1998

Anton Felix Schindler, Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven; Third edition of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven, published in two volumes in Münster by Aschendorff, 1860; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1991

Anton Felix Schindler, Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven; Fourth edition of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven, published in Münster by Aschendorff, 1871; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1994

Anton Felix Schindler, The Life of Beethoven; First English edition of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven, edited by Ignaz Moscheles and published in London by Henry Colburn, 1841; Gift of the American Beethoven Society

Ignaz Moscheles; Visiting card photograph by August Brasche, Leipzig, ca. 1860; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2001

Ignaz von Seyfried, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Studien im Generalbasse, Contrapuncte und in der Compositions-Lehre, (Ludwig van Beethoven’s Studies in Thoroughbass, Counterpoint, and Composition) published by T. Haslinger in Vienna, 1832; First edition of these studies, assembled by Seyfried, used by Beethoven to instruct the Archduke Rudolph in composition and theory, but also including biographical notes on Beethoven Published in Vienna by T. Haslinger, 1832; Gift of the American Beethoven Society




At the beginning of November 1792 the twenty-one-year-old Beethoven set out for Vienna to complete his music studies and return to Bonn. Beethoven’s friends in Bonn put together an autography album that contains their wishes and sentiments. The most famous inscription came from Count Ferdinand Waldstein, who wrote: “You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long frustrated wishes. The genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She has found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive: Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.” Beethoven’s stagecoach had to drive through the Hessian army “going like the devil” on the journey, which cost the composer and his companion extra money for drinks, since the coachman stood at risk of a beating. Beethoven arrived in Vienna no later than November 10. Beethoven’s record of bills upon his arrival records expenses for a wig-maker, black silk stockings, coffee, boots, rent for his attic apartment, and fortepiano rental.

“New Plan of the Capital and Royal City Vienna and Surrounding Areas,” by Stephan Jakubicska based on the manuscript map known as the “Josephinische Landesaufname” (1763-1787), published by Artaria & Co., 1789

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2000

Jakubicska’s map, one of the finest ever produced of Vienna and its surroundings, was based on a highly secret and confidential map that was created over 14 years by hand by the military. Jakubicska was an Austrian military cartographer and must have had permission either from the emperor or the imperial military authorities to base his map on the secret one. The long title indicates that it includes “all villages, castles, gardens, mountains, roads, rivers, etc.” from the surrounding two German miles. Over twelve editions of the map were produced over the next thirty years, and Jakubicska is credited with producing “one of the masterpieces of late eighteenth-century cartography.” The portion shown here, roughly 7% of the total, includes the city center and the small towns of Nussdorf, Heiligenstadt, Oberdöbling, and Unterdöbling (where Beethoven spent some of his summers), as well as Währing (where he was first buried).

Also on display:

Copper engraving of “Der Kahle- und Leopoldsberg bei Nussdorf” published by Artaria & Co. in Vienna, ca. 1820; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999

Color lithograph of the “Burg Rauhenstein im Helenenthale” by Rothmüller based on a drawing by J. Höger, printed by J. Rauh and issued in Vienna by Artaria, 1842; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999

Steel engraving of Mödling by J. Axman based on a drawing by Rudolf Alt,printed by F.A. Zehl in Leipzig for Eduard Duller’s Die malerischen und romantischen Donauländer, published by Wigand in Leipzig, 1838-1840; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999




Perhaps no other composer in history has been so associated with his medical health. The seeming contradiction of a “deaf composer” continues to amaze people, even though Beethoven was only functionally deaf the last ten years of his life. The first signs of his deafness, according to the composer himself, appeared when he was 27 or 28. The composer’s doctor during the years of his crisis over his hearing was Dr. Johann Adam Schmidt (1759-1809), who counseled Beethoven to move to small suburb of Vienna called Heiligenstadt in the summer of 1802 to rest his ears. Over the following years, Beethoven suffered from a number of ailments, including eye problems, headaches, abdominal complaints, depression, fevers, abscesses, lung infections, and nose bleeds. Though medical researchers do not agree on the exact cause of his death, the autopsy report reveals that he died from kidney and liver failure. Lead poisoning during the last few months of his life may have hastened his demise. By the time of Beethoven’s death at the age of 56 on March 26, 1827, he had become the most famous composer of Vienna. More than 20,000 Viennese attended his funeral. A comparison of the life mask made in 1812 and the death mask made in 1827 reveals the heavy toll the final illnesses took on the composer.

Invitation to Beethoven’s funeral, March 1827

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 1994

 “Beethoven's death in the late afternoon of March 26, 1827 started an intense sequence of events which culminated in the burial service at 3:00 p.m. on March 29. The elapsed time between these two events was approximately sixty-nine hours. Church services were arranged, a burial site selected, a procession with torchbearers was organized, an obituary was written by Franz Grillparzer and recited by the well-known actor Heinrich Anschütz, appropriate funeral music was performed, and invitations (Einladungen) were printed.”

—Ira Brilliant, 1998

“Invitation / to / Ludwig van Beethoven’s Funeral, which will take place on March 29 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. /Mourners should gather in the apartment of the deceased in the Schwarzspanier-Haus Nr. 200, / on the glacis in frontof the Schottenthor. / The procession will move from there to the Trinity-Church next to the P. P. Minoriten in the Alsergasse. / The musical world suffered the irreplaceable loss of the famous composer on March 26, 1827, in the eveningaround 6 o’clock. / Beethoven died from the effects of dropsy, at the age of 56, / after receiving the Holy Sacraments. /The day of the Funeral Mass will be announced at a later date by / L. van Beethoven’s / admirers and friends. / (This card will be distributed in Tob. Haslinger’s music shop.) Printed by Anton Strauß.” (Translation by William Meredith)

Also on display:

Engraving of Dr. Johann Adam Schmidt by Carl Heinrich Rahl after a painting by Josef Kapeller , 1801 (from the collection of Dr. Romeo Seligmann); Gift of ABS members Paul and Joan Kaufmann in honor of William Meredith, 2009

Hand-colored copper engraving of the Trinity Church by Johann August Corvinus based on a drawing by S. Kleiner, printed by Pfeffel between 1730-37; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009

Death mask of Beethoven by Danhauser, plaster reproduction by Gebrüder Micheli, Berlin, for the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, ca. 1920;Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

“Bey Ludwig van Beethoven’s Leichenbegängnisse am 29. März 1827,” (Ludwig van Beethoven’s funeral on March 29 1827) poem by Ignaz Franz Castelli printed for distribution at Beethoven’s funeral; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999

“Beethoven on his Deathbed,” based on a drawing by Carl Danhauser,
printed in Berlin by the Music-Verlag Carl Simon, 1881; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010




No political figure loomed larger in Beethoven’s life than Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Over his life the composer viewed the general with admiration, disgust and anger, ambivalence, and finally respect. According to his sometimes reliable biographer Anton Schindler, the idea of writing a work in homage to Napoleon was suggested to the composer by General Bernadotte when the general was the French ambassador to Austria. The result was Beethoven’s Third Symphony, now titled the Heroic Symphony but originally named the Bonaparte Symphony. After Beethoven learned that Napoleon had had himself named the Emperor in 1804, he angrily scratched “Bonaparte” off the title page of the copyist’s score with such energy that it tore a hole in the page. Napoleon’s two occupations of Vienna in 1805 and 1809 severely impacted the composer’s career. In 1805 the occupation disrupted the premiere of Beethoven’s only opera, Leonore/Fidelio, and in 1809 the composer had to hide in his brother’s cellar during the heavy bombardment of Vienna to protect his hearing. By 1810 Napoleon was again at peace with Austria, and Beethoven briefly considered dedicating his Mass in C Major, Opus 86, to the emperor. In 1824 Beethoven told his friend and former student Carl Czerny, “I used to detest him, but now I think quite differently.”

Miniature portrait of Napoleon by Edmund Gosse (1787-1878), copied from Gosse's own 1837 portrait of “Napoleon Receiving Queen Louise of Prussia, July 6, 1807”

Previously in the estate of Berkeley antique dealer Donald Davis; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

Also on display:

Aquatint engraving, “Bombardment of Vienna on the night of the 12th of May [1809],” by Piringer after a drawing by Johann Nepomuk Höchle published by Langlois in Paris, 1822; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010

“Europe after the Congress of Vienna. A Map of Europe with Political Divisions,” Section 2, lower left quadrant: Continental Europe, printed by W. & D. Lizars in Edinburgh, 1817 for John Thomas’s New General Atlas; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004




The first printed notice about Beethoven appeared in 1783 when the composer was twelve. His teacher C.F.G. Neefe wrote, “This young genius deserves the support to enable him to travel. He would certainly become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he were to continue to progress as he has begun.” Such an opportunity arose in early 1787, when Beethoven traveled to Vienna via Regensburg. New research by Dieter Haberl suggests that he arrived in the capital mid-January and left at the end of March, which means that Beethoven may have been there for ten weeks. Such a period of time would certainly have allowed time for Beethoven to play for and even have lessons with Mozart. On his route home through Munich, Regensburg, and Augsburg, Beethoven received news that his mother was dying from tuberculosis and returned home to witness her last days and death on July 17, 1787.

Engraving of “Beethoven chez Mozart” by Paul Allais from a painting by H. Merle; engraved by Alfred Chardon, Paris; published by Bulla frères, Paris, and L.T. Neumann, Vienna, 1858

Gift of the members of the American Beethoven Society

According to reminiscences, Beethoven was taken on his 1787 visit to Mozart, who requested that the fortepianist play something for him. Mozart, assuming that what Beethoven had played was a carefully prepared show-piece, praised it in a somewhat cool manner. Beethoven, observing Mozart’s tone, begged Mozart for a theme on which to improvise, one of Beethoven’s greatest musical gifts. Beethoven improvised in such a style that Mozart, who paid more and more attention and interest as Beethoven proceeded, finally went to some friends in the adjoining room and excitedly exclaimed, “Keep your eyes on him. Some day he will give the world something to talk about.” In Merle’s fanciful painting, Beethoven’s classic upward gaze as he plays the organ indicates his communication with the spirit of imagination and creation. Mozart has successfully quieted the members of the nobility present, who normally regarded music as only background accompaniment to their witty conversations.

Also on display:

Miniature portrait of Mozart, oil on ivory, artist and date unknown; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999




In 1901 Amy Graham, writing in the magazine Music, described Thayer as “one who has done more than any other American in the field of musical biography, and one whom all Americans should be glad to honor.” Indeed, a century later, Graham’s praise can legitimately be reworded: Thayer did more than any other historian in the field of musical biography. Thayer’s first major Beethoven project began in 1849, when he sailed for Europe to prepare a corrected English translation of the first edition of Schindler’s error-prone biography of 1840. After exhausting his financial resources, Thayer returned home two years later and made a career as a music critic, which was detrimental to his health. In 1854 and 1858 he set out again on extended trips to Europe to “collect and digest” the materials for his life of Beethoven. Serious illnesses continued to plague Thayer, and he only completed three volumes of what would become, and remains, the most important biography of Beethoven. The first volume appeared in German in 1866, the second in 1872, and the third in 1879. In the 1872 letter on display, Thayer ends, “My third volume advances slowly, owing to much ‘bad head.’” Volumes four and five were continued by Hermann Deiters and completed by Hugo Riemann in 1907 and 1908. The first English translation appeared in 1921 in an edition sponsored by the Beethoven Association of New York and edited and translated by the American scholar Henry Krehbiel, who condensed the work to three volumes and tried to adhere to Thayer’s goals in the materials from volumes 4 and 5. A two-volume edition further edited by Elliot Forbes is still in print.

Letter from Thayer to Mr. Robert Lonsdale, Trieste, February 4, 1868

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008


Several of the Center’s Thayer letters concern his biography. Here he writes to request assistance with his research: “The object of this note is to obtain something about J.B. Cramer—i.e., something which will either confirm or deny refute the assertion of a German literary quack that Cramer, after making Beethoven’s acquaintance in Vienna, never afterward used to speak well of him either as composer or as a man! If your father [Christopher] is still living, as I hope, perhaps he will kindly give me some note or notes on the point either by his own or by your hand. Or perhaps, Mrs. Cramer[,] if still living[,] the widow, might be willing to write me a line. The fact is, that the writer in question has represented matters so as to cast a shade upon Cramer; now as I have learned to look upon that great pianist as one of the first in musical history, I wish to be able, in my Volume II, to refute in toto the attack upon his memory and fame.”

Also on display:

Visiting card photograph of Alexander Wheelock Thayer, ca. 1863; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2006

Letter from Thayer to Graham, Vienna, June 10, 1863; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009


Letter from Thayer to Graham and his wife, Vienna, January 10, 1863; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010

READ COMPLETE TRANSCRIPTION with annotations by Grant William Cook III

Letter from Thayer to Daniel Willard Fiske, Cambridge, Mass., March 15, 1863; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2000


Letter from Thayer to J.S. Dwight, Trieste, July 7, 1872; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2000


Letter from Thayer to George Fisher, Trieste, Feb. 19, 1878; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2006


Letter from Thayer to Daniel Willard Fiske, [June 4], 1863; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009





For much of Beethoven’s life, his instrumental works were published in performing editions that did not include a conductor’s or “full” score. Instead, the first editions contained either single (or multiple parts) for each instrument, and the conductor, often the concertmaster, would conduct from the violin part. The first edition of the massive and complex Heroic Symphony that appeared in 1806, for example, did not contain a conductor’s score. Such rhythmically and harmonically challenging works were quite difficult to rehearse and perform without the concertmaster being able to refer to a full score, so manuscript copies were often produced until a printed score finally appeared. Full scores of Beethoven’s first three symphonies were published in 1809 in London by Cianchettini & Sperati, but the first German score edition of the Eroica did not appear until 1822! Without a score, it is easy to see how difficult it would have been to understand the famous moment in the first movement of the Eroica when the French horn appears to come in several measures too soon. In the absence of a score to document Beethoven’s unusual idea, the premature entry must have seemed like an error on the player’s part.

 Breitkopf & Härtel lending library manuscript of the Fifth Symphony, ca. 1809

Gift of American Beethoven Society members Max Bloom and Ira Brilliant, 1994

The publishing firm Breitkopf & Härtel is the world’s oldest music publishing house. Founded in 1719 by Bernhard Christhof Breitkopf, the firm was renamed when it was taken over by Gottfried Christoph Härtel in 1795. In 1809 Breitkopf & Härtel published the first edition of the parts for the Fifth Symphony, which soon proved to be a popular work across Europe, but they did not print the first score edition until March 1826. In the intervening years, orchestras that wished to perform the work with a conductor’s score could borrow this score from the firm’s famous lending library. Fortunately for music history, someone “borrowed” the score in the nineteenth century and did not return it, perhaps because it was no longer needed after the printed score appeared. The score was owned for many years by the conductor Adolf Ganz (1795-1869), who passed it along to his grandson Albert. Many of the scores in Breitkopf & Härtel’s lending library were destroyed in the bombing of Leipzig in World War II.

Also on display:

First edition of the parts for the Fifth Symphony, Opus 67, published in Leipzig by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, 1809; Gift of Ira Brilliant, 2002

Handbill advertising the first English performances of Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge (as “The Mount of Olives”) conducted by Sir George Smart at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, in 1814; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2001

The Mount of Olives, vocal score of the English version, with orchestral score reduced for piano by Sir George Smart, published by Smart and Chappell & Co. in London, 1813; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2001

Concert program by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, April 9, 1820, featuring Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and a chorus from the oratorio Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives); Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Christus am Ölberge, English version as “The Mount of Olives,” manuscript parts for the first English performances by Sir George Smart at the Drury Lane Theater, London, in 1814; The German text was replaced by an English-language version that eliminates the singing role of Jesus.; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1995

Oratorio texts for performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, for the Winter season (January-March), 1815, with English-language texts for The Mount of Olives and descriptions of other Beethoven works performed during the season, including Wellington’s Victory, Opus 91, and the Kyrie and Credo movements from the Mass in C Major, Opus 86;Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999




Images of Beethoven created after the composer’s death have almost always been based on the famous life mask of 1812, which accurately captures the composer’s physical features. Because Beethoven was not allowed to move his face during the process, however, it could not capture anything about his expression or soul. The two most expressive parts of the human face—the eyes and mouth—are expressionless in the mask. We are lucky, therefore, to have several authentic portraits from artists who were able to observe Beethoven in person. The most famous is the one Beethoven himself gave to friends on occasion, Höfel’s portrait of 1814 completed when the composer was forty-three years old.

Hand-colored copperplate engraving of Beethoven by Blasius Höfel (1814)

Special donation from forty-five members of the American Beethoven Society, 1996

In 1814 the copperplate engraver and lithographer Blasius Höfel was commissioned by one of Beethoven’s most important publishers, Artaria, to make an engraving of a drawing of Beethoven by Louis Letronne. Höfel wished to improve on Letronne’s drawing and took advantage of Beethoven’s frequent visits to Artaria’s shop to better study the composer’s features. Beethoven also allowed Höfel to have two additional traditional sittings in the composer’s apartment. Höfel’s diligent labors paid off. In 1851 Aloys Fuchs told the biographer Thayer, “This is just how he looked when I first met him.” Beethoven himself gave copies of the portrait to his friends Franz Gerhard Wegeler and Antonie Brentano in 1816. In the letter to Brentano that accompanied the portrait, Beethoven wrote, “At the same time I am sending you a copper-plate engraving on which my face is reproduced, several people have discerned my soul clearly in it” (letter of February 6, 1816). The engraving exists in non-colored and hand-colored copies.

Also on display:

Lithograph of Beethoven in 1818 by August Kloeber engraved by C. Fischer (1843); Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1998

Lithograph of Beethoven in ca. 1826 by Martin Tejcek (1841); Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1998

Miniature portrait of Beethoven by Schreier, oil on ivory, ca. 1830; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 1999

Miniature portrait of Beethoven by M. Stahl, oil on ivory, before 1900; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2006

Miniature portrait of Beethoven based on the authentic portrait of 1819-1820 by Josef Karl Stieler, oil on ivory, date unknown; Gift of the American Beethoven Society

Miniature portrait of Beethoven, oil on ivory, artist and date unknown; Gift of the American Beethoven Society




In 1871 a committee of members of the Society of Friends of Music was assembled to oversee the creation of Vienna’s first Beethoven monument. Needing to raise funds for the statue, the committee turned to Franz Liszt, who had been instrumental in raising funds for the Beethoven statue in Bonn inaugurated in 1845. At first Liszt refused to help, writing, “if already they are thinking of honoring the Art by another embellishment of one of Vienna’s public squares, wouldn’t there be a better way to do it than to erect a statue of Beethoven in the style of the town of Bonn and 30 years later?” Once his favored sculptor Kaspar Clemens Zumbusch was selected in a competition, however, Liszt’s resistance faded, and he performed Beethoven’s works in the gala benefit concert of 1877. Funds raised, Zumbusch was able to complete his monument by 1880. Although he had at initially presented a design for a solitary Beethoven unaccompanied by music allegories, the final twenty-two foot high work presents a superhuman figure. Placed beneath the sculpture on the left side is a large statue of the bound Prometheus, suffering under the vulture’s daily attack. On the right is a figure of Nike offering her victory crown to the god-like figure who brought not fire but music to humankind. In the words of art historian Alessandra Comini, “the two noble (larger-than-life) pediment figures represent the supposed poles of Beethoven’s music and of Beethoven’s life: struggle and triumph, suffering and victory.” At the base of the monument nine putti represent both the nine completed symphonies and the different aspects of Beethoven’s music: heroic, pastoral, elegiac, tragic, idyllic, painful, pastoral.

Zumbusch Bronze Maquette of Beethoven

Bronze maquette of the Beethoven monument in Vienna by Kaspar Clemens Zumbusch (1830-1915), signed and dated 1877 with Kunst Erzgiesserei Foundry mark; Gift of Tressie Campen, Ira Brilliant, and the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Also on display:

Hand-colored wood engraving of  Die Enthüllung des Beethoven-Denkmals in Wien (The Unveiling of the Beethoven Monument in Vienna) by Vincenz Katzler, 1880; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010

Hand-colored wood engraving of Die Enthüllung des Beethoven-Denkmals in Wien(The Unveiling of the Beethoven Monument in Vienna) by Vincenz Katzler, 1880; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010




The lock was sold at a Sotheby’s, London, auction in December 1994 to four members of the American Beethoven Society: Dr. Alfredo Guevara, Ira Brilliant, Caroline Crummey, and Thomas Wendel. With characteristic generosity, Dr. Guevara donated the majority of his portion of the hair to the Beethoven Center and, in 2016, gave some strands from his portion for testing in the Beethoven Genome Project. Results from these tests have not yet been announced.

The Guevara Lock of Beethoven’s Hair from 1827

 (in original frame under convex glass); Gift of Dr. Alfredo Guevara, Ira F. Brilliant, Caroline Crummey, and Thomas Wendel, 1994




No composer before Beethoven spent more time sketching his works. He often began the composing process at the fortepiano, where he liked to keep a small table with pencil and music paper handy in case an idea should be captured before it was lost. Beethoven also frequently composed in his head while out on his daily walks, which sometimes took up several hours of his day. When he was ready to begin committing his ideas to paper, however, he normally wrote on sheets of music paper that he sewed together into sketchbooks. The sketches themselves, while not secret, were never intended to be read by anyone else, so Beethoven could for the sake of speed omit key signatures, bar lines, accidentals, and many other details. He often worked with speed on the sketches, and they not infrequently give the appearance of red-hot inspiration. For some works, sketches survive that range from initial fragmentary or improvisation ideas written as single lines to long sketches called continuity drafts that cover large portions of the piece. Once Beethoven felt he was ready to write out the autograph of a work, he would transfer his latest ideas to paper in a much more laborious fashion. None of these manuscripts, however, are neat and clean, since he was obsessive about refining his works into their most perfect form at every stage of creation.

Manuscript Beethoven Sketchleaf of 1808

Sketch for the song “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” and Other Works, 1808 (originally in the collection of Countess Giulietta Guicciardi); Gift of the Hugh Stuart Center Trust and the American Beethoven Society, 1985




Sitzendorf’s porcelain is based on a fanciful painting by Alfred Graefle depicting the composer performing for his closest male friends. In the painting, no women are present, which Sitzendorf appropriately corrected. A more accurate and typical account of Beethoven’s improvisations comes from the opinionated English travel writer John Russell, who visited Germany and Austria from 1820-22 to gather information for his book A Tour of Germany. “Beethoven is the most celebrated of the living composers in Vienna, and, in certain departments, the foremost of his day,” Russell begins. “I have heard him play, but to bring him so far required some management, so great is his horror of being any thing like exhibited. Had he been plainly asked to do so, he would have flatly refused. … Beethoven, left alone, seated himself at the piano. At first he only struck now and then a few hurried and interrupted notes, as if afraid of being detected in a crime; but gradually he forgot everything else, and ran on during half an hour in a phantasy, in a style extremely varied, and marked, above all, by the most abrupt transitions. The amateurs were enraptured; to the uninitiated it was more interesting, to observe how the music of the man’s soul passed over his countenance. He seems to feel the bold, the commanding, and the impetuous, more than what is soothing or gentle. The muscles of the face swell, and its veins start out; the wild eyes doubly wild; the mouth quivers, and Beethoven looks like a wizard, overpowered by the demons he himself has called up.”

“Die Intimen bei Beethoven.” Porcelain figural group created in Sitzendorf, Germany, based on the painting by Albert Graefle (1807-1899)

Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

Also on display:

“Die Intimen bei Beethoven.” Engraving of a painting by Albert Graefle (1807-1899); Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008.




After Beethoven died, his estate was auctioned in two parts. The first consisted of his household effects. The second auction, on November 5, 1827, contained his sketches, drafts of incomplete works, autographs of finished works, contrapuntal essays, printed music, and books on music. From the auction catalog, we learn that Beethoven owned many works by other composers, including, for example, Handel’s Messiah arranged by Mozart; Mozart’s operas Idomeneo, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, and La clemenza di Tito; Mozart’s Requiem and string quartets; Haydn’s oratorios The Creation, The Seasons, and Masses nos. 1 and 3; and Handel’s complete works in the London edition. Single works by other composers such as J.S. Bach, Cherubini, and Paisielo are also inventoried. Missing from the list are any works by one of Bach’s most famous sons, Johann Christoph Bach (1735-1782), who was known as the “London Bach” and famous for own music and for influencing Mozart. In 2004 the antiquarian dealers Ulrich Drüner and Albi Rosenthal sold the American Beethoven Society a printing of Bach’s Sonatas, Opus 17, which, according to Anton Schindler, had been received from Beethoven himself. According to the Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper, there are four inscriptions in the score that appear to have been made by Beethoven himself. This discovery is important, in Dr. Cooper’s words, because it “sheds new light on Beethoven’s knowledge of early keyboard music.”

Edition of J.C. Bach’s Six Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte, Opus 17, (published by J.J. Hummel, Berlin, 1779) with Beethoven’s annotations and an inscription by Anton Schindler.\

Gift of the American Beethoven Society

Also on display:

Autograph letter by Anton Schindler, Paris, March 17, 1841; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

Translation of Schindler's “Notice to the Lovers of Beethoven’s Music” (M2B027)

Hearing that there are several translations of my biography of Beethoven in Paris just now, I warn the translators and all admirers of Beethoven that I am preparing a second edition of this work, that the music part will be much longer and in fact it will be longer altogether and will appear the end of next autumn. In the interest of Beethoven’s music, I hope that a skilled hand will soon undertake a good translation of this second edition.

I should like to draw attention to the fact that the English translation of this biography has just appeared in London in 2 volumes at Mr. H. Colburn’s and that the name of Moscheles alone, as editor appears on the title page. I think it right to protect my friend Moscheles (who only wrote the preface to the London edition) from all misunderstanding by the critics by saying that I know quite well that the omission of my name as author of the original German only took place in spite of his protests—I hope a similar arbitrary omission will not be found in a French edition!

A. Schindler
Paris, March 17, 1841




Ira Brilliant’s life as a Beethoven collector began in the 1970s when he conceived a desire to own something that Beethoven had written by hand. Accordingly, his first purchase was of a Beethoven letter. Over his lifetime, he acquired a total of seven original letters. As a consequence of collecting original letters, Mr. Brilliant also began to build what would become the finest collection of first editions of Beethoven’s music in the United States in private hands. In 1983, after being rejected by other universities, he offered his pristine collection of first editions to San José State University to be used for study purposes. Through the leadership of Arlene Okerlund (then Dean of the College of Humanities and Arts), Gail Fullerton (President), and Thomas Wendel (a member of the history faculty), the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies was founded and opened to the public in September 1985. Over the years, Brilliant began to transfer ownership of the letters collection to the Center as well.

Beethoven and His Housekeeper’s Account Leaf of July 12-13 and August 8-9, 1823(?)

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2002   READ COMPLETE TRANSCRIPTION

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2002


Everyday Life in Beethoven’s Household

Although most musicians were considered to be and lived out their lives as servants in Beethoven’s lifetime, Beethoven succeeded in becoming a member of the middle class and employed one or two servants for many of his years in Vienna. Their assistance became especially critical during the last ten years of his life when he was deaf. This manuscript documents the items that Beethoven’s housekeeper purchased with funds he had given her. The most likely candidate is a woman named Barbara Holzmann, who began working for Beethoven in May 1822 and remained until early 1826. In December of that year she re-entered his service. Beethoven, it must be said, did not like her, her manner, or her cooking, and he frequently made derogatory remarks about her in his letters where he nicknamed her “The Old Beast,” “The Old Witch,” and “The Old Devil.” She must have been made of stern stuff to live with such abuse.

Though we might regard this manuscript as a simple grocery list, it is an important document in the history of Beethoven’s financial affairs. Individual items and their prices were notated, and at the end of the week the totals were added up to see how much remained in the housekeeper’s budget. The pencil X’s and sums were written by Beethoven. In an article about this manuscript in The Beethoven Newsletter, Ira Brilliant concluded, “The greatest strength of our sheet from Beethoven’s household account book is, I believe, its revelations about the ordinary side of Beethoven, his concerns about finances (even to the smallest kreutzer) and about everyday necessities. His letters remind us constantly that he lived only by the fruits of his pen. How remarkable that alongside these traces of frugality, suspicion, and innocence were those powerful emotions and pure genius which generated a musical legacy that belongs to everyone.”

Also on display:

Wienerisches bewährtes Kochbuch,Viennese cookbook by Ignaz Gartler, revised by Barbara Hikmann, published by Joseph Gerold in Vienna 1803; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2008

Austrian currency from 1800-1816, including notes for 1, 2, 5, 10, 100, and 500 Gulden; Gifts of the American Beethoven Society, 2005




In this letter to the playwright, theater manager, and librettist Treitschke, Beethoven’s personality is clearly in evidence. He begins by thanking Treitschke for his advice to the composer to see a set designer (who was probably Ortner, a “court theater architect”), perhaps for help with a production of Wellington’s Victory. Beethovenarchly comments that it is better to “deal with artists rather than the so-called great ones (small dwarfs).” He then asks Treitschke to consider producing Goethe’s play Egmont with Beethoven’s music at the Theater an der Wien, where Treitschke was vice-director, for Beethoven’s benefit. Finally he ends the letter by skewering the composer Adalbert Gyrowetz, who had been granted an official court position Beethoven probably envied: Second Kapellmeister of the Vienna Court Theater, for which Gyrowetz was obliged to compose one opera and one ballet a year.

Beethoven to Georg Friedrich Treitschke, before February 27, 1814

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2000

English translation by William Meredith

“My dear T.! Taking your advice I visited the architect, and the matter is already settled for me in the best way, it is better to deal with artists rather than the so-called great ones (small tiny tiny ones)—your song will be sent to you on whatever stroke of the clock you determine—my thanks for [your revision of] my opera will hurry ahead to you— … Worthy friend farewell, today I spoke to the principal bass singer of the Austrian Empire full of enthusiasm about a new opera from—girovez, I laughed heartily about the new artistic path that this work will open for us.—wholly your Beethowen”’

* word play in German here (“leisten,” to perform, accomplish, render, in place of “leiten,” to conduct  or lead)

Also on display:

Portrait engraving of Adalbert Gyrowetz (1763-1850) by J.G. Mansfeld, published by Artaria in Vienna, 1798; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2004

First edition of the orchestral parts for the Incidental music for the play Egmont by J.W. von Goethe, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, 1812; Gift of the American Beethoven Society in honor of Dr. Handel Evans, former interim president of SJSU, in appreciation of his support for the Beethoven Center, 1994




This letter documents the warm feelings that Beethoven continued to feel for the family of Franz and Antonie Brentano long after they had moved back to Frankfurt from Vienna in 1812. According to some sources, Antonie (1780-1869) first met Beethoven at some point in the 1790s while living with her parents in Vienna. In 1806 she married Franz and moved to Frankfurt. Three years later her father became very ill, and she returned to Vienna to spend the last few weeks of his life with him. She remained until 1812 to complete the complicated task of settling his estate. During the years 1810-12, she and her family became close to the composer. Beethoven visited them, attended concerts at their home, played for them, and played with their children. Because she was often ill, Beethoven used to come and improvise for her in her anteroom to, in Antonie’s words, “tell me everything and offer me comfort.” In 1819 Antonie described Beethoven as “guileless, straightforward, wise, and wholely benevolent.”

Beethoven begins the letter by stating that he had sent several of his musical works to them “in order to recall myself to your friendly remembrance, all the members of the Brentano family remain always dear to me, and especially shall I always remember you, my honored friend [Franz], with true respect, I even wish that you may believe how often I have prayed to heaven for the long continuance of your life, so that you long may be a useful and honored head of your family.” Later he writes, “I really very much miss my contacts with you as well as your wife and dear children, for where would I be able to find something similar here in Vienna I therefore seldom go out, for I have always found it impossible to associate with men unless a certain interchange of ideas is possible.” Complicating our understanding of the letter is the fact that Antonie is one of the leading contenders as the solution to the riddle of the “Immortal Beloved,” with whom Beethoven was in love in 1812. If she was the Immortal Beloved, Beethoven’s affectionate words about the entire family were not certainly not “guileless,” “straightforward,” or “wholely benevolent.”

Manuscript Beethoven Letter to Franz Brentano from February 15, 1817

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2003

English translation by William Meredith

Vienna, February 15, 1817

My esteemed friend!

Some time ago I sent you several music works, in order to recall myself to your friendly remembrance, all the members of the Brentano family remain always dear to me, and especially shall I always remember you, my honored friend [Franz], your with true respect, I even wish that you may believe how often I have prayed to heaven for the long continuance of your life, so that you long may be a useful and honored head of your family, you will always find me full of such sentiments;—as for me, my health has been shaken for a long time, for which the condition of the country bares not a little responsibility, whereby thus far no improvement is to be expected, in addition further deterioration probably takes place every day—Mr. Kessler has sent me through you a work that demonstrates his talent[,] up to now I have not been able to write to him but I shall do so soon in detail—I really very much miss my contacts with you as well as your wife and dear children, for where would it be possible to find something similar here in Vienna[?] I therefore seldom go out, for I have always found it impossible to associate with men unless a certain interchange of ideas is possible—now all my best wishes, I wish all possible beauty and goodness for you in your life as a crown of your worthiness, may I also not appear to be unworthy to be recalled in your memories.—all best greetings for my esteemed friend Toni and your dear children, with true regards and devotion, your friends L.v. Beethoven.

Also on display:

Autograph note in English by Bettina Brentano, undated; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2000

Transcription: “Breife von Beethoven an Bettina Brentano be good to me and help for the monument to make read my book”

First edition of Dedié à Spontini, a collection of seven songs by Bettina (Brentano) Arnim, privately published in Berlin for the composer, 1842; Gift of Ted Walden, 2006




Many of Beethoven’s surviving letters were written to his publishers, who, being professional businessmen, preserved them carefully. The Schott publishing firm was one of Beethoven’s most important publishers. Founded in Mainz, Germany, by Bernhard Schott (1748-1809), the firm continued by his sons Johann Andreas Schott (1781-1840) and Johann Joseph Schott (1782-1855) after his death. The firm’s association with Beethoven date back to the composer’s years in Bonn, which makes sense as Mainz, like Bonn, is on the Rhine River and only seventy miles from Bonn. In 1791 the firm published the twenty-year-old composer’s Variations for Fortepiano on Righini’s Arietta “Venni amore,” WoO 65. The brothers did not have contact with Beethoven after he moved to Vienna until 1824, when they wrote the composer to express their desire to publish his latest works. On March 11, 1824, Beethoven offered them the Missa solemnis (described as “my greatest work” in the letter), the Ninth Symphony, and a new string quartet (the late quartet in E-Major, Opus 127). At the letter’s close he explains: “when dealing with these proceedings, do not judge me a businessman, I am not permitted to despise competition [between publishers] even though I am a true artist, by earning money I am able to work faithfully for my muses and am able to provide for very many people in a noble manner—”

Letter to B. Schott’s Sons, November 16, 1824

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2000

English translation by Theodore Albrecht; punctuation amended

Dear Sirs!

My answer to your last [letter] has waited a long time, because I was ill in the country, however, I have now fairly well recovered—I therefore report to you that by the day after tomorrow both works [the mass and symphony] will be delivered to Fries and Company, by the end of the month, the Quartet will also follow, I would be pleased if, by then, I could receive the fee designated for it directly upon delivery of the Quartet— for today it is not possible for me to tell you anything else further, except that I shall write to you again in a few days, when I shall make you a proposition that will perhaps please you. With esteem and friendship, your most devoted Beethoven.

Also on display:


First edition of the parts for the String Quartet in E-flat Major, Opus 127, published by B. Schott in Paris, 1826; Gift of Ira and Irma Brilliant, 1992




Since there was no effective system of copyright protection for music compositions during Beethoven’s lifetime, he followed a practice learned from Haydn that would give him double income for each work. Dual publication in Austria and England enabled Beethoven to gain additional income from works that would be pirated as soon as they appeared anyway. One of the most important arrangements was worked out with Robert Birchall (ca. 1760-1819), an English music seller, instrument dealer, and publisher. Birchall’s first publication of a Beethoven work, the Kreutzer Sonata, appeared in 1805, but there is no record of any communication between the composer and publisher from that time. In 1815 Beethoven contracted with Birchall to publish his own fortepiano arrangement of Wellington’s Victory, a fortepiano reduction of the Seventh Symphony by Anton Diabelli, the Violin Sonata in G Major, Opus 96, and the Archduke Trio, Opus 97. Beethoven carefully informed Birchall of the dates that the works should appear in England so that they would coincide with the Viennese publications, and he sent Birchall separate manuscript copies for engraving. Though additional collaborations were discussed, Birchall declined because the fees Beethoven demanded were too high.

Letter to Robert Birchall, October 1, 1816

Gift of the Hugh Stuart Center Trust and the American Beethoven Society, 1985

Beethoven’s letter was written by Johann von Häring (ca. 1761-1818), a businessman and violinist who had played string quartets with Mozart . During 1815-16 Häring assisted Beethoven with his English correspondence with Birchall, Charles Neate, and George Thomson. Since his English-language skills were weak, Beethoven dictated the letter in German to Häring, who simultaneously translated it into English. (Häring had spent more than a year in England as a young man and had returned from a visit in 1814.) Beethoven signed the letter in German script at the end. To save paper, which was relatively expensive, the letter was folded into ninths, Birchall’s address was added on a blank section, and the letter was sealed with red wax. As is typical with many of the composer’s letters, a section of the paper was removed when the letter was opened. In this case, fortunately, no text was lost.

Also on display:

Receipt signed by Beethoven for £5 from Fries & Comp. on behalf of Thomas Coutts for Robert Birchall, dated August 3, 1816; Gift of Ira Brilliant, Jim Compton, Tom Wendel, and the New York Chapter of the American Beethoven Society, 1996

First English edition of the Sonata for Violin and Fortepiano in G Major, Opus 96, published by Robert Birchall in London, 1816; Gift of the American Beethoven Society




As surprising as it is to us today, Beethoven was frequently responsible for not only composing and performing his works but also for arranging for their performance. Two of the most difficult problems he faced were finding suitable locations and orchestras that would agree to work with him. The famous concert of May 7, 1824, in which the Viennese premieres of three movements of the Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony were given, was particularly difficult to arrange, in part because of the composer’s indecisiveness over the advice given from too many of his friends and nephew. Problems arose not only with finding a location of the concert but also with the orchestra, conductors, ticket prices, the soloists, and the number of rehearsals. Beethoven’s secretary Schindler negotiated with the Theater-an-der-Wien, the Royal Imperial Kärtnthnerthor Theater, the Grosse Redoutensaal, and the Landständischer Saal. At one point Beethoven grew so vexed he wrote to Schindler, “I request you not to come again until I send for you, there will be no concert.” To Count Moritz Lichnowsky, “I despise treachery—do not visit me any more, there will be no concert—” To the violinist Schuppanzigh: “Let him not visit me anymore, I shall give no concert.” Much to the credit of the insulted, the three men ignored Beethoven’s ill temper and succeeded with the arrangements for what became one the most important concerts of his life.

Manuscript Beethoven letter to Prince Ferdinand von Trauttsmansdorff, March 21, 1824, written by Anton Schindler and signed by Beethoven in Latin script

On long-term loan from Robert Brilliant

Your excellency!

Since I have heard that I will not have April 7 for my concert, I most humbly beg your excellency to grant me the Grosse Redoutensaal for a concert on April 8, and to be sure at mid-day, whereby neither the theater nor I will be inconvenienced. I am deeply obliged to your excellency for the kindness you have always shown me, and what is even more flattering, that your excellency is not entirely unsympathetic to my art. I hope soon to find the opportunity to demonstrate my deepest respect and admiration for your excellency.

Your excellency’s most obedient,
Ludwig van Beethoven
(Vienna, March 21, 1824.

Also on display:

Program for a benefit concert for Charles Neate, King’s Theater, London, April 30, 1830, featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony led by Sir George Smart; Gift of the American Beethoven Society

Hand colored woodcut engraving of the Kärtnerthortheater in Vienna, 1887
Woodcut engraving, hand colored, 1887; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2009




In 1815 one of Beethoven’s Brothers, Kaspar Karl (born 1774), died from tuberculosis, and named Beethoven and the nine-year-old boy’s mother, Johanna as co-guardians. As the oldest male sibling, the composer was already obligated by law to serve as the boy’s “true father.” Believing that she was not a fit mother, in part because of conviction for embezzlement of a very valuable pearl necklace, Beethoven tried for five years to have her removed as co-guardian, and only succeeded in 1820 with the help of powerful friends. Even with the help of his new co-guardian Karl Peters, a tutor and estate manager, Beethoven, through deeply well intentioned, was not the best choice for the critical task of raising or even supervising the upbringing of a child. Beethoven was overly controlling in many ways: he was obsessed with keeping the child from his mother at all times, was frequently harsh in his discipline, and interfered in Karl’s choice of friends.

Manuscript Beethoven note to Karl Holz, August 8 or September 26, 1826

Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2002

Beethoven’s note, the equivalent of a phone call or text message today, was written to his close friend Karl Holz in the aftermath of the suicide attempt of Beethoven’s nephew Karl on July 30, 1826. The nineteen-year-old son of his brother Kaspar Karl had been under Beethoven’s guardianship (or co-guardianship) since he was nine. Beethoven, though deeply well-intended, was not the best choice for the critical task of raising or even supervising the raising of a child. In the summer of 1826 the nephew and uncle quarreled frequently. Karl finally hinted that he would take his life at the end of July. According to the conversation books, Holz unsuccessfully attempted to get Karl arrested by the police to save him. On Sunday, July 30, Karl went to one of Beethoven’s favorite spots, the ruins of Rauhenstein in the beautiful Helenenthal, and shot himself in the head with the second bullet, which grazed the bone but did not penetrate his skull. A teamster found him in the ruins, carried him down the cliff, and drove him to his mother’s home in Vienna. When questioned by the police about his motives, Karl replied that Beethoven “tortured him too much” and that “I grew worse because my uncle wanted me to be better.” Despite his motivation to be the best replacement father possible, Beethoven’s actions had led to catastrophe.

Complete English translation:

Please leave the name of the police inspector where we were, what a pretty story yesterday Karl was taken away by the police and how—they are not to be found, I am running around trying to find someone.

Also on display:

Manuscript Beethoven note written in French to his nephew Karl, probably from July 15, 1825; Gift of Ira Brilliant, 2002; In this note, Beethoven asks his nephew to deliver an enclosed letter to his publisher, A.M. Schlesinger.

Autograph note from Ignaz von Seyfried to Karl Holz, undated; Gift of the American Beethoven Society, 2010; Text: “gezeimand Herrn von Holz um die Albrechtsbergsche Motette ‘Dexter Domini’ in Partitur”




As one of their gifts to SJSU in founding the Beethoven Center, Ira and Irma Brilliant donated funds for the acquisition of a historical fortepiano in memory of their daughter Maxine. In 1984 Acting Director Thomas Wendel, after extensive research and consultation with fortepiano experts around the country, commissioned fortepiano builders Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti to build a reproduction of a Dulcken fortepiano from ca. 1790 in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The Center’s beautiful copy was completed by the date of the Center’s opening in September 1985.

Dulcken Fortepiano constructed by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti, 1985

Gift of the Brilliant Family in memory of Maxine Brilliant (1952-1962)

Description: The five-octave instrument used as a model for the Center's fortepiano is located at the Smithsonian Institution. However, the Center’s copy was built with five additional keys so that it could accommodate Beethoven's early period fortepiano works as well as some sonatas from his middle period. The case, which is more decorative than the original Dulcken, and its inner parts are made mostly of wood, which gives the instrument considerable resonance. The woods include basswood, maple, mahogany, Swiss pear, lemonwood, cherry, walnut, spruce, beach, and poplar. The hammers are covered in leather and the thin strings (comparable to harpsichord strings) run straight across a wooden sounding board without support by a metal frame. There are two strings for each note, and the string are roughly half the diameter of modern strings.  The instrument has two knee levers rather than foot pedals. The right lever lifts the damper rail and the left lever engages the moderator (or mute) stop, which slips a piece of felt in between the hammer and the string. The ebony keys are slightly shorter and narrower than the keys of our modern piano, so large intervals are easier to reach.

For more photographs of the Dulcken fortepiano, view the Beethoven Center’s collection of historical keyboards.




In April 2005 Pamela Emerson (Arlington, Massachusetts) contacted the Beethoven Center to see if we were interested in acquiring her Broadwood fortepiano. She offered a below-appraisal price with the possibility of spreading payments out over five years with no interest because she believed that the instrument belonged in the historical keyboard collection of the Center. A committee formed by ABS Executive Board member Mona Onstead developed a proposal to solicit members of the American Beethoven Society and other friends for annual pledges. The Committee’s mailing resulted in a sufficient number of pledges from twenty-two donors to enable the Center to inform Emerson that we would be delighted to accept her generous offer. The final payment was mailed in June 2010, and the dedication recital was performed on July 1, 2010, by Oberlin professor David Breitman.

Original 1823 Broadwood & Sons Fortepiano

Description by William Garlick (historical keyboard technician, Isle of Man, British Isles):

A grand fortepiano contained in an oak-jointed framed case with dark stringing on the exterior surfaces. The case retains the squared-off design of the early harpsichord, having a three-part hinged lid with the usual three brass lid latches on the cheek and bent side. The whole is raised on four turned ballaster legs in mahogany with casters. Two wood foot pedals (controlling damper sustain and una-duo chorda shift) are mounted on a wood suspended lyre. The casework is in fine restored condition. The serial number 9644 and the date 1823 are stamped into the wrest plank. A plaque above the keyboard inlaid into the name board has the following inscription: “John Broadwood and Sons, Makers to His Majesty and the Princesses, Great Pulteney Street, Golden Square, London.” The keyboard is compass CC - f"" (six and a half octaves) with ivory-covered naturals and ebony accidentals activating the normal Broadwood patented single escapement English Action with over-dampers. The spruce soundboard carries a divided bass and treble bridge carrying brass bass strings and soft iron treble strings, trichord.

For more photographs of our Broadwood fortepiano, view the Beethoven Center’s collection of historical keyboards.




In 2000 James Green, a member of the Executive Board of the American Beethoven Society, encouraged Ira Brilliant and William Meredith to collaborate in a search for an original fortepiano appropriate for the performance of Beethoven’s late works, an instrument that would complement the fortepiano given by the Brilliants appropriate for the composer’s early music. After consultations with Cornell University professor and renowned fortepianist Malcolm Bilson and an inspection by Green and Meredith, the Center settled on an extremely rare Viennese fortepiano owned by Edward Swenson of Swenson’s Piano Shop (Trumansburg, New York). Because he wished to find an appropriate home for the instrument, Swenson agreed to sell the instrument at a substantial discount from its advertised price, and a small group of donors contributed funds that enabled us to turn Green’s dream into a reality in the summer of 2001. The dedication recital for the instrument was given by Malcolm Bilson.

Original 1827 Mathias Jakesch Fortepiano

Gift of Ira and Irma Brilliant; Patricia and Jim Compton; James F. Green; Carol and Lin Krebs; Heidi and Michael Melas; Elizabeth and Richard Moley; Dean Carmen Sigler, College of Humanities and the Arts; Jack Silveira; and Thomas Wendel, 2001.

Description By Edward Swenson:

MATHIAS JAKESCH Concert fortepiano, Vienna, 1827, in perfect original condition. 7'7" long, 4' 2" wide. Keyboard range: C''' to f''''. Six pedals including single and double moderator, keyboard shift, damper lift, Janissary, and bassoon. INSCRIPTION ON THE NAMEBOARD: [Black ink on opaque glass]:’Mathias Jakesch Bürger/Wien_Wieden No. 275.’ Printed on a business card on the soundboard: ‘Mathias Jakesch/Bürgl. Clavier Instrumentenmacher/ [engraving of a grand and a square fortepiano] auf der Wieden in der Waaggasse beÿm blauen Hechten/ No. 275 in Wien.’ Extraordinarily beautiful walnut cabinet decorated with gold leaf. HISTORY AND PROVENANCE: Originally this fortepiano was the property of a famous noble family in Siena. The elaborate pedal lyre contains elements from the coat of arms of the Chigi-Gori-Zondadari families. No other instruments by Mathias Jakesch are currently documented. A piano and organ maker, Mathias Jakesch was born around 1783 in Loschin near Brno, Moravia. He died 14 July 1828 in Vienna at age 45. He lived in Vienna auf der Wieden, Kirchengasse 182. At Mathias Jakesch's death on July 14, 1828, he left his widow Walburga with five adolescent children. The guardian of his children was the famous fortepiano builder Conrad Graf.

For more photographs of our Jakesch fortepiano, view the Beethoven Center’s collection of historical keyboards.