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Sponsorship needed -- all replies care of L v Beethoven

A short paragraph in the paper caught my eye the other morning. A letter written the best part of 200 years ago had turned up in a collection left to a conservatory in Lübeck, in northern Germany.

It cast light on how little things change with the passage of time, for it was an appeal for sponsorship. What made it special was that it had been sent by someone so sure of his own celebrity that he suggested any replies should be addressed, quite simply, to "L v Beethoven, Vienna".

This was late in what had been a dazzling career. Beethoven was writing to Franz Stockhausen, another composer, in Paris. Four years before his death in 1827 at the age of 56, Beethoven had a lot on his plate. He was severely deaf, and he wasn't making much money. His health was failing -- one of his requests was to be put in touch with a dentist he'd met some time before.

He also had a sizable financial commitment as guardian of his teenage nephew. On the death of his brother, he'd fought a nasty court battle with his sister-in-law for custody of the boy.

Beethoven was looking for funding for his great Mass, the Missa Solemnis, which had spectacularly missed its deadline, the installation as archbishop of his friend, patron, and one-time pupil, Habsburg Archduke Rudolf.

The Mass was proving to be a huge undertaking, and needed to pay its way. The letter to Stockhausen wasn't Beethoven's only ploy. He'd worked on deals with various publishers and secured more than one advance. And he promised handwritten copies of the Mass to whoever he thought might stump up an attractive fee.

It was one of those approaches that led to the only complete performance of the Missa Solemnis in Beethoven's lifetime, a benefit concert in St Petersburg in 1824.

That same year, three movements of the Mass were sung at a concert in Vienna, playing second fiddle to the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, one of the composer's last appearances in public.

Facing the orchestra on the podium, he was so deaf that he was unaware of the thundering ovation that greeted this latest masterpiece from the audience behind him, until one of the singers urged him to turn around and take a bow.

Last spring, a scribbled shopping list reminding Beethoven he needed matches, a mousetrap, a razor blade and some soap made €60,000 in an auction in Cologne.

Experts reckon the latest find, complete with its red wax seal, would more than double that, if the conservatory in Lübeck ever decides to sell.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ Lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning.


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