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Beethoven on poetry and music

June 1, 2008

This letter was written to Wilhelm Gerhard, Leipzig. The comment in square brackets is by Dr AC Kalischer.

Nussdorf, July 15, 1817

Dear Sir,

You once honoured me with a request that I should set to music some of your Anacreontic songs. Being very busy, my not answering it was impossibility rather than lack of courtesy. To gratify your wishes was still more difficult, as those poems which you sent me do not in the least lend themselves to vocal music. Pictorial descriptions belong to painting; even the poet in this respect may, in comparison with my art, esteem himself lucky, for his domain in this respect is not so limited as mine, yet the latter extends further into other regions and to attain to our kingdom is not easy. My illness, for nearly 4 years, is partly the cause of my answering many applications by silence. Since last October, 1816, my illness has increased. I had a severe cold which led to inflammation of the lungs; I say all this in order that you may not think me discourteous, or else, like many others, misjudge me.
With respect,
Yours truly,

[The merchant Gerhard often came to Vienna on business. On one of his visits Beethoven made him a present of the autograph of Gretels Warnung. The above letter is of special interest, as Beethoven seldom broached aesthetic questions.]

Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, p.228.

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