Autograph Letter - Ludwig van Beethoven

BEETHOVEN, Ludwig van (1770-1827). Autograph letter signed (‘Beethoven’) to [Count Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz: ‘H[err] von Seneskall!’) , n.p. [Vienna], n.d. [?December 1816].

In German. One page (188 x 228 mm), (small tape repairs to splits at verso edges, small holes along central crease where folded, slight toning where mounted). Provenance: Robert Lonsdale, London, by 1869 (as listed in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung; Robert was the son of Christopher Lonsdale, assistant to Robert Birchall (1750-1819), Beethoven's English publisher) – Edwin Franko Goldman collection.

Beethoven writes in playful form to Nikolaus Zmeskall, requesting some quills. ‘Kindly pluck some feathers out of yourself, and put them on us. We have tried to do without you, but we must shortly beg your Mastership to communicate to us the secret of your skill, which we recognise to the full – quills, of which we are at present in want, we have none; we therefore entreat you, do not be angry with us for thus troubling you, for we were forced to it. Soon, however, I will bring some with me, from which you can complete your set...’ 

One of the first acquaintances Beethoven made in Vienna, Count Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz (1759–1833) maintained a firm friendship with the composer from the 1790s onwards; the two met often to drink wine in a local tavern, and Zmeskall helped Beethoven with quotidian matters: finding him an assistant, lending him money, and, as here, providing him with pens. A career as a civil servant in the Hungarian Court Chancellery notwithstanding, Zmeskall’s passion was the cello; Beethoven dedicated the humorously-titled Duet mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern (duet with two obbligato eye-glasses) for viola and cello to his equally short-sighted musician friend. A light-hearted note unites many of the pieces of correspondence, numbering over 100, from Beethoven to Zmeskall: here he addresses his friend as ‘Seneskall’, poking fun not only at the pronunciation of his name, but at his links to the Hungarian aristocracy. No 1025 in the Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, vol. 3 (Munich, 1996-1998).

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