More Than You Deserve

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler
Ludwig van Beethoven (ca. 1820 portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler)

Ludwig van Beethoven was very dependent upon the good will of his publishers, but he was blunt by nature, and in a letter to Breitkopf and Hertel in June 1810, Beethoven minced no words:

“Plenty to do, enjoying life a little, suddenly very busy, yet still unable to resist doing nothing from time to time–all of those situations have kept me from answering your letter. You can still have everything I offered you. And now I’m also going to give you the music to Goethe’s Egmont, which includes ten numbers, overture, entr’acte music and so on. For this work I am asking 400 silver gulden. I can’t make any other deal without coming out a loser. I’ve cut my fee for your sake, even though you don’t deserve that kind of a break from me. After all, your behavior is frequently so arbitrary that only a person prejudiced in your favor would go on working with you. I’d like to go on dealing with you in some capacity, but at the same time I can’t end up a loser.”

“When you write to me, please enclose another list of the works I’ve offered you in order to avoid any misunderstanding. But reply immediately so as not to tie me up any further, especially since Egmont is to be performed in a few days and I’ll be receiving offers for the music. I might add that the cost of living in Vienna has continued to go up, so that the amount of money a person needs to live on is frightful. From that point of view–or any other for that matter–my fee is certainly not too high. My four thousand gulden, on which I can no longer live, isn’t worth even a thousand in today’s prices.”

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