Ira F. Brilliant’s Collection of Beethoven Letters and Documents
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.
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.
Beethoven and His Housekeeper’s Account Leaf of July 12-13 and August 8-9, 1823(?)
Gift of Ira F. Brilliant, 2002
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.”
Complete transcription of the household account leaf with English translation
See also entry with more details and downloadable image in the Beethoven Gateway.
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
See entry with more details in the Beethoven Gateway
Austrian currency from 1800-1816, including notes for 1, 2, 5, 10, 100, and 500 Gulden (click on the numbers to see more details and downloadable images in the Beethoven Gateway)
Gifts of the American Beethoven Society, 2005