7 September 1822

Dear Uncle,

     I hope you remember me.  It is Christoph, your nephew, who writes.  As to the reasons, I will not keep you in suspense.  I write, Uncle, because something terrible has happened.  A madman has moved into our house.

     Do you remember that when Father died, Mother decided to rent out his office upstairs?  Well, she has done it, and Ludwig van Beethoven has moved in.

     Every morning at dawn Mr. Beethoven begins to make his dreadful noise upstairs.  Loud poundings and howlings come through the floor.  They are like the sounds of an injured beast.  All morning Mr. Beethoven carries on this way.  After lunch he storms into the street.  He comes home, sometimes long after the house is quiet for the night, tracking mud and stamping his way up the stairs above our heads.

     Mother says I mustn’t blame him.  He’s deaf and can’t hear the noise he makes.  But he wakes up the twins, and they start their crying.  They cry all day.

     Uncle, I must make this one request.  I beg you to tell my mother to send Mr. Beethoven away.

                                           Your nephew,


                                                   22 October 1822

Dear Uncle,

     I hope you will forgive my troubling you, but I am sure that you will want to hear this news.  Our family is now the laughingstock of Vienna .

     I opened the door this morning to find a crowd in front of our house.  They were looking up at Mr. Beethoven’s window and laughing, so I looked up too.  There was Mr. Beethoven, staring at a sheet of music.  And Uncle, he had no clothes on at all!  It was a dreadful sight!

     You should see him setting out for the afternoon.  He hums to himself.  He growls out tunes.  He waves his arms.  His pockets bulge with papers and pencils.  On the street the children run and call him names.

     Mr. Beethoven is so famous that sometimes people stop outside our house, hoping they will see him.  But if anyone asks, I say he has moved away.

                                           Your nephew,


                                                  29 October 1822

Dear Uncle,

     I have now seen with my own eyes that Mr. Beethoven is mad.  I will tell you the story in the hope that you will do something at last.

     Last night, when I was getting ready for bed, I happened to look up.  There were beads of water collecting on the ceiling above my head.

     As usual, Mother was busy with the twins, so I climbed the stairs and crept along the hall to Mr. Beethoven’s room.  I looked in.  He was standing there with no shirt on.  He had a jug of water in his hands.  He was pouring the water over his head, right there in the middle of the room, and all this time stamping his feet like he was marching or listening to a song.

     You should see my father’s study!  Do you remember how tidy he was?  Well, now there are papers lying everywhere--on the floor, on the chairs, on the bed that isn’t made.  There are dirty dishes stacked up and clothing crumpled on the floor.  And another thing, he has been writing on the wall with a pencil!

     I said nothing to Mr. Beethoven, of course.  Luckily, he did not see me, and I ran back down the stairs.

     Uncle, if you are thinking of coming to our aid, there could be no better time than now.


                                5 November 1822

Dear Uncle,

     Another week has passed, but life is no calmer here.

     I’ve been thinking.  If Mr. Beethoven were to leave, surely we could find someone nice to live upstairs.  The rooms are large, and Father’s patients always talked about the view of the river.  Father used to carry de down to the riverbank on his shoulders, even down the steep part right behind the house.

     I think that of all the places in the house, I like the outside best.  I can be alone there and get away from all the noise inside.  But on this day even the stray dog outside was making his pitiful voice heard.

                                           Yours truly,


                                10 December 1822

Dear Uncle,

     It has now been a full three months since Mr. Beethoven moved in, but our household has not yet become like any sort of ordinary place.

     Mr. Beethoven has a friend named Mr. Schindler who visits almost every day.  He always says, “Poor Mr. Beethoven.  He is a lonely man.”

     You know that Mr. Beethoven is deaf.  When he has visitors, they write what they want to say in a book.  He reads their message and answers them out loud.  He has a low and fuzzy voice.

     Mr. Beethoven’s eyes are weak as well.  When he works too long by candlelight, his eyes begin to ache.  He sometimes sits alone, with a cloth wrapped around his head to keep out the light.  He sits, not seeing and not hearing, in his chair.

     Uncle, there is no hour of the day when I forget that Mr. Beethoven is in the house.

                                        Your nephew,


                                                   4 February 1823

Dear Uncle,

     This afternoon a messenger arrived, bearing a note for Mr. Beethoven.

     The messenger said to me, “This is from Prince Karl Lichnowsky.  But the prince says that if Mr. Beethoven’s door is closed, he is not to be disturbed.”

     Mr. Beethoven must be a terrible man if even a prince is afraid of him.

                                           Your nephew,


                                               26 February 1823

Dear Uncle,

     No news today but this do you remember I once told you about a stray dog who was whining on the street?  He is a small and spotted dog, and I have found a way to make him stop his crying.

     Today he seemed quite pleased to share my sugar cake from lunch.


                                                10 March 1823

Dear Uncle,

     No, it is not true that Mr. Beethoven has three pianos.  He has four!  And you should see them!  To begin with, some of his pianos have no legs.  He takes the legs off to move them and so that he can play them when he is sitting on the floor.  That way he can feel his playing through the floorboards, which he must do because, of course, he cannot hear.

     But it’s surprising that his pianos can be played at all.  Many of the strings are broken and curled up.  They look like birds’ nests made of wire.  And the pianos are stained inside from the times he’s knocked the inkwell with his sleeve.

     And Mr. Beethoven has all sorts of bells on his desk, and four ear trumpets to help him hear, and something called metronome as well. It’s a little box with a stick on it.  The stick goes back and forth and back and forth and tells musicians how fast they should play.

     Mr. Beethoven has a name for me.  He calls me “the little gatekeeper” because I am always sitting outside on the step.

                                           Yours truly,



                                           21 April 1823

Dear Uncle,

     Do you remember me telling you that Mr. Beethoven leaves each afternoon for a walk?  Did you wonder where he goes?  Well, now I know, and I will tell you the story.

     Mother sometimes says that instead of just staying on the front steps it would be nice if I’d spend some time inside.  I used to believe she meant it until this morning.

     I thought of something to play with the twins.  I rolled up a bit of cardboard like an ear trumpet and put one end in little Teresa’s ear.  I said, “GOOD MORNING< BABY!” very loudly and she started to scream.  Mother said it hurt her.  So I went outside again and sat in my usual place on the step.

     Then Mr. Schindler came downstairs.  He said to me, “The master needs new pencils,” and off I went to the shop.  

     When I came back, Mr. Schindler was gone.  No one was upstairs but Mr. Beethoven, and he was writing at his desk. I stamped my feet on the floor to get his attention and when he didn’t notice I stamped harder until at last I was stamping as hard as I could.  Then suddenly he turned around and saw me.  When he laughs, he sounds like a lion.

     So today I went along with him on his walk.  At times Mr. Beethoven forgot that I was with him.  He would hum and sometimes wave his arms.  He took out his papers and made some little notes.

     We walked outside Vienna into the tall woods and then past the woods and into the fields.  Uncle, if you were to come to visit me, I would show you where we walked today.


                                                 30 June 1823

Dear Uncle,

     Spring has come and gone, and now it is summer.  The house is quiet because tonight Mr. Beethoven has gone to Baden , where he will spend the hottest months.  He will finish his symphony and then he will come back.

     Tonight as I write you it is evening, but I cannot sleep with the sun still shining through the shutters.  From my room I can hear Mother playing piano as she used to when I was small.

     I have been sitting here thinking about something Mr. Schindler said.  He said, “Mr. Beethoven works so hard because he believes that music can change the world.”

                                           29 October 1823

Dear Uncle,

     Mr. Beethoven has come home, and so our house is in an uproar again.  Someone has given him another piano, and there was a lot of trouble getting it up the stairs.

     And then last night he had a party.  A lot of people went in and out very late, and the more cheerful they became upstairs, the noisier it was for us.

     Finally, it was impossible to sleep.  I could hear two ladies singing.  I had seen them earlier, laughing on the stairs.  They are called sopranos because they are singers who can sing very high.

     Mr. Beethoven has a housekeeper.  She says that when the sopranos come up the stairs, Mr. Beethoven rushes like a schoolboy to change his coat.  And he won’t let her make the coffee for the.  It must be perfect, with exactly sixty beans for every cup.  He counts them himself.

     Uncle, I have asked Mother if you can come to visit.  She said she would be delighted if you would.  She thinks you would enjoy the goings-on.


                                                27 March 1824

Dear Uncle,

     I know this will come as a surprise, but this time I write you with good news.

     I was standing on the upstairs landing today when my favorite soprano came by to get tickets for the concert.  At least she is now my favorite.

     She had something to ask of Mr. Beethoven and she wrote her request in his book.  Then she wrote another request, handed him the book, and winked at me.

     He read her words and said, “Certainly.  The boy and his mother will have tickets as well.”

     And so Mother and I will be going to the Ninth Symphony.  I wrote “thank you” as neatly as I could in his book.

     As for the twins, Uncle, of course they still torment me.  It is what they were put on earth to do.

     Now I have a new name for my sisters.  I call them “the sopranos.”  It makes my mother laugh.

                                           Yours truly,


                                                  20 April 1824

Dear Uncle,

     I know now that all of us have been quite happy of late.  And the way I know it is that in the past few days our happiness has vanished once again.  With the symphony just two weeks away, Mr. Beethoven’s moods are fierce.

     Caroline, his housekeeper, is going to leave to marry the baker next door.  She told Mr. Beethoven today, and he became very angry.  He picked up an egg and threw it at her.

     Then Mr. Schindler came rushing down the stairs like a scalded cat.  He told Mr. Beethoven that his new coat won’t be ready for the concert in time.  He tried to talk to Mr. Beethoven about another coat but, as Mr. Schindler said, “The master is in no mood for details.”

     And I have not helped matters.  Today, when I was in his room, I disturbed some of his papers as I was passing by his desk.  They fluttered to the floor.  I am afraid these papers had been ordered in some very special way because Mr. Beethoven said, “Now I must do work attain that I have already done.”

     Uncle, just when life was getting better, I have ruined things again.

                                          Your nephew

                                                      May 1824

Dear Uncle,

     Mr. Beethoven has forgotten the incident with the papers.  He squeezed my shoulder in a friendly way when he passed me in the hall this afternoon.

     Now the house is quiet, and I am alone.  The concert is tomorrow night, and so, of course, I cannot sleep.  I think of Mr. Beethoven alone upstairs.  I have not heard him stir for quite some time.  I wonder what he’s thinking about.  I wonder if he’s awake tonight like me.

     Perhaps he is hearing something beautiful in his head.

                                                 7 May 1824

Dear Uncle,

     Tonight I have been to the Ninth Symphony.  It is very late.  I have already tried to sleep, but it seems I cannot do so before I describe this night to you.

     The concert looked as I expected.  There was Mr. Beethoven on the stage, waving his arms as I have seen him do so many times upstairs. And there were the singers.  I had seem them often too, tramping up and down our halls.  And there were the musicians scowling at their charts.  These sights were so familiar.

     It was the music, Uncle, that took me by surprise.

     And when the music ended, the audience was on its feet.  Everyone was standing and cheering and clapping and waving scarves and crying and trying to make Mr. Beethoven hear them.

     But he couldn’t hear us and he didn’t know that we were cheering until on of the sopranos took his sleeve and turned him to face the crowd.  Four times the audience finished their clapping and then began to clap and cheer again.  Up on the stage Mr. Beethoven bowed and bowed.

     As the carriage took us home, I could hear the music in my head.  But my thoughts kept turning back to Mr. Beethoven himself.

     He has so many troubles, how can he have a heart so full of joy?

     I cannot describe the music, Uncle.  I can only tell you what the music made me think.

     Uncle, how difficult Mr. Beethoven’s life must be.  To feel so much inside, even so much joy, must be almost more than he can bear.


                                                31 March 1825

Dear Uncle,

     As you know, Mr. Beethoven moved away soon after your visit.  But I have seen him again and thought you might like to hear about it.

     I t was on the street.  I saw him rushing by, humming to himself as always.  I ran up and caught him by the sleeve.  He looked confused at first, but then he recognized me.  He said, “It’s the little gatekeeper,” and took my hands in his.

     I took his book and asked if he was well.  He had hoped his health would be better living away from the river.  He told me his health has not improved.  I wrote in his book that when I grow up I’m going to be a doctor like my father and then I will make him better.

     He asked about Mother and the twins, and he was glad to hear that Mother is teaching piano again.  And then I told him that we miss him.  He squeezed my hands and looked down at the ground.

     And as for other news, the twins have finally stopped their screaming.  I know however, that our good luck will not hold.  I have seen them exchanging looks in their carriage and can see that they are hatching some new plan.

     But Uncle!  Best of all!  Mother has agreed to let me keep the spotted dog.  I have named him Metronome, because of his wagging tail.