Nikolaus Zmeskall (1759-1833) and Beethoven: life in Vienna

One of Beethoven's few close personal friends in Vienna, Nikolaus Zmeskall was an official in the Hungarian Chancellery.

He was a capable amateur cellist - and very short-sighted. Beethoven composed the Duet "obligato for two pairs of spectacles" WoO 32 in 1796-7 for viola and cello for Zmeskall and him to play together when he too had begun to wear spectacles.

A great number of letters and notes from Beethoven to his friend have survived. From them it is evident he enjoyed making jokes at Zmeskall's expense.

He addresses him, among other things, as Baron Muckcart Driver - a pun on the meaning of Zmeskall's name in Hungarian.

Many of the notes give a nice insight into Beethoven's life away from music ..... "Let us meet at 6 o'clock at the Schwann Inn and drink some of their dreadful red wine...." he writes to Zmeskall on one occasion.

Zmeskall often helped Beethoven in practical matters such as finding a servant. By the 1820s he was confined to a wheelchair with severe gout, but managed - to Beethoven's delight - to be present at the first performance of the Ninth Symphony on 7th May 1824 at the Kärntnertor theatre.

Beethoven's final letter to his old friend was written only a month before he died.

"My very dear friend! A thousand thanks for your sympathy. I do not despair. But what is most painful to me is the complete cessation of my activities. Yet there is no evil which has not something good in it as well - May Heaven grant you too an alleviation of your painful condition. Perhaps we shall both be restored to health and then we shall meet and see one another again as friendly neighbours - Heartfelt greetings from your old friend who sympathises with you. BEETHOVEN."

Five weeks later Beethoven died, his friend outliving him by six years.