08 December 2021

Beethoven’s housekeeper

Beethoven had a housekeeper.* She did the cooking and housekeeping while he composed music. I am sure the modern view of the matter is that Beethoven did not need a housekeeper, or, if he did, he should not have done. Plainly, they should both have composed music, and both have cooked their own meals. The fact that Beethoven composed music better than the housekeeper could have done is beside the point. It is the business of society to iron out these unfair advantages of endowment, not to enhance them. Why should the housekeeper not have had just as much chance to practise creative self-fulfilment?

It is interesting to observe that the housekeeper could probably have composed music just as well in the intervals of her cooking and housekeeping as she could have done if she had had all day free to devote to thinking about music. Beethoven, on the other hand, probably could not have composed nearly as well as he did if he had had to do so part-time. This proves that the housekeeper had a better social adjustment than Beethoven, and is all the more reason why Beethoven should not have received preferential treatment.

* The housekeeper’s name was Sali.

(Extract from The Corpse and the Kingdom, due for publication in 2022.)