Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Ludwig von Köchel and the Seemingly Impossible Task

Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter (“Ritter” meaning “Knight”) von Köchel” (18900-1877)
Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter (“Ritter” meaning “Knight”) von Köchel” (18900-1877)

We mark the death on June 3, 1877 – 147 years ago today – of the Austrian lawyer, botanist, geologist, teacher, writer, publisher, composer, and “musicologist” Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter (“Ritter” meaning “Knight”) von Köchel, of cancer, in Vienna.  Born on January 14, 1800, he was 77 years old at the time of his death.

Ludwig Köchel and the Archduke

Herr Köchel wasn’t born a “Ritter” – a “knight” – a “von” – with all the privileges and perks that such a title brought.  Rather, he was born to the middle class in the Lower Austrian town of Krems an der Donau (meaning “At the junction of the Kremas and Danube Rivers”) some 43 miles west of Vienna. Smart and ambitious, he studied law in Vienna and went on to earn a Ph.D. in 1827, at the age of 27.

Köchel was a polymath, someone who knew a lot about a lot of things.  As such, despite having a law degree, he chose a career as a teacher.  But he was not just any teacher, and he didn’t teach just any students.  For 15 years, Köchel was the tutor to the four sons of Archduke Charles of Austria.

This requires a wee bit of discussion/explanation.

Archduke Charles of Austria (1771-1847) in 1819
Archduke Charles of Austria (1771-1847) in 1819

Archduke Charles Louis John Joseph Laurentius of Austria, Duke of Teschen (1771-1847) was an Austrian field-marshal, the third son of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and the grandson of the Empress Maria Theresa. He was the nephew of both Emperor Joseph II (of Amadeus fame) and Marie Antoinette (of “oops, has anyone seen my noggin?” fame). 

In a virtual sea of Austrian military incompetence against Napoleon, Archduke Charles stands out as the best Habsburg general officer of the Napoleonic era, and arguably the best commander ever produced by the House of Habsburg in its 636-year run (from 1282 until 1918). According to Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), Archduke Charles was:

“the greatest general of his time.”

This, then, is the man who chose Ludwig Köchel to educate his four sons. Köchel lived with and worked with the Archduke’s boys for 15 years, from 1827 to 1842 (from the time Köchel was 27 years of age to 42).  It would appear that everyone was satisfied with Köchel’s teaching, because upon his departure in 1842, he was rewarded by the archduke with a knighthood and life-time pension large enough to guarantee that he’d never have to “work” for a living again.

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