The letter to the “Immortal beloved”

Beethoven became quite easily, by most accounts from people who knew him, emotionally and romantically attached to women. However, he never married, and stated himself that marriage would not be possible because of his devotion to his art.

Beethoven sometimes opened up his heart to women he desired, but was rejected. With Josephine Deym, it ended in her denying Beethoven entrance to her house. A marriage proposal to Therese Malfatti was also rejected.

Beethoven was celebrated as the greatest composer alive. He saw himself as “higher” than counts and princes. But he was not; musicians fell short to noblemen in society’s status. The women he fell in love with all rejected him and married someone of a higher status. It must have been a very, very frustrating reality-check for Beethoven.

There was one exception, though (that we know of, at least). One woman that answered Beethoven’s love, and strongly so. We know this because of a letter in three parts, found in Beethoven’s desk after his desk. It is, in Beethoven’s own words, to his “immortal beloved”.

This letter is a touching and passionate love letter, written to someone who he loves and who clearly loves him back. The mystery during the years has been who the “Immortal beloved” is. There has been many candidates, starting with Guilietta Guiccardi. Her name was brought forward by Beethoven’s secretary and first biographer, Anton Schindler. However, Schindler’s biography is full of inventions by the author, and this is one of them.

A large number of women has been brought up as possible candidates, but it’s not until quite recently that Manyard Solomon has made a strong enough case for the mystery to appear to be solved.

***

There are several clues in the letter. For example, the second part states that it is written on “Monday, July 6th”. That already helps us to tell which year it is written. Because between 1795 and 1818, which is an assumed space of time when Beethoven wrote the letter, there are 5 years when July 6 falls on a Monday. Now, Beethoven is clearly not in Vienna when he wrote the letter. The greatest of all Beethoven biographers, Alexander Thayer, finds that none of the years when July 6 is a Monday fits, and therefore assumes it’s a mistake on Beethoven’s part. But the mistake is on Thayer.

One of the years is 1812, and it turns out to be the only possible one. That year, Beethoven wrote a letter from Vienna on June 28, and was registered at a guest house in the town of Teplitz on July 7. This is where Thayer has made an oversight, because while Beethoven did not get definite housing until July 7, he arrived on July 5. And listen to the letter in the video on the PFOB-page, and you will hear the following:

“Not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon”

Since he wrote the letter on July 6, the day before he would get his permanent lodgings, everything falls in place.

***

So, we now know that he wrote the letter in Tepliz in 1812. We can also, by following clues in the letters such as how long Beethoven expected his letter to take to arrive to his “angel” and by him mentioning her place as “K” determine that the probability that “K” stands for Karlsbad.

There are many other clues, and Solomon points them toward one woman, who was in Karlsbad at the time, who Beethoven met shortly after in Karlsbad ( listen to when Olof reads “We shall surely see each other soon“). Her name is Antonie Brentano, born von Birkenstock. Yes, she was married. And that would explain quite a few things in the letter, such as the passage “can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine

At the same time, Antonie Brentano, ten years younger than Beethoven and fifteen years younger than her husband Franz, a merchant she married when she was only eighteen, was in Karlsbad. She was there with her husband and children. “We shall surely see each other soon“, writes Beethoven. Well, it is a fact that Beethoven left Teplitz on July 25 for…Karlsbad.

In the letter, Beethoven writes as if the two had seen each other only some days before: “today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you“. He left Vienna for Prague at the end of June, and arrived in Prague on July 1. There he stayed until July 4, when he traveled to Teplitz ( he vividly recounts the “awful” journey in the letter).

A Prague newspaper states in a section where the arrivals in Prague by prominent persons are counted for, that on July 3 arrives:

H. Brentano, kaufman von Wien

Herr Brentano arrived, with wife Antonie, in Vienna on July 3, which makes it quite possible (but not proven) that Beethoven and Antonie met in Vienna on July 4, two days before the letter was written: “today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you“…

***

Antonie Brentano lived a long life, she died in 1869 at the age of 89. The letter was written as Franz had decided to leave Vienna for Frankfurt and both Antonie and Beethoven knew they would live separate lives.

If we assume that Antonie Brentano is the “Immortal beloved”, can you imagine how it felt for her that this letter was known by the whole world, but she was the only person who knew who it was for? It must have been even more emotional since she probably never received it (my personal guess is that Beethoven did not send it since he thought the risk would be too big that her husband would open it, or see it).

Antonie Brentano left Vienna at the end of year. She and Beethoven would never meet again.

3 comments

  1. I am crying, you know me. Romantic is the thing that makes me burst in to tears. It doesn’t matter if it is music or words, this was wonderful.
    Maybe they got one chans to see eachother in heaven, where everything is possible for those who believe they say. And this may have been true love.
    To come that close to feelings about one person and never even get close to her, must have been heartbreaking. I hope he caught her in heaven and gave her what he wanted ;)

  2. That was very touching! Poor Beethoven … Of course he was a passionate nature, everyone can hear that from his music.

  3. This letter was not written to Antonie Bretano, but Josephine Brunsvik whose mother forbade her to allow him into the house once she realised that they wanted to marry. This caused Josephine great distress. It was not possible due to her being a Countess and her children would have been taken from her for marrying someone of “lower rank.” She and Beethoven met in 1799 but her mother forced her to marry Count Deym, who was 20 years older. The marriage was a pleasant enough one but once he died, her feelings for Beethoven rekindled and to the end of her life she loved him and they wrote each other many letters that express the same sentiments as in the famous letter of 1812.
    German scholars are well aware of the truth of this matter, and the dairies of Josephine and her sister Therese proove that this was a life long and deep love between them.
    A free copy of a recently translated book from a German researcher Marie-Elisabeth Tellenbach, which documents all the evidence please go to:

    https://www.createspace.com/pub/community/give.review.do?id=1148940

    Also:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Brunsvik

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