Monday, September 5, 2011

Ludwig Van Beethoven Love Letter: Immortal Beloved

This post is a follow-up to the previous publication on some interesting facts from Ludwig Van Beethoven life. One of the reader of this blog sent inquiry related to the noted mysterious fact from the Beethoven biography, related to his love letter written to unknown addressee, Immortal Beloved. While there is no definite answer from historians, who this woman was, I would like to give some insights on the topic.

Immortal Beloved Letters

The Immortal Beloved (German Unsterbliche Geliebte) is the mysterious addressee of a love letter which composer Ludwig van Beethoven wrote on 6-7 July, 1812 in Teplitz. The apparently unsent letter was in found in the composer's estate after his death, after which it remained in the hands of Anton Schindler until his death, was subsequently willed to his sister, and was sold by her in 1880 to the Berlin State Library, where it remains today. The letter is written in pencil and consists of three parts.

The sole documentary evidence for the "Immortal Beloved" is a soul-searching and impassioned letter Beethoven wrote in the Bohemian spa of Teplitz on 6/7 July 1812 (though the year and place are not given) addressed to an unnamed woman whom he must have met on 3 July 1812 in Prague. The wording of the letter suggests an existing love relationship of long standing. Since Beethoven did not specify a year, nor a location, an exact dating of the letter and identification of the addressee was speculative until the 1950's, when an analysis of the paper's watermark yielded the year, and by extension the place. Scholars have since this time been divided on the intended recipient of the Immortal Beloved letter. The two candidates favored most by contemporary scholars are Antonie Brentano and Josephine Brunsvik. Other candidates who have been conjectured, with various degrees of mainstream scholarly support, are Julie ("Giulietta") Guicciardi, Thérèse von Brunswick, Anna-Marie Erdödy, and Bettina Brentano, among several others.

The 1994 film Immortal Beloved has a fictional plot centered on the mystery of who the letter was addressed to, ultimately declaring Beethoven's lover to be his sister-in-law Johanna van Beethoven.

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Text of the Letter

Part 1

July 6th, in the morning
My angel, my all, my very self. - Only a few words today, and, what is more, written in pencil (and with your pencil)-I shan't be certain of my rooms here until tomorrow; what an unnecessary waste of time is all this--Why this profound sorrow, when necessity speaks--can our love endure without sacrifices, without our demanding everything from one another, can you alter the fact that you are not wholly mine, that I am not wholly yours?--Dear God, look at Nature in all her beauty and set your heart at rest about what must be--Love demands all, and rightly so, and thus it is for me with you, for you with me-- but you forget so easily that I must live for me and for you; if we were completely united, you would fee this painful necessity just as little as I do--My journey was dreadful and I did not arrive here until yesterday at four o'clock in the morning. As there were few horses the mail coach chose another route, but what a dreadful road it was; at the last state but one I was warned not to travel by night; attempts were made to frighten me about a forest, but all this only spurred me on to proceed--and it was wrong of me to do so.. The coach broke down, of course, owing to the dreadful road which had not been made up and was nothing but a country track. If we hadn't had those two postillions I should have been left stranded on the way--On the other ordinary road Esterhazy with eight horses met with the same fate as I did with four--Yet I felt to a certain extent that pleasure I always feel when I have overcome some difficulty successfully--Well, let me turn quickly from outer to inner experiences. No doubt we shall meet soon; and today also time fails me to tell you of the thoughts which during these last few days I have been revolving about my life--If our hearts were always closely united, I would certainly entertain no such thoughts. My hear overflows with a longing to tell you so many things--Oh--there are moments when I find that speech is quite inadequate--Be cheerful-- and be for ever my faithful, my only sweetheart, my all, as I am yours. The gods must send us everything else, whatever must and shall be our fate--
Your faithful Ludwig

Part 2

Monday evening, July 6th
You are suffering, you, my most precious one--I have noticed the very moment that letters have to be handed in very early, on Monday--or on Thursday--the only days when the mail coach goes from here to K[arlsbad].--You are suffering--Oh, where I am, you are with me--I will see to it that you and I, that I can live with you. What a life!!!! as it is now!!!! without you--pursued by the kindness of people here and there, a kindness that I think-that I wish to deserve just as little as I deserve it--man's homage to man--that pains me--and when I consider myself in the setting of the universe, what I am and what is the man--whom one calls the greatest of me--and yet--on the other hand therein lies the divine element in man==I weep when I think that probably you will not receive the first news of me until Saturday--However much you love me--good night--Since I am taking the baths I must get off to sleep--Dear God--so near! so far! Is not our love truly founded in heaven--and, what is more, as strongly cemented as the firmament of Heaven?—

Part 3

Good morning, on July 7th
Even when I am in bed my thoughts rush to you, my eternally beloved, now and then joyfully, then again sadly, waiting to know whether Fate will hear our prayer--To face life I must live altogether with you or never see you. Yes, I am resolved to be a wanderer abroad until I can fly to your arms and say that I have found my true home with you and enfolded in your arms can let my soul be wafted to the realm on blessed spirits--alas, unfortunately it must be so--You will become composed, the more so as you know that I am faithful to you; no other woman can ever possess my heart--never--never--Oh God, why must one be separated from her who is so dear. Yet my life in V[ienna] at present is a miserable life--Your love has made me both the happiest and the unhappiest of mortals--At my age I now need stability and regularity in my life--can this coexist with our relationship?--Angel, I have just heard that the post goes every day--and therefore I must close, so that you may receive the letter immediately--Be calm; for only by calmly considering our lives can we achieve our purpose to live together--Be calm--love me--Today--yesterday--what tearful longing for you--for you--you--my life--my all--all good wishes to you--Oh, do continue to love me--never misjudge your lover's most faithful heart.
ever yours
ever mine
ever ours

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Antonie Brentano (von Birkenstock)

Antonie Brentano was the daughter of Johann-Melchior von Birkenstock. She was born in Vienna on May 28, 1780, thus 10 years younger than Beethoven. She underwent education with the Ursuline order in Pressburg.
On July 23, 1798 she married the Frankfurt merchant Franz Brentano, 15 years her senior. Her first child was born in 1799 but died a year later. She then had four surviving children. Maynard Solomon states in his research that her marriage was seemingly unhappy one.

Antonie's husband, Frankfurt banker Franz Brentano, became a close friend of Beethoven during the family's short stay in Vienna, and his half-sister, Bettina von Arnim née Brentano, may have introduced them in 1810. After moving with her husband to Frankfurt (after their wedding in 1798), Antonie had returned to Vienna to minister to her dying father and remained for two years afterwards to settle his estate, during which time the Brentanos' friendship with Beethoven was established.

The Brentano's remained in Vienna until late in 1812 - she didn't like Frankfurt much and was ill most of the time. During her illnesses Beethoven would often play the piano for her. The Immortal Beloved letters were written at a time when it was evident that she would be leaving Vienna. After her departure at the end of 1812 she and Beethoven never met again. Antonie Brentano died in 1869 at the age of 89.

Maynard Solomon suggested that Antonie Brentano might have been the "Immortal Beloved" in his research:
She must be a woman well known to Beethoven in Vienna; she must have been in Prague in the first week of July 1812; and she must have been in the Bohemian spa town of Karlsbad in the weeks following.

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There is an indirect fact, supporting the Somolon’s theory of Antonie Brentano been the woman, Beethoven addressed these love letter. There is a diary entry in 1812 on the subject: “Submission, the most devout submission to your fate, only this can give you the (self-) sacrifice -- for your obligation.  O hard struggle!...  You must not be a man, not for yourself, only for others.  For you there is no more happiness except in yourself, in your art. -- O God, give me the strength to conquer myself; nothing must chain me to life.  In this way with A. everything goes to ruin.”  Whether the “A.” is indeed Antonie (it is not clearly an “A’), the important thing here is that Beethoven is feeling rueful after another relationship, perhaps his most intense yet, has gone adrift, but he is rationalizing this as the price he has to pay for his composing.  Some years later, he would dedicate the Diabelli Variations (opus 120) to Antonie. There is evidence he intended dedicating his two final Piano Sonatas Opp 110 & 111 to her. There is also a possibility that he wrote his song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte [To the Distant Beloved], with her in mind.

On learning of Beethoven's death, Antonie began noting down the names of her friends who had died. By the end of her long life the list ran to many pages. The first entry read: "Beethoven, 26 March 1827".

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