Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Forever thine, forever mine, forever us..."

I talked last year about how I miss the art of the love letter.  This year, I decided to investigate perhaps one of the most famous love letters in history—one that has been the subjects of countless books and articles and studies, in part because of its famous author.  The other reason is because no one can say for sure who the intended recipient of the letter should have been.  For over a century, people have debated the identity of Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved”, and though one of the theories is discussed a bit below, I think the significance of this letter is really in its impact through history. The love in his letter will live forever—such is the strength of romance and the power of the written word.

Beethoven was never known to be a very charming individual.  He suffered from chronic stomach pains from his early twenties and began going deaf at about age 26, and both conditions made him quite short-tempered.  He was known to stop performances in the middle of a piece if he thought the audience was not giving him the attention and respect he deserved.  His patron in Vienna, Archduke Rudolf, had to make an announcement that the composer was not to be held to the general rules of proper society, so that he could still show his face in court.  Nevertheless, Beethoven had the soul of a Romantic, and history is still trying to uncover all the secrets of his love affairs.  Für Elise, perhaps one of his best known pieces, is believed to be a audible love letter to one of his students (who rejected his marriage proposal).  You can listen to the piece here.

The Immortal Beloved letter was discovered among Beethoven’s papers after his death in 1827.  His secretary kept it for the remainder of his life, and it was sold to the Berlin State Library in 1880 and the speculation began.  Tests on the watermark of the paper in the 1950’s indicate that the paper was made in 1812, which means the letter was written while Beethoven was staying in the Czech city of Teplice.  Why the letter was never sent is still a mystery, but that is nothing compared to the fact that the only name Beethoven gives to the recipient is "Unsterbliche Geliebte", or “Immortal Beloved”.  There have been debates for over a century as to who the lady was who captured the composer’s heart so thoroughly, but it is generally assumed the real recipient was Josephine Brunsvik.

Beethoven, around the time he met Josephine Brunsvik
Josephine and Beethoven met in Vienna when she was 20 and he was 29 and he was hired to give piano lessons to her and her sisters.  Six years later, he wrote of that meeting to her: "Oh beloved J., ... when I met you for the first time - I was determined not to let a spark of love germinate in me...” The endeavor was useless, as Beethoven was clearly in love, but Josephine was forced to marry an exceptionally wealthy count nearly twice her age.  Though he died of pneumonia five years into the marriage, Josephine wasn’t free once she was widowed. Because Beethoven was a commoner, marriage to him would have forced Josephine to relinquish custody of her children.  As she explained to him in a letter dated sometime in the winter of 1806/7: “I would have to violate sacred bonds if I gave in to your request – Believe me – that I, by doing what is my duty, suffer the most…”  Clearly heartbroken, Beethoven ended a reply with the wrenching phrase “I love you as much as you do not love me".
Josephine, around the time of the Immortal Beloved letter

About a year later, Josephine was pressured into marriage to Baron Christoph von Stackelberg, her children’s tutor.  It was a disastrous marriage, and the baron left her two years later.  Desperate for money, Josephine set off to see a family friend in Prague—which was a stop on the way to Teplice, where Beethoven was destined.  That potential meeting may have given Beethoven the inspiration to write his legendary letter, if indeed Josephine was the intended recipient.  Here are some excerpts below (you can read the full text of the letter here).

6th July, in the morning.
My angel, my everything, my very self. – only a few words today, and in pencil (with yours) - I shall not be certain of my rooms here until tomorrow – what an unnecessary waste of time - why this deep grief, where necessity speaks - can our love exist but by sacrifices, by not demanding everything. Can you change it, that you are not completely mine, that I am not completely yours? Oh God, look upon beautiful Nature and calm your mind about what must … if we were wholly united, you would not feel this as painfully, just as little as I … If our hearts were always close together, I would have no such thoughts. my heart is full with so much to tell you - Oh - There are moments when I feel that language is nothing at all - cheer up - remain my faithful only darling, my everything, as I for you, the rest is up to the Gods, what must be for us and what is in store for us. –
your faithful ludwig -

Monday evening, 6th July.
You are suffering, you my dearest creature … you are suffering - Oh, wherever I am, you are with me, I talk to myself and to you[,] arrange [it] that I can live with you, what a life!!!! as it is!!!! without you … However as much as you love me - I love you even more deeply, but - but never hide yourself from me - Good night – as I am taking the baths I must go to bed.
oh go with me, go with me Oh God - so near! so far! Is not our love a true edifice in Heaven - but also as firm as the firmament. –

Good morning, on 7th July.
While still in bed my thoughts turn towards you my Immortal Beloved, now and then happy, then sad again, waiting whether fate might answer us - I can only live either wholly with you or not at all…never can another own my heart, never – never – O God why do I have to separate from someone whom I love so much, and yet my life in V[ienna] as it is now is a miserable life - Your love makes me at once most happy and most unhappy - at my age I would now need some conformity[,] regularity of my life – can this exist in our relationship? – Angel, I have just heard that the mail coach goes every day – and thus I must finish so that you may receive the letter immediately. – be patient – only through quiet contemplation of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm; for only by calmly considering our lives can we achieve our purpose of living together.- be calm - love me - today - yesterday - What yearning with tears for you - you - you my life – my everything - farewell - oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your Beloved
Forever thine
forever mine
forever us.

The rest of the story, however, is not a happy one.  Josephine and Beethoven drifted apart following her second marriage.  Though there is speculation that they arranged a secret meeting in 1816, there was very little communication between them, and Josephine died after a long illness in 1821 at the age of 42.  Whether she was the intended recipient of the Immortal Beloved letter, Beethoven composed a piece of her early in their relationship that is still referred to as “Josephine’s Theme”.   For those fans of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, Josephine’s Theme is the piece being played when Darcy gives Elizabeth his Look. 
His final Piano Sonata, written just after her death, is a heartbreaking, haunting requiem, echoing that Theme, as Beethoven bid farewell to the woman who may very well have been the love of his life.


Unknown said...

to thine own reflection can one see their true self

Unknown said...

Love. Shannon

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