Ludwig van Beethoven was an 18th century musician whose music is still influential and inspiring today. His name is synonymous with classical music and good classical music at that. His legacy is more than the music he left behind, though. Unlike many other historic classic composers, Beethoven had a personality that resonated with his music. He is often portrayed in films and literature as a brooding artist who bordered on insane. He played his piano like a maniac until he went deaf and then he played it like an outright lunatic, if the stories are to be believed. Of course, he did so in order to “feel” his music because he could no longer hear it. Nonetheless, his character stuck. He was unmarried, grumpy and extremely talented. However, upon his death, another side of Beethoven was revealed — one that remains steeped in mystery.
The legendary composer died in 1827. He was in his 50s when he passed away. After his death, a single letter written in three parts was discovered. The letter was written to a woman he referred to only as his “Immortal Beloved.” The letter seems to have never been sent. Therefore, there is no date or addressee on the letter, which consists of 10 pages. However, the papers have been dated to 1812.
It is made abundantly clear in Beethoven’s letters to his Immortal Beloved that he is either very in love with her or a very smooth talker. He opens the letter with, “My angel, my everything, my very self.” He goes on to say, “We will probably see each other soon . . . ” and then leaves off the first part with “Your faithful Ludwig.” The first part does give the impression that the two lovers have a past together and that their feelings are mutual. It also gives the impression that there is some difficulty to their relationship.
The second part of the Immortal Beloved letters opens with, “You are suffering, you my dearest creature . . . ” Why is she suffering? He goes on to lament their lack of contact, giving the impression that her suffering is caused by their being apart or not getting letters from each other soon enough. He mentions he is upset that she will not get news from him until a later date. In this part of the missive, Ludwig van Beethoven writes, “. . . as much as you love me — I love you even more deeply . . . ” By now, the reader knows there is a past there, but who could the recipient be? It seems the letter was never sent. Did something prevent it? Did he simply see her before he could send the letters? Was this the last of their relationship? Why are there no more letters if this one was important enough to keep?
It is in the last part of the papers that Beethoven calls his mystery lover his Immortal Beloved. In addition, this part gives the largest clues as to the nature of their relationship. He mentions the two of them wanting to live together and this being a goal. It is hinted that this is a difficult thing to accomplish. Beethoven wonders to his lover whether conformity is possible in their relationship. He ends the entire batch of papers with, “Forever mine, forever thine, forever us.” We know now that there was no “forever us” for Ludwig van Beethoven.
Through his letters, we know that he was something of a lover boy in his youth. He appears to have had a tendency to love unobtainable women. One of the most well known recipients of his affections was Countess Julie Guicciardi. His “Moonlight Sonata” is dedicated to her, but that was as much of a connection as he could make. He had a thing for countesses. The next in line was Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Josephine was married to a count before she began an affair of words with Ludwig. Therefore, she could not pursue a deep relationship with him or she risked her reputation and that of her children.
Beethoven’s amorous exchanges with Julie came roughly a decade before the Immortal Beloved letters were written, but she is still considered a potential recipient. Josephine was the recipient of a number of love letters from Ludwig, but they ceased two years before the Immortal Beloved letters, as far as we know. Despite his deranged appearance in later years, he was quite dashing in his early portraits. He had no trouble getting these women to love him back. The problem was getting society to accept his taste in women. The question is, was his Immortal Beloved yet another high class woman that Beethoven could not woo past letters or was she one of his initial lovers keeping up a line of communication with him?
The candidates for Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved are his two known lovers listed above, Josephine being the favorite choice, Antonie Brentano (a married woman whose husband was a friend to Beethoven) and Countess Terez Brunswick (Josephine’s sister). The likely reason Beethoven never married is that all of these women were out of the reach of his social class. Perhaps the reason that he never married after the Immortal Beloved letters is that his Immortal Beloved was unattainable. Whatever the case may be, Beethoven never did settle down. He spent much of his later life engaged in a fierce custody battle over his nephew against a sister-in-law who was decidedly unfit and a known thief. He also dealt with much depression over his hearing loss. He died as he lived — a bachelor with a string of love letters in his wake.