The following is one of the epigraphs of my novel Concerto:
You know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never!
– Ludwig van Beethoven
Of course, given that the theme of Concerto is classical music, Beethoven was an obvious choice for the epigraph. But I chose this quotation not for Beethoven’s musical genius, but for his sentiment here, his ardent passion, which echoes the passion of the composer Umberto in my novel.
This quotation is taken from a letter found amongst Beethoven’s papers following his death in 1827. The letter was written in July of 1812 to a woman he calls only his Immortal Beloved and was never sent. Here is a translation of Beethoven’s love letter, written in three parts:
6 July, morning
My angel, my all, my own self – only a few words today, and that too with pencil (with yours) – only till tomorrow is my lodging definitely fixed. What abominable waste of time in such things – why this deep grief, where necessity speaks?
Can our love persist otherwise than through sacrifices, than by not demanding everything? Canst thou change it, that thou are not entirely mine, I not entirely thine? Oh, God, look into beautiful Nature and compose your mind to the inevitable. Love demands everything and is quite right, so it is for me with you, for you with me – only you forget so easily, that I must live for you and for me – were we quite united, you would notice this painful feeling as little as I should . . .
. . . We shall probably soon meet, even today I cannot communicate my remarks to you, which during these days I made about my life – were our hearts close together, I should probably not make any such remarks. My bosom is full, to tell you much – there are moments when I find that speech is nothing at all. Brighten up – remain my true and only treasure, my all, as I to you. The rest the gods must send, what must be for us and shall.
Monday evening, 6 July
You suffer, you, my dearest creature. Just now I perceive that letters must be posted first thing early. Mondays – Thursdays – the only days, when the post goes from here to K. You suffer – oh! Where I am, you are with me, with me and you, I shall arrange that I may live with you. What a life!
So! Without you – pursued by the kindness of the people here and there, whom I mean – to desire to earn just as little as they earn – humility of man towards men – it pains me – and when I regard myself in connection with the Universe, what I am, and what he is – whom one calls the greatest – and yet – there lies herein again the godlike of man. I weep when I think you will probably only receive on Saturday the first news from me – as you too love – yet I love you stronger – but never hide yourself from me. Good night – as I am taking the waters, I must go to bed. Oh God – so near! so far! Is it not a real building of heaven, our Love – but as firm, too, as the citadel of heaven.
Good morning, on 7 July
Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all. Yes, I have determined to wander about for so long far away, until I can fly into your arms and call myself quite at home with you, can send my soul enveloped by yours into the realm of spirits – yes, I regret, it must be. You will get over it all the more as you know my faithfulness to you; never can another own my heart, never – never! O God, why must one go away from what one loves so, and yet my life in W. as it is now is a miserable life. Your love made me the happiest and unhappiest at the same time. At my actual age I should need some continuity, sameness of life – can that exist under our circumstances? Angel, I just hear that the post goes out every day – and must close therefore, so that you get the L. at once. Be calm – love me – today – yesterday.
What longing in tears for you – You – my Life – my All – farewell. Oh, go on loving me – never doubt the faithfullest heart
Of your beloved
Such a beautiful letter, don’t you think? Those last three lines in particular take my breath away. Can you imagine receiving a letter like this? It is the very epitome of romantic.
So who was the intended recipient of this outpouring of emotions, the Immortal Beloved? Well, that question has kept scholars busy for a good number of years. All sorts of possibilities have been explored, so much so that the mystery inspired a film, Immortal Beloved, in which Beethoven’s secretary and first biographer searches for the truth.
In his biography of Beethoven, American psychologist Maynard Solomon argued that arts patron and collector Antonie Brentano was the Immortal Beloved, and the two were lovers around the time that the letter was written. But opponents of this theory state that Beethoven was a faithful and honourable man, and they cannot see him declaring his love for Antonie, who was married and pregnant at the time.
A more likely candidate is Josephine Brunswick, a widow with whom Beethoven fell in love. In other letters from Beethoven that have survived, he refered to her as his ‘only beloved’ and wrote that he was ‘eternally devoted’ to her and would be ‘forever faithful’ – close wording to the Immortal Beloved letter.
Sadly, if the Immortal Beloved was indeed Josephine, then Beethoven’s declarations of love did not lead to a happy-ever-after. Josephine and Beethoven had begun a love affair in the early 1800s, but she insisted they keep it secret, for she was aristocratic and he a commoner, and if she were to marry him, she would lose custody of her children. She never married Beethoven, but married again, separated, had an affair with a teacher, lost custody of her children and ultimately died alone at the age of 42 in 1821.
Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours. Did Beethoven continue to hold a torch for her? We cannot know, but there are no records of further relationships for Beethoven after 1812, through to his death in 1827.
Whatever the truth behind the letter, the words themselves remain an inspiration. This is the kind of intense, enflamed passion that I dreamt of for my novel Concerto. A blind composer lost in the darkness, agonising over the mistakes he has made and all he has lost, yearning for a connection but feeling he no longer has enough to offer, needing so badly to love and be loved… aching for his own Immortal Beloved.