Immortal Beloveds, Analysts' Couches, and Book Reviews

By Altman, Gail | The Beethoven Journal, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview
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Immortal Beloveds, Analysts' Couches, and Book Reviews


Altman, Gail, The Beethoven Journal


Editor's note: In the last issue of this journal, Barry Cooper wrote an extended essay-book review of Altman 's monograph. The following critique constitutes her response to his review.

I. Introduction

It is interesting (amusing, dismaying, frustrating) to see a Reader's Digest condensed version of one's arguments appear in a review which (because of the brevity imposed upon such an article) often inadvertently alters their intent, impact, and integrity. But that is perhaps why mankind invented rebuttals.

One of Cooper's first objections was to my title, claiming that nothing contained in my book was "undisclosed." But that contention cannot be supported by a poll of the general public, the audience for whom the book was intended. Internet newsgroups and web pages, newspaper and magazine articles, encyclopedias, recent books, and even the liner notes in music CDs show that academia has not been entirely honest with the public. It has led the majority, even Beethoven enthusiasts and scholars, to believe that no controversy still exists regarding the Immortal Beloved and Beethoven's character. Because few people are privy to the continuing arguments in scholarly journals (which generally have a narrow focus and a limited readership), the belief persists that the riddle of Beethoven's mysterious love has been solved. In addition, the accompanying (and undeservedly negative) analysis of Beethoven's psychological makeup is also accepted and seems to be beyond question and reproach. This did not become clear to me until Bernard Rose's film Immortal Beloved spawned a new interest in Beethoven's music and personal life. In the wake of that highly inaccurate film, it was astonishing to read equally misleading reviews that said, "the world knows with as much certainty as it likely ever will who the Immortal Beloved really was. She was Antonie Brentano" (The Miami Herald, January 29, 1995). How can this be said when there is so much vehement disagreement with this solution espoused by a number of eminent scholars? What is even more shocking is that even a number of university professors teaching courses in music history, and on Beethoven specifically, are unaware of the continuing controversy. Follow-up through various media determined that a small faction of the academic community which apparently controls what will and will not be accepted as fact has failed to adequately assess the validity of these prevailing theories, and has been remiss in publicly acknowledging that controversy remains. How could the general public, then, be aware of this when even newly published non-fiction books, whether scholarly (William Kinderman's 1995 Beethoven) or popular (Basil Howitt's 1996 Love Lives of the Great Composers), praise Solomon's solution as the correct one, and his analysis of Beethoven's character as indisputable without apprising their readers that this acceptance is far from being universal. Nor do they reveal that these theories were founded on circumstantial and oftentimes contrived evidence. Thus I must disagree with Cooper: there is much information that has not been disclosed at all. As such, I felt it was time that a wider audience be made aware that the "bad press" Beethoven has suffered over the years has been the result of manufactured data and the clever machinations of an undoubtedly bright and well-read person. Cooper referred to me as "the prosecution," but I would more correctly be deemed "the defense."

II. Points of rebuttal

Following are my responses to Cooper's assessment of my book. I have attempted to address as many points as space will allow:

1. Although my discussion of the postal schedule and Karlsbad did not meet with Cooper's approval, I still contend that there are too many inconsistencies with the data to conclude at this time -beyond a reasonable doubt - that Karlsbad had been the intended destination for the letter. Cooper claims that Beethoven must have read a postal schedule because wahrnehmen translates as perceive.

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