Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Beethoven and the Countess Josephine Brunswick, 1799-1821

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Beethoven and the Countess Josephine Brunswick, 1799-1821

Article excerpt

Marie-Elisabeth Teilenbach's study of the Immortal Beloved appeared in 1983 as Beethoven und seine "Unsterbliche Geliebte "Josephine Brunswick, Ihr Schicksal und der Einfluss auf Beethovens Werk (Beethoven and His "Immortal Beloved" Josephine Brunswick, Their Fate and The Influence on Beethoven 's Work). Since the book has not been translated into English, few English-speaking readers have had the opportunity to become familiar with her arguments in favor of Josephine Brunswick. The following essay summarizes these arguments, and also provides a fascinating account of the tragic circumstances of the Brunswicks in the second decade of the nineteenth century. - Editor.


"That Josephine Brunswick was the addressee of the letter to the 'Immortal Beloved' is probable on the basis of intrinsic reasons even if the external indications remain hypothetical. " (Carl Dahlhaus, Ludwig van Beethoven und seine Zeit, 1987, p. 314.)

"Solomon may prove with scrupulously scientific exactitude that all the external facts speak for his hypothesis: intrinsic reasons speak as clearly against them. " (Willy Hess, Beethoven, 1976, p. 167.)

These intrinsic reasons - above all the spiritual homogeneity of the letters from Beethoven to Josephine from 1805-09 and his letter of July 6 and 7, 1812 - are absolutely compelling. Attempts to reconstruct the external events and to understand the facts in critical conformance with them should only be considered as supplementary arguments. One can only speak of "typical circularity" if one ignores this point. Solomon's attempts to support his hypothesis cannot be individually discussed here; such a rebuttal is outside the scope of the present article. I do hope, however, to be able to go into detail on these in an essay which I am preparing.



The letter to the "Immortal Beloved" momentarily illuminates Beethoven's innermost being just as a flash of lightning at night briefly permits us to see the landscape before all is again robed in darkness. It bears witness to his passionate, long lasting love for a woman who was equally attached to him. This letter, whose year of origin was uncertain for a long time, has now been indisputably dated by Joseph Schmidt-Görg using water marks, the date being July 6 and 7, 1812, and the place of origin, Teplitz.

There appeared to be little source material and few events in connection with this letter which could explain Beethoven's spiritual and psychic state of mind in the following years. Research went astray because every lead to a woman who must with certainty have been the recipient of the letter was missing. In past decades one arrived at the odd conclusion that Beethoven must have had a pathological dislike for women. Editha and Richard Sterba even ascribe homosexual tendencies to the composer. These conclusions were made on the basis of events readily apparent on the surface; indeed, in the years following this famous letter, there seemed to be no indications of any intense relationship between Beethoven and a woman.

What, however, if another reality was concealed behind this appearance? Was it an indication that something had to remain secret? Was there a relationship that, had it become public, would have resulted in the ruin of the participants with respect to their family and social status? There were serious consequences for those who defied the old moral conceptions, laws and social conventions of that time! We need to know more about Beethoven's situation after 1812. Only more complete knowledge of the woman to whom the letter was addressed, of her character and later years, can help add to the picture.

No-one could hypothesize homosexuality or an aversion to women in the case of the thirty-year-old Beethoven, in striking contrast to the composer of this just mentioned later period. According to Franz Wegeler, in his youth Beethoven was frequently "in love" and was popular with women. …

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