Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

"If One Has Only One Son": Postscript to "Beethoven as a Father"

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

"If One Has Only One Son": Postscript to "Beethoven as a Father"

Article excerpt

In an earlier article I presented evidence that Beethoven was the father of Antonie Brentano's youngest child, Karl Josef, who was born March 8, 1813.1 I am now able to present evidence which I interpret to mean that her husband, Franz Brentano, did not believe himself to be Karl Josef's father.

To begin, we now know from a primary source that Antonie Brentano was ill in Prague. In a letter of July 15, 1812, from Karlsbad, Franz Brentano tells his half-brother, Clemens, that he had sought but failed to find him in Prague.2 This can only refer to the Brentanos's brief stop there on July 3 and 4. After a reply from Clemens on October 1, Franz takes up this topic in his answer of October 6 from Vienna:

I was sorry not to see you in Prague, your presence would have cheered me up considerably. I had need of this because my Toni was also very ill there [my italics].3

Further on in the same letter, Franz writes:

In 4 or 5 weeks time, as soon as Toni is completely well, we shall return home again [i.e., to Frankfurt; my italics].

Antonie Brentano was by this time some four months pregnant. It is notable that nowhere in this letter does Franz Brentano tell his half-brother that his wife is pregnant, even though he goes on to refer to her health again:

If my impending return journey was not determined by the restoration of my wife's health (which I hope is not far off), I would invite you here where you could stay with us. However, I feel a powerful urge to return home and my restless wanderings have lasted too long already.

What he does say instead is startling. Discussing his son Georg's education, he writes:

If one has only one son one must be twice as careful at least to attempt the best for him [my italics].

He concludes the letter by saying:

My children are growing up and make me feel old [my italics].

To my mind, these are not the words of a man who knows that he will become a father again in five months time - a man, moreover, of almost forty-seven, whose youngest child is already six and who, by his own admission, is and has for some time been unwell:

I have been already unwell for a lengthy time, being unable to bear this climate.

It is scarcely possible that Franz did not know the nature of Antonie's "illness": the father of five himself, he had grown up in a house in which his father, in the course of three marriages, had produced a dozen surviving children. The symptoms of pregnancy were hardly unknown to him. It does not seem feasible that he did not know that his own wife was four months pregnant. The reference to her being better "in 4 or 5 weeks" may indeed have been based on the pattern of her earlier pregnancies.

He knows she is pregnant, but he is not admitting it. Why? Why is this man of close to forty-seven, by his own admission ill, down-in-the-mouth, not boasting to his brother, "Hey, guess what, the old man's done it again!" He was, after all, married to her: there is no earthly reason why he should not have boasted about his forthcoming fatherhood had this been the case.

How, one wonders, did Franz finally admit Antonie's pregnancy to Clemens at the end of the day? Was he perhaps hoping that his wife would miscarry? If so, this hope can have been only partial, since he had witnessed and doubtless shared Antonie's grief at the death of their own first child, the poignant memories of which come through in Antonie's letter to Clemens of as late as January 9, 1812:

You wrote to me on the death of my first child. I still stood at the desolate cradle with bleeding heart; I lowered my eyes to the grave but you did not let me succumb. You wrote to me in such a way that I shall remember it in eternity.4

So is it then that Franz knows that his wife is pregnant but is not sure whether he is the father? In other words, has he himself been sleeping with Antonie at the same time as Beethoven's involvement with her? …

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