Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Letters to the Editor

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Letters to the Editor

Article excerpt

Dear Editor:

I note with interest that in the closing paragraph of his review of Gail Altman's Beethoven: A Man of His Word (this journal, fall 1996), Barry Cooper acknowledges that "it begins to appear again" that Antonie Brentano "must be the Immortal Beloved," thereby seeming to accept the central thrust of my scholarly efforts on the subject. It is all the more surprising to read his contention that "much of the basis of the claims of Antonie's supporters consists of distortions, suppositions, opinions, and even plain inaccuracies." This is a fairly elusive bill of particulars, for Cooper cannot reasonably object to a scholar's opinions, assumptions, interpretations, and hypotheses, provided they are profferred as such. As for "distortions" and "plain inaccuracies," these characterizations are not borne out by his evidence. Insofar as my own writings are concerned, he discusses four issues:

1.) "Solomon claimed that an unidentified portrait found with the letter bears a striking resemblance to a known portrait of Antonie," a claim Cooper regards as "very subjective." Surely his comment is both true and banal, a statement of the obvious, for I offer the similarity as a matter of opinion. I describe the attribution to Antonie Brentano not as a certainty but as "more than a strong probability" and moreover, I explicitly state that, "by itself, [it is] no proof that she was the addressee of the letter to the Immortal Beloved" (.Beethoven, New York: Schirmer, 1977, p. 176). On p. 158, I reproduce the unidentified miniature portrait along with two known portraits of Frau Brentano, thereby allowing observers to see for themselves.

2.) A quarter-century ago, I discovered that the autograph manuscript of "An die Geliebte," WoO 140, first version, bears an inscription in Antonie Brentano's hand: "Requested by me from the author on March 2, 1812" (see Beethoven, p. 175). Cooper does not explore the implications of this undisputed identification, chosing instead to endorse Altman's caveat that the manuscript may have been given in response to Frau Brentano's request and therefore "was not such a personal memento that Beethoven had thought to present her with the work ..."

Several points need to be made: first, Cooper downgrades the significance of the find by mistakenly describing the object as "a copy of the composition," whereas it is a dually Beethoven's original autograph; second, Beethoven's gift of the autograph of a lied with this title and text can only with great difficulty be written off as an impersonal act - on the contrary, it is strongly suggestive of a close personal tie between giver and recipient, and this, too, is in conformity with a wealth of ancillary evidence; third, the sending of such an autograph not long before the Immortal Beloved letter was written should cause a reasonable investigator to probe whether and in what way the gift and the letter may be interconnected; fourth, though I raised what seems to me the plain possibility that the song was actually composed for Frau Brentano, I made no excessive claims, describing this as "another bit of circumstantial evidence," and "a strong indication."

3.) Cooper says that there is "insufficient evidence" to support the observation (made by many biographers before me but attributed to me alone) that Beethoven had frequently been rejected by beloved women. But those rejections are well documented. To take only the best known examples: Thayer had it on what he regarded as good authority that Beethoven had proposed marriage to Magdalena Willman and had been rebuffed by her (Elliot Forbes, ed., Thayer's Life of Beethoven, p. 232); the documentary record is clear (see Thayer-Forbes, p. 290) that Beethoven loved and courted Giulietta Guicciardi, but that she preferred Gallenberg ("She loved me ... far more than ever she did her husband. He, however, rather than I was her lover..."); similarly, the correspondence shows that Beethoven's deep connection with Josephine Deym ran aground and in the end he was no longer welcome at her home; a few years later he proposed unsuccessfully to Therese Malfatti. …

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