Thursday, 30 April 2009

36 Steps to Vienna: 12 A Group of Noble Dames (1)


Immortal Beloved candidate No.94: Amalie Sebald


Beethoven never married.

Very shortly after his death in the spring of 1827 his executors searched his apartment in the building known as das Schwarzspanierhaus, the House of the Black Spaniard. They were looking primarily for seven share certificates Beethoven had in a Viennese bank, which he had left to his nephew, Karl. Among those present was Gerhard von Breuning, an intelligent, cheerful and outgoing 13-year-old whom Beethoven nicknamed Hosenknopf, 'trouser-button'. Beethoven had known Gerhard's father Stephan since they were children in Bonn together, and they had had a rather up-and-down friendship ever since.

Beethoven's writing desk, which eventually came into Gerhard von Breuning's possession, yielded nothing, and it wasn't until Karl Holz, a pupil and friend of Beethoven, pulled on a bent nail stuck into a wardrobe that a drawer came out, revealing the shares, a miniature portrait, one or two other memorabilia and in particular a letter that has intrigued Beethoven biographers ever since.

Immortal Beloved candidate No. 94: Giulietta Guicciardi


6th July, in the morning

My angel, my all, my I - only a few words today, and those in pencil (with yours) - I will not know until tomorrow where I am staying … Can our love exist otherwise than through self-sacrifice, through not demanding everything, can you alter the fact that you are not completely mine and I am not completely yours - Ah God, look at Nature and calm your feelings over what must be - love demands everything and rightly so, so it is for me with you, for you with me - but you forget so easily that I must live for you and for me, if we were wholly united, you would feel the pain of it as little as I.

… we will probably see each other soon, and anyway today I can't tell you the thoughts about my life I've been having over the last few days - if our hearts were always close together I would probably have no such thoughts, my breast is full of things I must tell you - Ah - There are times when I think speech is vain - be happy - be my true and only treasure always, my all, as I am yours - as for the rest, the gods must send what must be and what shall be for us -

your faithful ludwig

Monday evening, 6th July

… Ah, wherever I am, you are with me, I tell us both how I imagine that I can live with you, what a life!!!! like this!!!! without you - Pursued here and there by people's kindness that I think I wish to deserve as little as I do deserve it - the humility of man to man - it hurts me - and when I consider what I am in the universe and what he is whom they call the greatest - and yet here again is the divine part of mankind - I weep when I realise that you probably will not hear from me until Saturday - however much you love me I love you more - but don't ever hide yourself from me - good night - as I am taking the waters I must sleep now -
[crossed out: come with me, come with me] - Ah God! - so near! So far! Is not our love a truly heavenly building, as strongly founded as the firmament.

Good morning on the 7th of July

Even before I get up, my thoughts hasten to you, my immortal beloved, thoughts sometimes joyful, sometimes sad. Waiting to find out if Fate will hear our request - I can either live wholly with you, or not at all, yes I have decided to wander until such time as I can fly into your arms and say I have wholly come home to you, until I can send my soul enfolded in you into the spirit world - yes, sadly it must be so - you will compose yourself all the more because you know my constancy towards you, never can another possess my heart, never - never -
Oh God why must one go so far away from one's beloved, and yet my life in V[ienna] now seems a wretched one -
Your love makes me the happiest and the unhappiest at the same time - at my age I need a uniformity of life - can this exist in terms of our relationship? - Angel, I've just discovered that the post goes off daily, and I must therefore close so that you get this l[etter] as soon as possible - be calm, only through calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our aim of living together - be calm - love me - today - yesterday - what tearful longing for you - you - you - my life - my all - farewell - love me always - never doubt the most faithful heart of your beloved

L

ever yours
ever mine
ever us


[My translation. Not an easy task. In the white heat of his passion Beethoven sometimes writes ungrammatically, or without bringing his sentences to a conclusion. His handwriting is very difficult to decipher, and some words are so illegible as to be open to different readings. Worse, the original manuscript was first copied and 'rationalised' by one Anton Schindler, an acquaintance of Beethoven who subsequently wrote one of the earliest biographies. Where Schindler was uncertain, he was inclined to invent, and even to tamper with primary documents to support his invention. Most of the far-fetched, romantic legends told about Beethoven originate with him. When Schindler comes in, serious Beethoven commentators hide behind the sofa.]

This famous letter, written as a continuous outpouring on three sides of paper, is addressed to die unsterbliche Geliebte, the Immortal Beloved. Oceans of ink, midnight oil and massive swathes of computer memory have been squandered on identifying the woman Beethoven addressed it to, but no one has conclusively established who the lady was. Nor has it ever been explained how the letter came to be in Beethoven's possession at his death. Was it never sent? Was it returned? How strong are the indications that the Immortal Beloved was already married?

Immortal Beloved candidate No. 94: Antonie von Brentano

5 comments:

Rog said...

It knocks modern courtship into a cocked hat. Texts reading "ne1 fnce a shaag?" just show how far we have descended as a civilization. I must try harder.

Mind you, you couldn't call a young lad "trouser button" today without being named and shamed by the News of the World.

Dave said...

Good lord! I wrote almost exactly the same letter only yesterday.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Dave: Extraordinary! - but are you referring to Beethoven's letter or the text message which Rog quotes above?

Rog said...

lol!!!!

Dave said...

The truly extraordinmary thing is that I wrote both. To the same person.

In my mind, you understand, in my mind.