The Two Women Who Could Be Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved’

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Josephine Von Brunswik and Antonie Brentano
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Josephine Von Brunswik (left) and Antonie Brentano (right) are believed to be the top contenders to be Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved.”

Soon after Beethoven’s death in 1827, a letter was found in a secret drawer in his Vienna apartment. It was a 10-page rough draft written in pencil to someone Beethoven called "My Immortal Beloved."

It begins, "My angel, my all, my own self."

The letter is a complete swirl of emotions, both moving and heartfelt. He pleads and declares his special love and it appears reciprocal.

“While still in bed my thoughts rush to you, my Immortal Beloved, sometimes joyfully, other times sadly, waiting to see whether Fate will listen to us.”

Beethoven's letter

Not once in the letter is the recipient revealed. For two centuries, her identity has been debated. There have been lots of contenders.

The 1994 Beethoven biopic "Immortal Beloved" concluded that "beloved" was Beethoven’s sister-in-law, Johanna van Beethoven. That theory has been debunked by just about everyone. He had a bitter custody battle with Johanna over his nephew after his brother died.  

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Therese Malfatti, the daughter of a Viennese merchant, is also a Beloved contender (though not in the top two). Some believe Beethoven honored Malfatti with his famous "Fur Elise."

Amazing detective work has been done over the last 30 to 40 years by musicologists around the world to solve the mystery. They analyzed and dated the actual paper of the letter and compared Beethoven’s diary to his appointment calendar to determine where he was at specific periods of time.

They decided the famous letter was written at a stagecoach roadside inn on Monday, July 7, 1812.

Beethoven had just left Prague and probably met his Beloved there. He was on a stopover en route to the spa village of Karlsbad in Bohemia where there was to be another rendezvous. With this information, many scholars have honed their guesses down to two women.   

“Love demands everything and rightly so, and thus it is for me with you, for you with me ...”

Beethoven's letter

One of those women is Antonie Brentano.

She was a wealthy heiress that Beethoven would often visit, sometimes just playing the piano for her outside her bedroom door and suite. He loved her family and Beethoven was even friends with "Toni’s" husband. She’s a real possibility, but some surmise Beethoven’s moral high ground wouldn’t allow him to follow through having an affair with a married woman whose husband was a friend and even a financial advisor.          

“Can our love persist except through sacrifice, through not demanding everything?”   

Beethoven's letter

The other contender is Josephine Von Brunswik. She moved in and out of Beethoven’s orbit over the years.

Many in their social circle thought the two ought to marry after she was widowed at a young age but apparently she turned him down because he was a commoner. (This would be a recurring theme in Beethoven’s life.)

However, they stayed close. In letters found and later published in the 1950s, he called her "My Angel" just like in the Immortal Beloved letter.  

The research team at the Beethoven-Haus museum in Bonn, Germany (Beethoven’s birthplace) now believes Josephine is the one.

Some contemporary biographers like Maynard Solomon and Jan Swafford believe Beethoven and his Beloved covered their tracks with regards to the relationship.

It’s probably safe to say that after all this time (unless a mailed version of the letter is ever found) Immortal Beloved will just remain, Immortal Beloved.

“Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever us.”

Read more about the famous composer

2020 marks 250 years since the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven and CPR Classical celebrates!

On CPR Classical every weekend Oct. 9 - Dec. 13: Fridays at 12:30 p.m., Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m.