As Beethoven lay in his bed in waning health on July 6 – 7, 1812, the great composer authored three passionate love letters to a woman whose identity has, until recently, been veiled in mystery. Discovered in Beethoven’s bedside table shortly after his death in 1827, these intimate letters – undelivered and addressed to “meine unsterbliche Geliebte” (“my immortal beloved”) – have inspired debate and speculation among musicologists for two centuries. The letters are a poignant testament to the tragic fact that an artist so full of passionate feeling had experienced unfathomable pain and longing where love was concerned and was ultimately unable to attain everyday happiness as he pursued his monumental artistic goals.
Dozens of “Immortal Beloved” candidates have been proposed over the years, but during the last 50 years Beethoven scholars have increasingly rallied around the candidacy of the Countess Josephine von Brunswick (1779–1821), a beautiful young Hungarian aristocrat whom the composer first met in 1799, shortly before her marriage to the Count von Deym. When the Count died in 1804, Josephine’s relationship with Beethoven intensified. Sadly, it seems that her social status and parental obligations prevented her from marrying Beethoven, a suitor deemed unsuitable by her family (her hovering matriarch Anna von Brunswick, in particular). Toward the end of the third movement of the “Letters to the Immortal Beloved” cycle, the lyrical opening theme of Beethoven’s “Andante Grazioso in F Major” for piano solo (popularly known as the Andante Favori) can be heard. Beethoven secretly dedicated the Andante Favori to Josephine von Brunswick shortly after the death of her husband, Count von Deym.
Was Josephine indeed Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved”? We may never know with certainty. However, entries in the diary of Therese von Brunswick (1775–1861), the countess’s sister, provide compelling testimony on the question:
Beethoven, a beautiful mind! Why did my sister Josephine, as widow Deym, not take him as her husband? Josephine’s soul mate! They were born for each other. Maternal affection made her forego her own happiness. The letters found in Beethoven’s bedside table… must have been addressed to Josephine, whom he loved passionately.