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LOVER AND LION
IT may be mere coincidence or it may be significant that Beethoven, Therese and Josephine all spent the winter of 1805-6 in a whirl of social gaiety. Therese, with her stormy, deep heart and richly gifted mind, had deliberately schooled herself into a brilliance and beauty capable of holding their own against the graces of Josephine. Josephine, on her side, was at the height of her natural fascination. The two young countesses at their mother’s house of Ofen were like ‘queens of wit and beauty’ in the festivities arranged for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The grand duke indeed was so taken by Therese that she might have become the grand duchess. Or so, at least, it is said. Beethoven, on his side, emerged from his self-imposed solitude and went freely into Viennese society. Why? Did he sometimes find Therese there? And what-or who-helped him to the final moral victory over his deafness? It was about this time he pencilled on a page of sketches for the Rasoumovsky quartets: ‘Just as you are now plunging into the whirlpool of society - just so possible is it to compose operas in spite of social obstacles. Let your deafness no longer be a secret - even in art.’ In those last words there is something that rings like the voice of Therese, the self-consecrated priestess to truth.
Beethoven at length had won the triumphant solution of his problem, and the great works he now poured out were full of an extraordinary splendour. Again and again in their glory the compositions dating from 1805 to 1812 make one think they have been touched by that spirit of which Christ spoke when He said: ‘I am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly’.
It was precisely during these years that Therese and Beethoven drew nearest to each other. With the exception of Eleonore von Breuning, she was the only woman of a nobility of character comparable to his own whom he loved, and she had learned charity of soul in the hard school of suffering.
Whether Therese was really the ‘Immortal Beloved’ of Beethoven’s famous letter will never be sure, but a number of his responsible biographers believe that she was. The longer I survey the facts in the light of human experience, the more I am inclined to share their point of view.
This is not the place to discuss the complicated testimony of dates, nor the scraps of collateral and presumptive evidence. Those should be sought in the pages of Thayer, Romain Rolland, La Mara, Specht, etc. Suffice it to say here the letter was found after Beethoven’s death in a secret drawer in his room, and the finders’ first idea was that it had been intended for Giulietta Guicciardi. Later biographers considered Therese von Brunswick the heroine of the romance; still later inquirers suggested Therese Malfitti or Amalie Sebald. Few clues are certain. Beethoven was often careless over dates. So though he headed this letter ‘Monday, 6th July,’ and the years in which 6th July fell on a Monday were 1801, 1807 and 1812, he may have been a day out, which would change the year. [Schindler thought it had been written in 1801 to Giulietta Guicciardi; Thayer favours 1806 or 1807 and Therese von Brunswick. Romain Rolland now considers the date settled as 1812 and champions Therese von Brunswick] The letter itself is in three parts, written at different times during the twenty-four hours from 6th to 7th July. To what a white heat of passion he was wrought up, the following extracts show:
My angel, my all, my very self - only a few words today and at that with pencil (with thine). Not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon - what a useless waste of time. Why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks - can our love endure except through not demanding everything - canst thou change it that thou art not wholly mine, I not wholly thine? O God! look out into the beauties of nature and comfort thyself with that which must be - love demands everything and that very justly - thus it is with me so far as thou art concerned and thou with me. If we were wholly united thou wouldst feel the pain of it as little as I. ... Thou art suffering. Ah! wherever I am there thou art also. I shall arrange affairs between us so that I shall live and live with thee, what a life!!!! thus!!!! thus without thee. ... Though still in bed my thoughts go out to thee, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us. I can live only wholly with thee or not at all - yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from thee until I can fly to thy arms and say that I am really at home, sent my soul enwrapped in thee into the land of spirits. Yes, unhappily it must be so - thou wilt be the more resolved since thou knowest my fidelity to thee, no one can ever again possess my heart - none - never - O God, why is it necessary to part from one whom one so loves, and yet my life in W. is now a wretched life; thy love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men. ... Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together - be calm love me today - yesterday - what tearful longings for thee - thee - my life - my all - farewell - oh, continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of thy beloved. L.
ever for each other.
It is characteristic of Beethoven that this love letter, one of the greatest in the world tells us spiritually so much, materially so little. To him there could be no nobility in passion unless it meant also a union of souls. The predominance of soul-states in the letter shows how greatly Beethoven felt lifted above the common world - and also how sure he was that the ‘Immortal Beloved,’ to whom he poured out his burning words, moved spiritually on the same plane as himself. That was true of Therese von Brunswick not of the other women. Again, though clues of time and place have yielded little information, Beethoven’s allusions to love demanding everything, to the pain the lovers would feel so little were they united, and to the ‘humility of man towards man - it pains me,’ are all understandable if they refer to the difference in rank between Beethoven and Countess Therese, for under the old cruel code of Austrian nobility marriage between an aristocrat and a plebeian meant social ostracism. Finally, one fact emerges crystal clear from the letter: Beethoven had spoken his love, and knew it was returned.
So, though the mystery remains unsolved, I like to think of the Countess Therese as the ‘Immortal Beloved.’ We do know that in the summer of 1806 Beethoven went to stay with her brother, Count Franz von Brunswick, at his country seat. Franz adored Beethoven. Friendship between the two men ripened to a fraternal fondness; they used the intimate ‘du’ and addressed each other as ‘brother.’ Therese was there too. Thoughts of her and of marriage ran together in Beethoven’s mind, lurking beneath the jocose phrases of his letter to Count Franz ‘on a Mayday’: ‘Schuppanzigh is married - it is said to someone very like him. - What a family?" Kiss your sister Therese; tell her, I fear I shall have to become great without any memorial from her contributing thereto.’
Yes, a wonderful May, in which Beethoven began the composition of his Rasoumovsky quartets. Yet an ominous May, for then Beethoven’s brother Karl married Theres (Johanna) Reiss. Their son, born in September, was to be the second great sorrow of Beethoven’s life. But in 1806 Beethoven was as near real happiness as at any time in his career. One fancies he and Therese were in the state of attracted antagonism which is an early stage of love. Later, whether in 1806 or 1807 does not matter, their souls rushed into a transcendent unity that seemed as if it must last for ever. It did not, and the cause of their separation can only be guessed. Beethoven was a great musician above and beyond all else one who had heard the call of the stellar spaces and saw that greater spiritual life beyond the temporal which makes all things only seem distant. The legend of Saint Felix, to whom a century passed like a minute while he heard the song of the heavenly bird, is only a medieval symbol of a spiritual truth. Yet alongside this spiritual power, so strong that Therese likened Beethoven to an eagle looking at the sun, he vacillated in a way that drove his friends almost to despair. It may well be that at first he believed he and Therese could live together: and then later was undone by indecision. Fraulein Karoline Languider, an old friend of the Brunswick family, probably came near the truth when she said:
I do not believe that the Schwärmerei for Countess Julia Gallenberg-Guicciardi - though it may have been warm and wonderful for she was a very beautiful elegant woman of the world - ever took such possession of the heart of Beethoven as did the later love for Countess Therese Brunswick, which led to an engagement. That was decidedly his profoundest love, and that it did not result in marriage, it is said, was due to the - what shall I call it - real artistic temperament (Natur) of Beethoven, who, in spite of his great love, could not make up his mind to get married. It is said that Countess Therese took it greatly to heart.
Poor Therese! To have loved so long and faithfully, to have been ready to marry Beethoven with all his unrefined habits, his uncertain health (living with him would have been like living with a gorilla, as a shrewd critic said), to have been willing to go into social exile for his sake - and then to find that Beethoven did not consider her worth any sacrifice on his part! Could anything have been more painful to a woman of her sensitivity and pride? If this be the true reading of her story, I do not wonder she considered that ‘the misfortune of my whole life’ was decided between 1807 and 1809. I think that by 1808 Therese had seen the hopelessness of it all. When Josephine asked her that summer to accompany her to Switzerland, she went. They visited Pestalozzi at Yverdon. His genius, his ‘heavenly goodness the sight of his work for children came to Therese as a revelation at the moment of her extremity. From then onwards she dedicated herself to ‘ that work of education and social action, the magnificent creation of which - the love of poor and abandoned children, a sort of universal maternity - Hungary celebrated in 1928," says M. Rolland. The love she had felt for Beethoven was so great that when he ceased to want it and she let it flow into the world, it was sufficient to bless hundreds of little children.
But if Beethoven and Therese saw the only service left they could do each other was to part, I think they exchanged tokens of an invisible companionship. Therese gave him her portrait, painted by Lampi, with the words on the back of the frame:
To the Unique Genius
To the Great Artist
To the Good Man
It hung always upon the wall of Beethoven’s room in company with the picture of his grandfather.
Beethoven gave to Therese the Sonata in F sharp major, Op. 78, composed and dedicated to her in 1809; a far more beautiful portrait than the painting.
Neither of them ever married. Therese lived to be eighty-six and died a canoness in a convent.
Beethoven, however, continued falling in and out of love. He was caught almost immediately by a girl in her teens - Therese, the niece of his doctor, Malfitti. This was apparently in 1810. It proved a humiliating affair. His infatuation for the young minx was absolutely foolish; her family were furious, and she, after playing with him, turned town his proposal of marriage. Therese Malfatti, without meaning it, revenged Therese von Brunswick.
How convenient, though flippant, it would be to reduce Beethoven’s successive love affairs to a list of the ladies’ names and dates - as for example:
1810. Therese Malfatti and Bettina Brentano.
1811/1812. Amalie Sebald.
But not all the names are known, and the charmers had less and less influence upon his work. Only to the end of his days he sighed to find ‘her who shall strengthen me in virtue.’ When temptation came his strong principles of purity were not always proof against an ignoble gratification of the world, the flesh and the devil - a gratification which he loathed in retrospect. When he sinned he was (like Lancelot) never ‘the sleeker for it.’
Between 1805 and 1812 his compositions poured out in a glorious spate. music was his true life. Hearing the piano Concerto in G major, the violin Concerto, the fourth Symphony, the three Rasoumovsky Quartets and the third overture to Leonora, it is nothing to us whether he was then in love with Josephine or Therese. Nor when we hear the fifth and sixth Symphonies, the overture to Coriolan and the Mass in C (1807) do we care that in the spring of this year Beethoven applied unsuccessfully for the post of composer to the royal imperial court theatre. Still less are we interested in King Jerome Bonaparte’s invitation to Beethoven to become his Kapellmeister at Cassel in 1808. We only remember that the Fantasia in C major, Op. 80, the cello Sonata, Op. 69, and the Trios, Op. 70, all belong to that year. Beethoven was rather attracted towards Cassel on account of the good salary offered, but he disliked the dissolute tone of Jerome’s court. Besides, he had already connections with the Austrian imperial family through his pupil the Archduke Rudolph. The prospective theft of their Beethoven roused the Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky to guarantee him a salary of four thousand gulden, on condition he did not leave Austria without their permission. He remained with pleasure. Next year, 1809, Vienna was besieged by Napoleon; a heavy bombardment disturbed Haydn’s last days on earth and drove Beethoven into the refuge of Karl van Beethoven’s cellar with pillows tied over his ears.
We have passed through a great deal of misery [he wrote to Breitkopf in July]. When I tell you that since 4th May I have brought into the world little that is connected, only here and there a fragment. The whole course of events has affected me body and soul; nor can I have the enjoyment of country life, so indispensable to me. ... What a disturbing, wild life around me, nothing but drums, cannons, men, misery of all sorts.
So once again the tramp of French armies had swelled from a low thunder on the horizon of Beethoven’s life to a lashing tempest that beat down all resistance. No glamour about Napoleon now. Beethoven was furious and unafraid. ‘If I were a general and knew as much about strategy as I, a composer, know about counterpoint, I’d give you fellows something to do,’ he cried out, doubling his fist at the back of a French officer in the street.
When listening to Beethoven’s piano Concerto in E flat major, Op. 73, who would guess that this was the year in which he completed it - music wherein is embodied all the splendour, joy and power of the world, or that he wrote it in surroundings of Spartan rigour? In 1810 Bettina Brentano paid her famous visits to Beethoven and found him at the piano, in a room of extraordinary bareness and disorder.
She was a poet herself, already knew Goethe, and understood genius by intuition. Beethoven found himself able to talk to her as he had never done to his men friends, and she was a real link between him and Goethe - the sole man of his own lofty genius whom he believed would understand him.
This summer, happily, Beethoven went to the country as usual, Baden being the chosen spot. Next year, 1811, the depreciation of money resulting from the war reduced his salary to one thousand three hundred and sixty gulden. None the less, he spent August at Teplitz in the midst of a circle of brilliant folk on holiday, among them Varnhagen, Rahel Tiedge, Elise von der Recke and Amalie Sebald. This year and the next brought him the stupendous seventh Symphony, the deliciously happy eighth Symphony and the Olympian Trio in B flat major, Op. 97; 1812 being also the year of the ethereally lovely Sonata for piano and violin in G major, Op. 96, the ‘little’ B flat major Trio, the three Equali for four trombones, and smaller things.
By the singular habit which the royalties and statesmen of mid-Europe had of carrying on political consultations, disguised as ‘cures,’ at summer watering-places (a habit practised as late as 1914!), a great concentration of royalties took place at Teplitz in 1812. A very strategic spot from which to view Napoleon’s campaign in Russia! Moving in and out of this august group were the lovely Amalie, Bettina Brentano (now Frau von Arnim), her husband and other celebrities. Beethoven and Goethe met here for the first time, and were disappointed in each other. Beethoven approached Goethe with a heart full of admiration. He told Rochlitz years later: ‘How patient the great man was with me! ... How happy he made me then! I would have gone to my death for him; yes, ten times.’ His devotion, however, did not prevent Beethoven from rebuking the poet for what he considered his weak sensibility over music and his subservience to rank. He wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel: ‘Goethe is too fond of the atmosphere of the courts, more so than is becoming to a poet. Why laugh at the absurdities of virtuosi when poets, who ought to be the first teachers of a nation, forget all for the sake of this glitter?’ Beethoven had ideas of the moral responsibility of artists towards the world that would appear ridiculous to some poets of today, whose work a wit lately described as showing the soul of a rabbit imprisoned in a dustbin.
Goethe on his side began by saying of Beethoven that:
A more self-contained, energetic, sincere artist I never saw. I can understand right well how singular must be his attitude towards the world.
But after he had seen more of him, Goethe’s verdict was:
His talent amazed me; unfortunately he is an utterly untamed personality, not altogether in the wrong in holding the world to be detestable, but who does not make it any the more enjoyable either for himself or other by his attitude. He is very excusable, on the other hand, and much to be pitied, as his hearing is leaving him, which, perhaps, mars the musical part of his nature less than the social. He is of a laconic nature, and will become doubly so, because of this lack.
And all the time Beethoven was ill and very unhappy. To 1812 - probably September - belongs this entry in his journal:
Submission, absolute submission to your fate, only this can give you the sacrifice ... to the servitude - O hard struggle! Turn everything which remains to the planning of the long journey - you must yourself find all that your most blessed wish can offer, you must force it to your will - keep always of the same mind.
Thou mayest be no longer a man, not for thyself, only for others, for thee there is no longer happiness except in thyself, in thy art - O God, give me strength to conquer myself, nothing must chain me to life. Thus everything connected with A. will go to destruction.
Words which carry with them the conviction that he had finally recognized he was debarred from marriage.
As if this inner struggle was not enough, an outer contest arose over Johann van Beethoven’s liaison with Therese Obermeyer. This unprincipled young woman proved to be living with him at Linz, where he was now a thriving chemist. Beethoven rushed off at once, intent on severing the connection - animated no doubt by the old sense of responsibility towards his brothers and the memory of his mother. Heartily as he disliked his first sister-in-law, Karl’s wife, he loathed the Obermeyer as thoroughly. After hateful scenes between the brothers, Johann married Therese, to the intense mortification of Ludwig. Troubles never come singly,’ says the proverb: about the same time brother Karl fell dangerously ill. As usual, distress and anger made Ludwig himself ill. This, coupled with money worries due to Prince Kinsky’s death (Kinsky had been one of the patrons who guaranteed Beethoven’s salary), may explain the slackening in his output at this time. Necessity made him think of a journey to England, where Haydn had earned a modest fortune twenty years earlier. An acquaintance, Mälzel, inventor of the metronome and an orchestrion, was anxious to join him, but the project was postponed on account of Karl van Beethoven’s illness, by which time Beethoven and Mälzel were both short of money. Mälzel ingeniously suggested that, as Wellington had won the Battle of Vittoria on 21st June 1813, Beethoven should write a battle piece to celebrate the event, which would please the English greatly and bring in money. For once Beethoven was tractable. He composed Wellington’s Victory (Battle Symphony), Op. 91, for the orchestrion, which turned out so well, in his own estimation, that he scored it for full orchestra. ‘It is certain that one writes most beautifully when one writes for the public, also that one writes rapidly he scribbled dryly in his Tagebuch.
The symphony was produced at a grand concert in aid of wounded Austrian and Bavarian soldiers, in the University Hall, 8th December 1813. The programme opened with the premiere of Beethoven’s seventh Symphony; two marches by Dussek and Pleyel followed; and Wellington’s Victory capped the occasion. Every one was wrought to a patriotic fervour. Spohr, Schuppanzigh, Dragonetti, Romberg (bassoon), Meyerbeer and Salieri gave their services in the band. Beethoven conducted. The thing had a succès fou. The concert had to be repeated, and the Battle Symphony continued its triumphant career far into the next year. Vienna, which had disparaged the Eroica, raved over its antithesis. Beethoven knew this and declared the work to be folly; he said he ‘liked it only because with it he had thoroughly thrashed the Viennese.’ Irony put its final touch on the situation when this work, which he had composed to bring him in funds for an English tour, now paid so well that he remained in Vienna. Mälzel, enraged, tried to pirate the score, and a lawsuit developed which lasted till 1817.
Throughout the years 1813, 1814 and 1815 Beethoven was immensely popular and prospered well enough to put by eight thousand florins in bank shares. Fidelio, again revised, was revived at the Kärnthnerthor theatre in May 1814. hailed with enthusiasm and chosen for the opening of the season. The Congress of Vienna (winter 1814-15) formed the climax of this brilliant period. Among all the great, Beethoven was lion too. For the time being he was also brought into something near a civilized existence by the endeavours of his good friends, the piano-maker Streicher and his wife, nee Nanette Stein. What his previous condition had been in dirt and disorder beggars description. Nanette said he had not a whole shirt to his back - and one can believe it. But to be made a lion and a lamb at one and the same time is a distracting experience. Beethoven’s compositions during these years were few.
On 18th June 1815 Napoleon, one hero of the Eroica, was defeated at Waterloo and went into exile. On 10th November 1815 a disaster befell Beethoven, the other hero of the symphony, which sent him into virtual exile from music for three years. Only the piano Sonata, Op. 101, a Fugue for string quintet and some small vocal works belong to them.
This disaster was the death of Karl van Beethoven and the legacy of his child as a ward.
I appoint my brother, Ludwig van Beethoven, guardian [wrote Karl in his will]. Inasmuch as this, my deeply loved brother, has often aided me with true brotherly love in the most magnanimous and noblest manner, I ask, in further confidence and trust in his noble heart, that he shall bestow the love and friendship which he often showed me upon my son Karl, and do all that is possible to promote the intellectual training and further welfare of my son. I know that he will not deny me this request.
And the dying man added a codicil:
Having learned that my brother, Hr. Ludwig van Beethoven, desires after my death to take wholly to himself my son Karl, and wholly to withdraw him from the supervision and training of his mother, and inasmuch as the best of harmony does not exist between my brother and my wife, I have found it necessary to add to my will that I by no means desire that my son be taken away from his mother, but that he shall always and so long as his future career permits, remain with his mother, to which end the guardianship of him is to be exercised by her as well as my brother. Only by unity can the object which I had in view in appointing my brother guardian of my son be attained, wherefore, for the welfare of my child, I recommend compliance to my wife, and more moderation to my brother.
God permit them to be harmonious for the sake of my child’s welfare. This is the last wish of the dying husband and brother.
Thus Beethoven (as Specht ironically points out) had been appointed when a boy as the guardian of his father, and now became the guardian of a boy thirty-six years his junior! In each case there was good cause, as the brothers knew, and Johanna was not a woman to trust.
Beethoven had long objected to her as immoral. Immediately following on Karl’s death he took most determined action to remove little Karl aged nine, from her influence. After legal processes lasting two months, he was awarded the custody of the child, and on 19th January 1816 he appeared as the legally appointed guardian of his nephew Karl, ‘and vowed with solemn hand-grasp before the assembled council to perform his duties.’
Thus Beethoven passed the second Rubicon of his life.