Beethoven in love: ”Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.’’
A love story, requested by Marianne Jones for Valentines.
By Ann Hicks
It may have began during those leisurely walks Józsefine and Ludwig took in the lilac-scented woods surrounding the park at the Brunszvik Kastély at Martonvásár. Only those woods stood witness to the hands that clasped and the embraces that held. Now, two and half centuries later, the castle’s park – a much-visited tourist destination – continues to be one of the most romantic and verdant in the country where the town of Martonvásár nestles twenty miles southwest of Budapest.
Once Upon a Time
To spin and twist this chimeric love story let’s begin with a journey from Vienna, Austria to Martonvásár, Hungary. To be sure, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, traveling by coach could take a week to straddle the 253-mile distance of mostly country roads. Talk about discomfort.
Thus, the renowned composer, Ludwig van Beethoven – he of tussled mane and piercing eyes – undertakes to visit a Hungarian aristocratic family whose members love, respect, and financially support him. He arrives to the estate in the spring of 1800, for an extended stay with his patrons, Count Antal Brunszvik and his wife, the Baroness Anna Seeberg.
Imagine him at the time. His hearing is slipping away while his fame is at fever pitch. The virtuosic pianist-composer at age thirty is in his prime middle years both professionally and chronologically. Fortuna embraced Beethoven. He is worshipped in gilded Vienna. Adoring aristocrats flock to support his remarkable artistic output. He is an international rock star hailed from London to Moscow.
Imagine her. The doe-eyed Józsefine, vivacious, twenty-one, married, conversant in several languages and a student of music history. A dovetail. She travels from her estate with her retinue to her parents home to see Beethoven. Not too long ago she was his student. Józsefine’s older sister, Teréz, and their brother Ferenc, also close to Beethoven live at the family home. Five years later, Beethoven, a grateful artist, and eventually lifelong friend of Ferenc dedicates his F minorSonata, the Appassionata composed in 1805 to his young patron.
As for cupid, the fat romancer is ready – the stage is set. Buccolic setting. Fragrant spring nights. Add the man who easily falls for love and a woman, not sure what she is seeking until it finds them.
They Met in Vienna
A year earlier, in 1799, the Countess Seeberg-Brunszvik decides the time is ripe to decamp to Vienna and stay through the social season. She will introduce her two pretty daughters, Teréz and Józsefine at the Imperial Court and all other fashionable places. There are many important balls to twirl in, English tea or hot chocolate with whipped cream to sip, and nightly musical performances to attend. Picture Józsefine and Teréz in Empire style gowns with low décolletage and high waist; they clasp parasols over pretty bonnets that clutch fine hair in tiny curls.
Glittering Vienna of the 1790s is a hotbed of musical creativity fueled by the Imperial City’s aristocracy whose favorite pastime IS music. The city is home-base to the classical triumvirate of giants: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. It is in this cultured and sparkly milieu where the Countess Seeberg-Brunszvik plans to find among the eligible nobility suitable husbands for her daughters. To be in the hunt, she arranges for her daughters to take keyboard instructions. It’s all part of having to meet societal expectations for marriageable young ladies.
The teacher the countess wants has to be nothing less than the best.
The Brunszviks pay an unexpected visit to the composer’s home. He later recalls being embarrassed that his threadbare receiving room had no chairs for the ladies. Apparently, Madam Brunszvik didn’t mind. The goal was to overcome the famed maestro’s reluctance to instruct. He was quoted having said, “Let those who don’t know how to compose, teach.”
Nevertheless, he agrees. Apparently, he can’t say no to the two pretty countesses as Józsefine twenty and Teréz, twenty-two, already a competent pianist and composer, win Beethoven’s nod. He instructed them for sixteen days.
Reunion: The spring of 1800.
Beethoven’s visit falls almost to a year to the time he taught Teréz and Józsefine. Teréz, in her journal recalls how much the celebrated guest enjoyed the many wonderful musical evenings, long walks, garden parties with invited young Brunszvik cousins and neighbors. She makes notes of lots of flirtations. One nubile Brunszvik cousin, Giuiletta Guicciardi, manages to inspire the eager composer to pen and dedicate to her, his yearning Sonata No. 14, the Moonlight.
Beethoven, reunited with the now bolder and sophisticated Józsefine, finds himself smitten. Józsefine, finds her former teacher irresistable. Fated as were Heloise and Abelard, the countess and the composer are doomed from the start But do they care? They don’t. Passion blooms and rules. Teréz mentions watching the lovers’ seated close, play four-hand at the family’s 1797 Stein piano totally lost in each other.
Teréz, updates her journal daily. She mentiones composing a concerto and also remarks on her married sister’s liaison with Beethoven ruing the day the spring affair ends and the heartache begins. Beethoven, also knows it. Knows that for the rest of his life, Józsefine, will be his “Only Beloved.”
The Immortal Beloved
Following Beethoven’s death, a stack of letters is found addressed to his “Immortal Beloved.” Initially described as three separate letters, later research finds it to be a 15-page letter in three parts, penned on two days and one night. Beethoven begins on July 6th a Monday morning, continues that night to be completed the following morning. His letter notes no year, no location, or recipient.
Further stretching the tales’ mystery is how come it was in Beethoven’s possession? Did he not send it? Did he send it and it was returned? The fact is, he held on to it for life.
Let these parts speak then, of love felt and told.
‘’Lying in my bed my thoughts fly to you my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyous, then sorrowful, waiting on fate, will it listen to our plea? I want to live with you, not without you. Yes, I’ve decided to wander for the rest of my days, until I can fly into your arms again…ever thine, ever mine, ever ours….”