Probably the most important woman in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, as documented by at least 15 love letters he wrote her where he called her his “only beloved”, being “eternally devoted” to her and “forever faithful” was Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Given that there is no other similar evidence that he might have been in love with any other woman, she is generally considered to be the most likely recipient of the mysterious “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”
Josephine came from an aristocratic family of amateur musicians who lived in a magnificent castle near Budapest. She and her sister Therese were brought to Vienna in 1799 for private piano lessons with Beethoven. His feelings for her are documented in at least 15 love letters penned over a long period. Although she appears to have been attracted to the great composer and moved by his devotion, the surviving correspondence indicates that things never progressed beyond close friendship – family pressure and her suitor’s lack of title and social graces may have had something to do with it.
Josephine married twice: first to the much older Joseph Count Deym, with whom she had four children. When he died in 1804 Beethoven resumed his advances, seeing the young widow far more frequently than decorum permitted. At this most intense period in their relationship, the composer was writing the jubilant finale of his opera Leonore (later revised as Fidelio), a work exalting a virtuous wife and the power of married love. The most tempestuous sonata of his middle period, the Appassionata, was written during this time and dedicated to Josephine’s brother Count Franz von Brunsvik.
By 1810 Josephine had re-married, and her union with Baron von Stackelberg proved an unhappy one.
Beethoven composed the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope) and the piano piece Andante favori as musical declarations of love. He seems to have carried the torch for a long time: it is widely thought that Josephine is the subject of his famous, tormented letter to The Immortal Beloved, written in 1812: “…you know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never – never…”
Peter Schreier, tenor. Walter Olbertz, piano. Adele Stolte, soprano.