Beethoven’s resignation lettersmain
An die Geliebte WoO 140
In the summer of 1812, Beethoven wrote three love letters to an unknown woman. On present evidence she is thought most likely to be Josephine Brunsvik, but she may well have been someone who has never been traced.
The immortal beloved letters are the closest we come to seeing Beethoven in love, hopelessly in love.
6 July, morning
My angel, my all, my own self — only a few words today, and that too with pencil (with yours) — only till tomorrow is my lodging definitely fixed. What abominable waste of time in such things — why this deep grief, where necessity speaks?
Can our love persist otherwise than through sacrifices, than by not demanding everything? Canst thou change it, that thou are not entirely mine, I not entirely thine? Oh, God, look into beautiful Nature and compose your mind to the inevitable. Love demands everything and is quite right, so it is for me with you, for you with me — only you forget so easily, that I must live for you and for me — were we quite united, you would notice this painful feeling as little as I should . . .
. . . We shall probably soon meet, even today I cannot communicate my remarks to you, which during these days I made about my life — were our hearts close together, I should probably not make any such remarks. My bosom is full, to tell you much — there are moments when I find that speech is nothing at all. Brighten up — remain my true and only treasure, my all, as I to you. The rest the gods must send, what must be for us and shall.
Monday evening, 6 July
You suffer, you, my dearest creature. Just now I perceive that letters must be posted first thing early. Mondays — Thursdays — the only days, when the post goes from here to K. You suffer — oh! Where I am, you are with me, with me and you, I shall arrange that I may live with you. What a life!
So! Without you — pursued by the kindness of the people here and there, whom I mean — to desire to earn just as little as they earn — humility of man towards men — it pains me — and when I regard myself in connection with the Universe, what I am, and what he is — whom one calls the greatest — and yet — there lies herein again the godlike of man. I weep when I think you will probably only receive on Saturday the first news from me — as you too love — yet I love you stronger — but never hide yourself from me. Good night — as I am taking the waters, I must go to bed. Oh God — so near! so far! Is it not a real building of heaven, our Love — but as firm, too, as the citadel of heaven.
Good morning, on 7 July
Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all. Yes, I have determined to wander about for so long far away, until I can fly into your arms and call myself quite at home with you, can send my soul enveloped by yours into the realm of spirits — yes, I regret, it must be. You will get over it all the more as you know my faithfulness to you; never another one can own my heart, never — never! O God, why must one go away from what one loves so, and yet my life in W. as it is now is a miserable life. Your love made me the happiest and unhappiest at the same time. At my actual age I should need some continuity, sameness of life — can that exist under our circumstances? Angel, I just hear that the post goes out every day — and must close therefore, so that you get the L. at once. Be calm — love me — today — yesterday.
What longing in tears for you — You — my Life — my All — farewell. Oh, go on loving me — never doubt the faithfullest heart
Of your beloved
The previous year he had written a song ‘to the loved one’, a song so brief it is barely more than a breath. It is also his only original work for guitar. That summer he made the first of two revisions adapting it for piano. The opening strophe of the song is strikingly close to his ‘immortal beloved’ letter:
Your silent eye shed a tear
that glistens with love,
oh, may I drink it from your cheek
before the earth absorbs it.
Just a song. It marks, for Beethoven, the end of love. This performance by Matthias Goerne (with Jan Lisiecki) conveys all you need to know about love and loss. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with Hartmut Höll) is fast and unfeeling. Hermann Prey, rather slower, makes too much of it.
Resignation WoO 149 (1817)
At the age of 46, Beethoven came across a poem that said all he wanted to express about his farewell to love. It begins:
Out, little candle!
What you need
Can’t be found here
Remarkable as this self-recognition was, he composed the song not in his late-period obduracy but in the spirit of youthful innocence. It has charm and humour, even a trace of self-mockery. It suggests that he once loved being in love but can now manage nicely without it.
The tragically shortlived German tenor Fritz Wunderlich left a recording that is practically unsurpassable in its blend of youth and late-life, an interpretation stripped of nostalgia and pathos, reduced to the plain male truth.
Fischer-Dieskau is duller in a lower register, though not without psychological depth about personal loss. In a limited field, these two artists are outstanding.