Electric Love pt. 2 – Immortal Beloved

July 6, in the morning
My angel, my all, my very self – Only a few words today and at that with pencil (with yours) – 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 sacrifices, through not demanding everything from one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine – Oh God, look out into the beauties of nature and comfort your heart with that which must be – Love demands everything and that very justly – thus it is to me with you, and to your with me. But you forget so easily that I must live for me and for you; if we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I – My journey was a fearful one; I did not reach here until 4 o’clock yesterday morning. Lacking horses the post-coach chose another route, but what an awful one; at the stage before the last I was warned not to travel at night; I was made fearful of a forest, but that only made me the more eager – and I was wrong. The coach must needs break down on the wretched road, a bottomless mud road. Without such postilions as I had with me I should have remained stuck in the road. Esterhazy, traveling the usual road here, had the same fate with eight horses that I had with four – Yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties – Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other soon; moreover, today I cannot share with you the thoughts I have had during these last few days touching my own life – If our hearts were always close together, I would have none of these. My heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all – Cheer up – remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours. The gods must send us the rest, what for us must and shall be –
Your faithful LUDWIG.

Ludwig Van Beethoven had his Immortal Beloved. It is widely suspected that it was a particular lady, a Antonie Van Birkenstock, who was in what would be considered a scandalous state of affairs, married to Franz Brentano for 12 years at the time she had first met Beethoven, and with 4 surviving children (1 had died in childbirth). As this letter attests, it was a love from afar. Beethoven for obvious reasons could not be with Antonie, and was relegated to playing the piano for her while she was sick for a short time.

The letters were written to her as Beethoven travelled. Beethoven knew her in Frankfurt from 1810 to 1812, at which time she departed and he never saw her again. From 1812 to his death in 1827 Beethoven is suspected to have penned many letters as such. It is in these opines we can see his overriding theme of love, devotion, and the wish to be together though both knew it would never be possible.

We know Beethoven was a passionate man, full of fire and vigor and emotion. His music reflected this, and has entraced millions for over a century. However, while his feelings for Antonie are easily apparent, what I will reflect on here is the person of Antonie in her relationship with Beethoven. It is here we will find more in relation with the first part of this article.

Antonie was married at the right young age of 18 to a man 15 years her senior. From what we know, she was prone to illness. It is suspected he met Beethoven via her sister-in-law Bettina Brentano. During her time in Frankfurt, as I stated earlier, Beethoven would play the piano for her during her periods of illness. Whether anything else happened can be left to speculation, however considering that Franz was a wealthy merchant and probably kept a staff tending to her, it would not be unreasonable to assume that nothing physical actually happened, as a man the stature of Beethoven at the time surely would have been embroiled in a wide scandal should such have occured. It is also of note that victorian ideals would have prevented such until a proper time of consumation, and his letters to her are rife with an unfulfilled longing that point to there being no consumation at the time of their writing.
This would mean that their relationship started and ended with music and company. Surely, days spent bedridden would welcome company, though Beethoven according to accounts was hardly the most pleasant man to get along with. Still he played, and we would assume, they talked at length.

We thus have a relationship developed in the shadow of a prior relationship, but not physically consumated. There was a connection on an emotional level, a meeting of hearts and minds across the barrier of commitments, across a non-physical divide. But what of Antonie? How did this relate to her own marriage? Her own family?

From what resources we have, we know Beethoven composed not only for her, but her daughter. This means Beethoven was a friend of the family, and loved enough that the children, too, were brought into this love. This would imply that Antonie did love her family and her children as well as Beethoven. Impossible?

Looking at what we said before, it is definately possible to love more than one person, as each love, I am convinced, is unique to whom we love. It may have fallen into a broad category of “romantic love” but I am sure Antonie’s love for Franz was unique as compared to her love for Beethoven. Did this make her a lesser person? In the eyes of some, perhaps. But insofar as we can tell, there was no physical consumation of this love… it seems both were very aware of the impossibility of such and did mourn that aspect.

How then did this affect Antonie?

She remained married and faithful to Franz the rest of her life, and yet, loved Beethoven as well. They dreamed of a day where they could be together, yet neither would do anything untoward to make that happen. They took what they could, a love, and carried it out in letters across what must have seemed a tragic, infinite space.

It would seem then that it is not only possible to love more than one, but to love across the interminable confines of physicality. In America, our definition of love is so base as to be associated entirely with the physical consumation, which in itself is a tragedy. Love is more than sex, more than holding hands and kissing even. Love connects us to one another in multiple ways, romantic or otherwise. Antonie loved 2 men, but could only be with one. For Beethoven, it was hearts meeting through an abstract medium, through letters. Perhaps it was a love of the ideal of each other, but it was a love nonetheless.

From Beethoven we bring the lesson to the modern day. With the advent of our digital lives, we now have ressurected this venerable form, after a fashion. Communicating across great distances, we forge relationships, friendships and yes, even love. Is our love any less viable because of the speed of our digital communications instead of painstaking letters? Or are we all like Beethoven, searching for our own Immortal Beloved across a digital gulf?

I tend to think it the latter. It is possible to love, even those we have never met. In our age, the anonymity of the internet affords us not only the opportunity to be someone completely other than who we are, but the opportunity to be ourselves more deeply than we could be otherwise. With the masks we weave in our online lives, there are times when we are ourselves more than at any other time, the very mask that hides us allowing the inner self to come out.

In those rare cases, inner selves can meet, and we can find who we connect with on levels perhaps not experienced before. We can also fall in love with the ideas we form about a person, the reality being much less attractive. In either case, the connection is there, and like Beethoven pining at his desk with pencil in hand, we pine at our glowing screens, seeking the right words for those whom with we wish to share ourselves. Like Antonie, there are those also who love their composer as well as their mate, and must suffer the bittersweet tragedy of a love that may never be other than words.

Are we Beethoven? Are we Antonie? I have no answer for that. Suffice to say, we can love, and be loved remotely as well as directly. Every love is unique, even the ones for our own immortal beloveds, whom we may never even meet.

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