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Josephine Brunsvik or Countess Jozefina Brunszvik de Korompa (Hungarian: Brunszvik Jozefina; 28 March 1779 – 31 March 1821) was 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”. 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 Countess von Brunsvik was born on 28 March 1779 in Preßburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia), then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Her father Anton died in 1792, leaving his wife Anna (née von Seeberg) with four young children; the other three were Therese (1775–1861), the first-born, Franz (1777–1849), the only son and sole heir, and Charlotte (1782–1843). The Brunsviks lived in a magnificent castle in Martonvásár near Budapest; the family also had a castle in Korompa (Dolna Krupa in Slovakia).
The children grew up enjoying an education by private teachers, studying languages and classic literature; all four turned out to be talented musicians: Franz became a distinguished violoncellist, the girls excelled at the piano – most of all, Josephine. They admired especially the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, who during the 1790s had established himself as a star pianist in the Austrian capital of Vienna.
In May 1799, Anna took Therese and Josephine to Vienna to ask Beethoven to give her daughters piano lessons. Beethoven later admitted that he had to suppress his love of Josephine, and she felt “enthusiastic” about him. However, it was to the much older Joseph Count Deym (born 1752) to whom she was given in marriage – her mother needed a wealthy son-in-law of equal social standing. After some initial (mainly financial) difficulties, the Deyms developed a reasonably happy relationship, and Beethoven, continuing as Josephine’s piano teacher, was a regular visitor. Josephine gave birth to three children in quick succession, and was pregnant with the fourth, when Count Deym died suddenly of pneumonia in January 1804.
Beethoven continued to see the young widow frequently (rather too frequently, as sister Charlotte soon observed,) and wrote her more and more passionate love letters (of which 15 have survived, though not published before 1957).
Josephine replied in kind (none of her actual letters have survived, but only a few drafts she kept), but was obviously keen to keep the affair a secret. Beethoven composed not only this song (Op. 32) but the intensely lyrical piano piece Andante favori WoO 57, a musical declaration of love, especially for Josephine (thought by some to have been intended as the original middle movement for the stormy Waldstein Sonata Op. 53, discarded for its sensuousness for an austere, introspective introduction to the concluding rondo finale).
The Brunsvik family increased the pressure to terminate the relationship. She could not contemplate marrying Beethoven, a commoner, for the simple reason that she would have lost the guardianship of her aristocratic children.
Towards the end of 1807, Josephine began to yield to the pressure by her family and withdrew from Beethoven; she was not at home when he came to see her. This was later misinterpreted as a “cooling down” of her love. However, Beethoven would later remind her of this when he, perhaps, implored her in his letter to the "Immortal Beloved": "but – but never hide yourself from me".
In 1808, Therese joined her sister on a long journey that led them to Yverdon in Switzerland where they met the famous educator Pestalozzi, to find a teacher for Josephine’s two school-age sons. The man recommended to them was the Estonian baron Christoph von Stackelberg (1777–1841), who joined them on their return trip to Austria, via Geneva, southern France and Italy. During the winter of 1808/9 they crossed the Alps, and Josephine became seriously ill several times. From later diary notes by Therese and a letter by Stackelberg in 1815, it appears that Josephine was too weak to resist his amorous advances – with the result that she was pregnant when the two sisters returned, with Stackelberg, to Hungary in the Summer of 1809.
Stackelberg, as a stranger, of lower rank, and not a Catholic, was immediately rejected by the status-conscious Brunsviks. Josephine's first child by Stackelberg, Maria Laura, was born in secret (December 1809). Mother Anna von Brunsvik very reluctantly gave her written consent to the marriage, not only to give the baby a father, but also because Stackelberg threatened to discontinue the education of the Deym children otherwise. The wedding took place without any guests in February 1810 in Esztergom (Gran), a Hungarian town.
Josephine’s second marriage was unhappy from day one, and it only got worse. After a second daughter Theophile was born (exactly nine months after the wedding), she was ill again, and in 1811 Josephine decided not to sleep with Stackelberg any more. The couple also had strong disagreements about the methods of education. But the final straw, indeed the main reason for the irreversible breakdown, was the failed purchase of an expansive estate in Witschapp, Moravia, that Stackelberg could not manage to finance, and it resulted in their complete financial ruin.
After many lost lawsuits, nerve-wracking disputes and arguments that left Josephine in a desperate state of mind, Stackelberg left her (probably in June 1812, supposedly due to a sudden religious impetus, to find consolation in prayer and pious contemplation). This did not help Josephine, who needed money urgently, and she was in any case agonizing and suffering.
According to her diary entries in June 1812, Josephine clearly intended to go to Prague. At this stage, however, her and her sister Therese’s diaries end abruptly and do not continue until about two months later.
Meanwhile, Beethoven traveled to Teplitz via Prague, where, on 3 July 1812, he must have met a woman he subsequently called his “Immortal Beloved” in a letter written on 6/7 July (which he kept to himself).
Josephine’s main concern was to retain the custodianship of her four children by Deym, and she managed to find a new modus vivendi with her estranged husband in August 1812. The main point of this new marriage contract was that Stackelberg had it in writing that he could leave her any time – which he subsequently did when a daughter, Minona, was born on 8 April 1813 (it is possible that he suspected that she could not have been his child).
In 1814, Stackelberg turned up again to pick up “his” children (including Minona). Josephine refused, so he called the police to remove the three toddlers forcefully. However, as it turned out, Stackelberg did not take the children to his home in Estonia – instead he went to travel the world again, having dumped them at a deacon’s place in Bohemia.
Josephine, alone and increasingly ailing, “hired the dubious mathematics teacher Andrian [Karl Eduard von Andrehan-Werburg] ... she gradually fell under his charismatic spell, becoming pregnant and giving birth to Emilie [on 16 September 1815], hiding in a hut.” Meanwhile, Stackelberg had made an inheritance (a brother had died), and he came to Vienna in April 1815 to fetch Josephine. Being pregnant and due to the long since irreparably broken relationship, she was not interested. Stackelberg reacted by writing her a long letter indicating how much he “despised” her, and he also went to the police to slander her: a police report on 30 June 1815 about Josephine’s “reputation” was possibly based on Stackelberg’s report of an alleged incestuous incident among her children.
Josephine then threw out Andrian, who took over his illegitimate daughter and raised her alone (she died two years later of the measles). But as if this series of traumatic incidents was not enough, more heartbreak was to follow: Dechant Franz Leyer in Trautenau wrote her on 29 December 1815 that he had her three young daughters in his custody, but Stackelberg had long since stopped sending any money. Josephine and Therese – excited to hear of them again after almost two years - scraped together as much money as they could and sent it to Leyer, who soon after suggested they should take the children home to their mother where they belonged, given that their father was gone missing. Fate would have it that just when Josephine was certain to finally see her children again, Christoph von Stackelberg’s brother Otto turned up in Trautenau, to take them away.
There is evidence that both Josephine and Beethoven were in Baden in the summer of 1816 where they most likely met, and it even seems that they had planned it: Josephine had requested a passport to travel to the German spa of Bad Pyrmont, but she did not go there, after all. Intriguingly, in August 1816, Beethoven made an entry in his Diary: “not to P – t, but with P. - discuss the best way how to arrange it.”
Josephine’s life ended in increasing agony and misery: the four Deym children, now teenagers, went their own ways (the boys joined the military, to the horror of their bed-ridden mother), the three daughters of the marriage with Stackelberg were gone, sister Therese withdrew, brother Franz stopped sending money, as did Mother Anna who wrote Josephine a letter telling her that it was all her own fault...
Countess Josephine von Brunsvik died on 31 March 1821, at age 42. During this year, Beethoven composed his very last Piano Sonatas Op. 110 and Op. 111, believed by many musicologists to be clearly like requiems, with discernible reminiscences to "Josephine's Theme", the Andante favori.
- La Mara (1920), Kaznelson (1954), Riezler (1962), Massin (1970), Goldschmidt (1977), Tellenbach (1983, 1987), Beahrs (1986, 1988, 1993), Dahlhaus (1991), Pichler (1994), Steblin (2002, 2007, 2009).
- Most of this account follows Therese’s Memoirs (in La Mara 1909) and Diaries (in Czeke 1938), and the biography by Tellenbach (1983).
- : "Oh beloved J., ... when I met you for the first time - I was determined not to let a spark of love germinate in me...” [... o geliebte J., ... als ich zu ihnen kam – war ich in der festen Entschlossenheit, auch nicht einen Funken Liebe in mir keimen zu laßen...] (Beethoven to Josephine, March/April 1805, in Schmidt-Görg 1957, p. 14.)
- "My soul was already enthusiastic for you even before I knew you personally – this was increased through your affection. A feeling deep in my soul, incapable of expression, made me love you. Even before I knew you, your Music made me enthusiastic for you. The goodness of your character, your affection increased it.” [Meine ohnedieß, für Sie enthousiastische Seele noch ehe ich Sie persönlich kannte – erhielt durch Ihre Zuneigung Nahrung. Ein Gefühl das tief in meiner Seele liegt und keines Ausdrucks fähig ist, machte mich Sie lieben; noch ehe ich Sie kan[n]te machte ihre Musick mich für Sie enthousiastisch – Die Güte ihres Characters, ihre Zuneigung vermehrte es.] (Josephine to Beethoven, Winter 1806/7, in Schmidt-Görg 1957, p. 20.)
- Details in Steblin (2007).
- ”Beethoven is very often here, he gives Pepi lessons – this is a bit dangerous, I must confess.” [Beethoven vient très souvent, il dône des leçons à Pepi - c'est un peu dangereux, je t'avoue.] (Charlotte to Therese, 19 December 1804, German transl. in La Mara 1920, p. 51.)
- In March/April 1805, Beethoven went to great lengths to explain to Josephine that there was no need to worry after his patron Prince Lichnowsky had discovered the autograph of the song “An die Hoffnung” [To Hope] with the secret dedication to Josephine on Beethoven’s desk (later published without dedication).
- ”Beethoven and Pepi, what is this going to be? ... She must be on her guard! Her heart must have the strength to say no, a sad duty.” [Beethoven und Pepi, was soll daraus werden? Sie soll auf ihrer Hut sein! ... Ihr Herz muss die Kraft haben nein zu sagen, eine traurige Pflicht.] (Therese to Charlotte, 20 January 1805, in La Mara 1920, p. 54.)
- ”I would have to violate sacred bonds if I gave in to your request – Believe me – that I, by doing what is my duty, suffer the most – and that surely noble motives were guiding my actions.” [Ich müßte heilige Bande verletzen, gäbe ich Ihrem Verlangen Gehör – Glauben Sie – daß ich, durch Erfüllung meiner Pflichten, am meisten leide – und daß gewiß, edle Beweggründe meine Handlungen leiteten.] (Josephine to Beethoven, Winter 1806/7, in Schmidt-Görg 1957, p. 21.) See also Tellenbach (1988) for the effect of guardianship laws.
- Schmidt-Görg (1957), p. 31.
- "doch nie verberge dich vor mir." (Brandenburg 1996, #582)
- ”She reproached me that I should have acted in Geneva when she asked me for help - then I could have saved her.” [Sie stellte mir vor wie ich in Genf hätte handeln sollen als sie mich um Hülfe ansprach - damals hätt' ich sie retten können.] (in Tellenbach 1983, p. 91.)
- Skwara/Steblin (2007), p. 183; Tellenbach (1983), p. 90.
- Steblin (2007), p. 157.
- Reproduced in Goldschmidt (1977), p. 528.
- Steblin (2007), p.171.
- Tellenbach (1983, p. 93 f.) gives a vivid account of Stackelberg’s rather autocratic approach.
- Steblin (2007, p. 163 f.) presents new documents that clearly show that Stackelberg must have been away (maybe in Vienna but not at home) during the first half of July 1812.
- ”Today has been a difficult day for me... Stackelberg wants to leave me on my own. He is callous to supplicants in need... I want to see Liebert in Prague [!].” [Ich habe heute einen schweren Tag... St. will daß ich mir selbst sitzen soll. er ist gefühllos für bittende in der Noth... Ich will Liebert in Prague [!] sprechen.] (Josephine’s Diary, June 1812, in Steblin 2007, pp. 159-162.)
-  Beethoven reference site
- Goldschmidt (1977), p. 530.
- La Mara (1909), pp. 105-107.
- Steblin (2007), p. 174.
- Reprinted in Skwara/Steblin (2007).
- Tellenbach (1983), pp. 135-140.
- Steblin (2007), p. 174.
- Tellenbach (1983), p. 137 f.
- La Mara (1909), p. 105.
- Tellenbach (1983), p. 142.
- Tellenbach (1983), p. 148.
- “... nicht nach P - t, sondern mit P. - abreden, wie es am besten zu machen sey.” (in Solomon 2005, p. 73.)
- Tellenbach (1983), p. 187.
- Tellenbach (1983), p. 164 f.
- For a very detailed analysis of “Music as Biography” see Goldschmidt (1977, pp. 343-462) and Tellenbach (1983, pp. 205-267).
- See discussion in Steblin (2002).
- Beahrs, Virginia (1986): "The Immortal Beloved Revisited." The Beethoven Newsletter 1/2 (Summer), pp. 22–24.
- Beahrs, Virginia Oakley (1988): "The Immortal Beloved Riddle Reconsidered." Musical Times, Vol. 129, No. 1740 (Feb.), pp. 64–70.
- Beahrs, Virginia (1993): "Beethoven's Only beloved? New Perspectives on the Love Story of the Great Composer." Music Review 54, no. 3/4, pp. 183–197.
- Brandenburg, Sieghard (1996, ed.): Ludwig van Beethoven: Briefwechsel. Gesamtausgabe. [Ludwig van Beethoven: Letters & Correspondence. Complete Edition.] 8 vols. Munich: Henle.
- Czeke, Marianne (1938): Brunszvik Teréz grófno naplói és feljegyzései, vol. 1. [Countess Therese Brunsvik's Diaries and Notes.] Budapest.
- Dahlhaus, Carl (1991): Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to his Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Goldschmidt, Harry (1977): Um die Unsterbliche Geliebte. Ein Beethoven-Buch. [About the Immortal Beloved. A Beethoven Book.] Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik.
- Kaznelson, Siegmund (1954): Beethovens Ferne und Unsterbliche Geliebte. [Beethoven's Distant and Immortal Beloved.] Zürich: Standard.
- La Mara (1909) (Ida Marie Lipsius): Beethovens Unsterbliche Geliebte. Das Geheimnis der Gräfin Brunsvik und ihre Memoiren. [Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved. Countess Brunsvik’s Secret and her Memoirs]. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.
- La Mara (1920) (Ida Marie Lipsius): Beethoven und die Brunsviks. Nach Familienpapieren aus Therese Brunsviks Nachlaß. [Beethoven and the Brunsviks. According to Family Documents from Therese Brunsvik's Estate.] Leipzig: Siegel.
- Massin, Jean & Brigitte (1970): Recherche de Beethoven. Paris: Fayard.
- Pichler, Ernst (1994): Beethoven. Mythos und Wirklichkeit. [Beethoven. Myth and Reality.] Vienna: Amalthea.
- Riezler, Walter (1962): Beethoven. Zürich: Atlantis (8th ed.). First published in 1936 (in German).
- Schmidt-Görg, Joseph (1957, ed.): Beethoven: Dreizehn unbekannte Briefe an Josephine Gräfin Deym geb. v. Brunsvik. [Beethoven: Thirteen Unknown Letters to Josephine Countess Deym née von Brunsvik.] Bonn: Beethoven-Haus. (Also contains several letters by Josephine.)
- Skwara, Dagmar/Steblin, Rita (2007): "Ein Brief Christoph Freiherr von Stackelbergs an Josephine Brunsvik-Deym-Stackelberg." [A Letter by Christoph Baron von Stackelberg to Josephine Brunsvik-Deym-Stackelberg.] Bonner Beethoven-Studien, vol. 6, pp. 181–187.
- Solomon, Maynard (2005, ed.): Beethovens Tagebuch 1812-1818. [Beethoven's Diary 1812-1818.] Bonn: Beethoven-Haus.
- Steblin, Rita (2002): "Josephine Gräfin Brunswick-Deyms Geheimnis enthüllt: Neue Ergebnisse zu ihrer Beziehung zu Beethoven." [Josephine Countess Brunsvik-Deym's Secret Revealed: New Results about her Relationship to Beethoven.] Österreichische Musikzeitschrift 57/6 (June), pp. 23–31.
- Steblin, Rita (2002): A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1983). University of Rochester Press.
- Steblin, Rita (2007): "'Auf diese Art mit A geht alles zugrunde.' A New Look at Beethoven's Diary Entry and the "Immortal Beloved." Bonner Beethoven-Studien, vol. 6, pp. 147–180.
- Steblin, Rita (2009): "Beethovens 'Unsterbliche Geliebte': des Rätsels Lösung." [Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved": the Riddle Solved.] Österreichische Musikzeitschrift 64/2, pp. 4–17.
- Tellenbach, Marie-Elisabeth (1983): Beethoven und seine "Unsterbliche Geliebte" Josephine Brunswick. Ihr Schicksal und der Einfluß auf Beethovens Werk. [Beethoven and his “Immortal Beloved” Josephine Brunsvik. Her Fate and the Impact on Beethoven's Œuvre.] Zürich: Atlantis.
- Tellenbach, Marie-Elisabeth (1987): "Beethoven and the Countess Josephine Brunswick." The Beethoven Newsletter 2/3, pp. 41–51.
- Tellenbach, Marie-Elisabeth (1988): "Künstler und Ständegesellschaft um 1800: die Rolle der Vormundschaftsgesetze in Beethovens Beziehung zu Josephine Gräfin Deym." [Artists and the Class Society in 1800: the Role of Guardianship Laws in Beethoven’s Relationship to Josephine Countess Deym.] Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 2/2, pp. 253–263.
- De Beethovensite. Alles over Ludwig van Beethoven. All in Dutch, except for the first page which has a few FAQs answered in English.
-  Very comprehensive "Euro" website in French/English/Spanish/Italian.
- The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Page Info about each song's lyrics (often in multiple translations), origin, other versions, many interesting details.
- Unheard Beethoven Very good to find out about recordings of less well-known works – there are, after all, according to the latest Biamonti Catalogue, nearly 1000 of them.
-  Maynard Solomon: Beethoven, 2nd ed.
- 24 Jul 2011 Michael Lorenz about "Für Elise".
- Beethoven's Only Beloved: Josephine!