Our review of Jan Swafford’s biography Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph received critical comments from John E. Klapproth. We asked him to write down his critique in an article, which he kindly agreed to do.
Klapproth’s main criticism centers around the identity of the Immortal Beloved; he strongly believes that the woman in question must have been Josephine Brunsvik. For those who are not familiar with this issue, the following articles will provide a quick introduction :
For further reading we suggest :
Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved Josephine Brunsvik [Marie Tellenbach (author) John Klapproth (translator)]
All About Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: A Stocktaking [Goldschmidt (author)]
Beethoven: Man of His Word [Gail Altman (author)]
Swafford (2014): Waffles & Ramblings
by John E. Klapproth
In contrast to Jan Caeyers (2012), whose occasionally flippant style of writing makes his book at times both annoying and enjoyable, there was another Jan across the Atlantic, with whom I had several exchanges by email: Prof. Jan Swafford of Tufts University in Medford. When he contacted me first on 15 March 2011 (after a tip-off by Ted Walden), he asked me for a copy of my book (Klapproth 2011), and then stated:
“What I have noticed is that the tone of the Beethoven I[mmortal] B[eloved] letter resembles no other surviving ones in his life except ones to Josephine.”
What followed sounded a bit strange, though:
“In many ways, certainly, Josephine makes the most sense, but … and so forth and so on.” (18 June 2011)
Anyway, three years later his book finally came out – and what a tome it was: more than 1,000 pages. The number of factual errors and inconsistencies that I found, just by a cursory glance only at mentions of the “Immortal Beloved” (despite having had a sneak preview of my book), is absolutely amazing.
Sadly, this weighty door stopper of a biography did not add significantly to the (myopic) reception of the greatest of all composers in the English-speaking world, as it is almost entirely based on English sources, and thus missed out on important contributions by German (also French) scholars. Here I’m just looking at one aspect of Beethoven’s life, his so-called “Immortal Beloved” (who was without doubt Josephine Brunsvik, an established fact so far little known in America):
“The new entry in the debate by John E. Klapproth (Beethoven’s Only Beloved: First English Biography of the Only Woman Beethoven Ever Loved) makes a book-length case for Josephine.” (p. 1020, note 4)
I would have been more flattered by this mention if he had just added me to the long list of La Mara (1920), Kaznelson (1954), Massin & Massin (1955, 1970), Ley (1957), Riezler (1962), Hess (1976), Goldschmidt (1977, 1988), Tellenbach (1983, 1987, 1988, 1993/1994, 1996, 1998, 1999), Beahrs (1986, 1993), Dahlhaus (1991), Pichler (1994), Noering (1995), Hornyák (1996), Stackelberg (2001), Steblin (2001, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2009a, 2010), and Caeyers (2012) – none of whom can be found in his book. Most of these works are book-length cases, and all are for – Josephine! Only, most are in German, some in French, and even the most recent decisive discoveries by Steblin, although in English, were published in a German journal. In any case, Swafford’s bloated work suffers from this bias of using almost exclusively English (American) sources, and as far as Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” is concerned, mainly works inspired more by the imagination and fantasy of their authors than by hard facts and documents (the latter are unfortunately also mostly in German).
On “Giulietta” (as we know already, still alive and kicking):
“The seventeen-year-old countess Giulietta Guicciardi, called Julie.” (p. 280)
Her name was in fact Julie, and that was what she was usually called by her family and friends. “Giulietta” probably only stuck (like so many myths), because Beethoven wrote this as her name on the title, all in Italian, of a Piano Sonata dedicated to her (and he signed himself as “Luigi”). And she was in fact two years older, as can be found, with many more details, in Steblin (2009) – and in English.
“He had met the three musical Brunsvik sisters in 1799, when Therese showed up at his door.” (p. 392 f.)
Not (only) Therese showed up on that occasion, but her Mother Anna von Brunsvik, followed by two of her three daughters (Therese and Josephine – not Charlotte).
“Therese’s diary reports … ‘Beautiful like an angel and ready to paint’.” (p. 393)
Not in her diary but in her memoirs (see La Mara 2017, p. 161). An important distinction that a responsible biographer should always make: Therese’s memoirs, though valuable as a source, are often incorrect, and especially many datings are warped. Diary notes (like letters), on the other hand, usually count as prime reliable documents.
“Josephine’s husband died … She fled.” (p. 394)
This seems to be more a flight of the imagination: Fact is that Josephine as a widow took on the administration of the 80 rooms to be let in the Deym villa and her husband’s gallery and wax museum (Therese’s Memoirs, in La Mara 2017, p. 161). She “fled” actually more than one year later (to Hungary) when Napoleon’s army occupied Vienna.
“He impulsively signed it, ‘Your BEETHOVEN who worships you’.” (p. 395)
Impulsively or not, Beethoven never signed his name in CAPITAL letters. And Swafford was quoting the translation by Anderson (1961,#102), whereas I think it is more appropriate (and more on the amorous side) to render “anbetend” not as “worship” but as “adoring”.
“An die Hoffnung [To Hope], his song for Josephine, is simple, polite unto decorous.” (p. 396)
More precisely: It was a clear declaration of love, as the meaning of the word “Hoffnung” [Hope] in those days implied (more about this in Tellenbach 1983, now available in English). “May I hope?” was a question a suitor would ask a courted woman, meaning “Do you want to marry me?”
“Because of the dedication, the pretty little song would become another element raising consternation in the ranks of his patrons and friends.” (p. 396)
Not so – none of “his patrons and friends” was ever worried about this at all. The whole point about the relevance of Ludwig’s and Josephine’s love relationship – up to and including that consummating final encounter in 1812 – is that it was always kept secret!
Swafford should have read what Beethoven wrote to “my beloved J.” about any “consternation” of his patron Lichnowsky, who “saw, by chance, the song ‘An die Hoffnung’ [To Hope] at my place without me noticing it, and he did not say anything about it either, but he concluded from that that I would probably be not without affection for you, and when Zmeskall … came to him, he asked him if he did not know whether I frequently go to see you, Zmeskall said neither yes nor no, basically he could not say anything because I had escaped his vigilance as much as possible – Lichnowsky said he believed to have noticed that I was not without passion for you, by accident (the Song), of which he did not say anything to Z. as he assured me solemnly… L. said that he himself was all too familiar with delicacy, to tell but a single word to anyone, even if he were to assume a closer relationship – on the contrary, he wished nothing so much as that such a relationship between you and me might arise, if it were possible, because, due to what he had been told about your character, it could only be advantageous for me.”1
“In 1812 … he courted Therese Malfatti.” (p. 580)
Wasn’t this in 1810, rather?
“Prince Kinsky … gave him an advance of 600 florins.” (p. 581)
Not 600 florins (gulden), but 60 ducats (= ca. 250 gulden).
“Beethoven was thinking of … a woman whom he believed to be in nearby Karlsbad.” (p. 581)
“Solomon’s  detective work … places Antonie Brentano definitely in Karlsbad when Beethoven wrote the letter saying his beloved was in that town; her presence in Karlsbad is Solomon’s centerpiece.” (p. 1020, note 6)
This is misleading and incorrect: The fact that Antonie was actually in Karlsbad (and therefore “must” have been the “Immortal Beloved”) is irrelevant. As can be seen from Beethoven’s Letter, he only referred to the “days on which the mail goes from here to K.” [L2.3] – meaning just this and nothing more. As Tellenbach (2014, p. 109) argued convincingly, Josephine was most likely – and secretly – in Franzensbad to meet the Emperor, and the mail had to go there via Karlsbad (in two days). And while Karlsbad was only one day away from Teplitz, Beethoven had clearly expected his Beloved to receive his Letter after two days (L2.9)!
“The last candidate is, on the face of it, the most likely one: Bettina Brentano.” (p. 586)
In reality, she is the only one who can be ruled out with absolute certainty: On 3 July 1812, she was definitely far away in Berlin, and quite happily married to her “beautiful” Arnim. Where is any evidence that Beethoven might have known she “planned” to go to Karlsbad (where she definitely was not on 6 July)? He certainly had a lot of fun in 1810 with the bubbly Bettina, and he made some fun of her, as in his (only authentic) letter to her, where he had claimed to write her “a thousand times a thousand” letters in his mind. And after returning from a Bacchanal, he was in such high spirits, that he called her jocularly “du” and kissed her on her forehead!
“The facts about Bettina drift into speculation.” (p. 586)
For once, he got it perfectly right!
“In 1816, Beethoven was reported … that five years before he had met a woman who still obsessed him. If he meant the Immortal Beloved … that dating would apply to Bettina certainly, Antonie possibly, Josephine not at all.” (p. 587)
Apart from the fact that Fanny del Giannatasio, who reported this, heard this only from a distance (so “five” – in German “fünf” – could also have sounded like “fünfzehn” = “fifteen”, in German stressed on the first syllable), there is no reason to assume Beethoven should have been precise with this number. From the context, it is clear he only wanted to show that he was still tied to a (the) woman, and therefore not available to Fanny, who was hopelessly in love with him. Given what else we know, this was once again referring to Beethoven’s Only, i.e., Immortal Beloved (there was only One).
“There is no record of Josephine being anywhere near Teplitz or Karlsbad when he wrote to the Immortal Beloved.” (p. 587)
Because she was traveling secretly to Prague, as she had indeed planned in June 1812 (see Steblin 2007 – ignored by Swafford), and there was no requirement to register, and she always used to stay privately at her sister-in-law’s place (who was away on that day – so what better place to meet Beethoven secretly!).
“Beethoven’s life in 1821 left relatively few traces in the record. For some reason no conversation books survived from this year, and relatively few letters. There is no extant response from him … to the passing of Josephine.” (p. 747)
Couldn’t exactly that have been the reason? His deep depression after her untimely death, after a long period of illness and suffering? And as Schindler was in the possession of the conversation books, and it is known that he destroyed and falsified many of them, and this in co-operation with Franz Brunsvik, who as we know (Tellenbach 2014, p. 13) did everything in his power to erase the memory of his unfortunate sister?
And what about the obvious “Requiem” character of op. 110 and op. 111, his last Piano Sonatas? No “extant response”?
On a note in Therese’s Diary – for comparison, I supply my own translation of this note (below):
“If Josephine doesn’t suffer punishment [after death – Swafford's amendment] on account of Luigi’s woe – his wife! what wouldn’t she have made out of this hero!” (in Swafford 2014, p. 747)
“Whether Josephine is not suffering punishment because of Luigi’s woe! His wife – what would she not have made of him, the Hero!”2
Swafford introduced this with:
“When her sister died, Therese wrote in her journal:” (p. 747)
Therese wrote this actually well before her sister’s death – on 12 July 1817 (or 1818). What was “Luigi’s woe” then, I wonder? (Tellenbach knew all about it.) And then to add the rhetorical question
“Did Beethoven feel any comparable regret at Josephine’s passing?”
– this is like adding insult to injury!
On several remarks ad hominem:
“Klapproth points out that Therese was in fact beautiful and knew it.” (p. 999, note 55)
Quite the opposite is true, as I clearly pointed out that Therese was “the ugly duckling” (Klapproth 2012, p. 52) among Countess Anna’s children – and she knew it. 3
“Beahrs and Klapproth call Josephine’s words of this time love letters – something of a stretch.” (p. 1000, note 5)
In several letters to Beethoven, Josephine used the words “I love you”, quite unambiguously – who is stretching here?
“Klapproth assigns dates of 1809 to Beethoven’s and Josephine’s final surviving letters, without explanation. Albrecht  and Anderson place them in 1807, the currently accepted dates … It is suspicious of Klapproth not to have given reasons for his dates.” (p. 1008, note 63)
Not only did I give a detailed explanation (Klapproth 2012, p. 88, note 21), arguing for a date of “at least 1809″, if not later (as Massin & Massin 1955 already did), but the “currently accepted” dates I would rather take from Brandenburg (1996, #403 & #404), the most thoroughly researched and complete edition of Beethoven’s letters: He determined late 1809, with some justification.
“As Anderson notes … the more literal sense of Unsterbliche Geliebte … is ‘undying love’.” (p. 1020, note 5)
However, what I read in Anderson (1961, p. 376, note 1):
“It obviously means ‘eternally beloved’.”
(The “more literal sense of Unsterbliche Geliebte” is of course exactly “Immortal Beloved”.)
“The Sterbas’  thesis that Beethoven’s attraction to Karl was homosexual is possible, because many things are possible. What is undoubtedly true of their thesis is that there is no evidence for it, and it is not necessary to explain Beethoven’s obsession with Karl.” (p. 1027, note 13)
1. “L. hatte durch Zufall das Lied an die Hoffnung bey mir liegen sehen, ohne daß ich es bemerkte, und er auch nichts darüber sagte, er schloß aber hieraus, daß ich wohl nicht ganz ohne Neigung für sie seyn würde, und als nun Zmeskall … zu ihm kam, fragte er ihn, ob er nicht wüste, ob ich öfter zu ihnen gehe, Zmeskall sagte nicht ja und nicht nein, im Grunde konnte er auch nichts sagen, da ich seiner Wachsamkeit mich so sehr als möglich entzogen hatte – Lichnowsky sagte, er glaube bemerkt zu haben, daß ich nicht ohne Neigung für sie durch einen Zufall (das Lied), Wovon er aber wie er mich hoch und theuer versicherte Z. nichts gesagt hatte… L. sagte selbst, daß er selbst zu sehr mit Delikatesse Bekannt sey, als daß er auch nur ein Wort gesagt hätte, wenn er für gewiß ein engeres Verhältniß vorausgesezt hätte – im Gegentheil wünsche er nichts so sehr als daß ein solches Verhältniß zwischen ihnen und mir entstehen möge, wenn es möglich wäre, indem, so viel man ihm von ihrem Kharakter berichtet habe, dieses nicht anders als Vortheilhaft für mich seyn könne.” (in Brandenburg 1996, #216) *Back*
2. “Ob Josephine nicht Straffe leidet wegen Luigis Weh! Seine Gattin – was hätte sie nicht aus dem Heros gemacht!” (in Schmidt-Görg 1957, p. 31) *Back*
3. Maybe Swafford confused Therese with Josephine whose beauty I mentioned as a tragic determinant of her dismal fate (Klapproth 2012, p. 150). *Back*
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Anderson, Emily (ed.): The Letters of Beethoven. 3 vols. London: Macmillan 1961.
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Beahrs, Virginia: “My Angel, My All, My Self”: A Literal Translation of Beethoven’s Letter to the Immortal Beloved. In: The Beethoven Newsletter (1990), pp. 29, 34-39.
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