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After Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, his secretary discovered in his apartment a portrait of an unknown woman and an impassioned love letter – returned or unsent – to an individual addressed only as ‘Immortal Beloved’. The mysterious woman’s identity has never been definitively established.
Perhaps only one person knew the whole truth...
Aged 84, Countess Therese von Brunsvík, a pioneer of Kindergarten education in Hungary, faces a dilemma. She and her sister Josephine became piano pupils of Beethoven in 1799 and grew close to him, along with their brother, Franz. Now Therese, who never married, tells a young writer that she herself was Beethoven’s lost love. But is she protecting somebody, perhaps concealing a terrible and tragic secret? Who, really, is her “niece”? Above all, how can she ever be certain?
Set in Vienna and Hungary against the turbulent background of the Napoleonic wars, in an era when ideals of equality and liberty were being asserted over entrenched aristocratic privilege, this novel is an emotional roller-coaster inspired by detailed research into a true story.
It is radically different from any Beethoven novel yet created and aims to combine the qualities of a “page-turner” with musicological accuracy and musical considerations, offering fresh light on Beethoven’s works. It casts perspective, too, on the position of women and the destructive divisions placed on relationships according to class.
Its release is timed to coincide with the Beethoven 250th Anniversary Year of 2020, for which it offers the potential to open up the composer’s world to a wide audience.
Immortal brings to life in a fresh, startling way a story that has intrigued generation after generation of music lovers. Following wide acclaim for Jessica Duchen’s musical historical novel Ghost Variations, Immortal is in a similar vein – and tackles one of music’s most famous mysteries.
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Jessica Duchen writes words for, with and about music. She was a correspondent and critic for The Independent from 2004 to 2016, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and BBC Music Magazine, among others. Her output to date includes six novels and two biographies (Fauré and Korngold) and a quantity of stage works and librettos for musical setting.
Among her recent novels is Ghost Variations (Unbound, 2016), based on the true story of the Schumann Violin Concerto’s rediscovery in the 1930s. It was chosen by John Suchet as his Best Read of 2016 for the Daily Mail’s Christmas Books selection and was Book of the Month in BBC Music Magazine.
Her librettos include the People’s Opera Silver Birch for composer Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by Garsington and shortlisted for a 2018 International Opera Award. Current projects include a large-scale choral piece with Panufnik, Ever Us, for the Rundfunkchor Berlin and nine visiting international youth choirs, based on the words of Beethoven and the writers he admired, for premiere at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2020.
Jessica often narrates concert versions of her novels, which have been heard at the Wigmore Hall, The Sage Gateshead, Kings Place and numerous music societies and festivals. In April 2019 her concert play Being Mrs Bach had its UK premiere at Kings Place, following its commission in 2018 for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. (“…a beautifully crafted retelling of the ‘Bach’ story with a lot of heart” - Limelight Magazine.) A concert version of Immortal launches in 2020.
Jessica was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and lives in London with her husband and two cats.
PRAISE FOR GHOST VARIATIONS
"Schumann's wonderful violin concerto has a tragic history unlike any other piece of music. In this splendid new novel Jessica Duchen manages to find the fine balance between facts and fiction. Her book reads like a thriller, yet it's also a tribute to great music and musicians" – Sir András Schiff
Neatly subtitled ‘The Strangest Detective Story in Music’, the novel spins a gripping yarn, but also draws haunting and all-too-potent parallels between contemporary society and 1930s Britain. Duchen skilfully charts the poisonous rise of the far right and a deepening mistrust of “foreigners”, while also unpicking the thorny gender politics of the performing arts with fierce aplomb… the warmth that Duchen brings to her characterisation of d’Arányi as a brave yet guileless female musician boldly taking on the male establishment makes for a stirring read and propels the narrative to its moving and uplifting close.
– BBC Music Magazine, Books Choice of the Month, January 2016
MY BEST READ - JOHN SUCHET
A thrilling read set in Thirties London and Germany. It’s the true story of Robert Schumann’s lost violin concerto, and the race between a Hungarian violinist and the Third Reich to find and perform the work. – The Daily Mail, Best Books of the Year 2016
“Mariam Tenger, Madam.”
The maid stood back to admit my guest. I knew her at once. She was not “Mariam Tenger” at all.
Those smiling, innocent eyes and upturned face had scarcely changed since her childhood. She used to hide behind my skirts when she was eight years old, too shy to show her face in front of visitors. The years roll back and I am once more in our Ofen town house, high above the Danube, with little Marie and my ever-grumbling mother.
“Marie Hrussoczy! My dear girl.” I held out my arms and my visitor crossed the room to embrace me in a rustle of silk. Clearly she was doing well: her clothes were tasteful and practical, but finely tailored. A wedding band glinted among her rings. “Sit down, my dear, and tell me everything.”
Marie, beaming, settled herself on the cushioned settee nearest to me. “I had to come and see you, Countess Therese. Everything I am and that I do now, I owe to you. I was so excited when I heard you were passing through Vienna.” Her gaze bounced off the wooden walking stick propped against my chair. Probably she would be wondering, in tactful silence, whether a lady of my years should be travelling at all. Yes, my dear: I should.
“I am spending some time with my nieces - my darling Blanka has had a difficult decade and she is leaving for Paris to build a new life. Now we are going to Dresden, but we had just once more to see Vienna…” I did not mention that this might be the last time I would ever visit the city of our dreams.
“Blanka Teleki?” Marie’s eyebrows lifted.
“Finally she is released. Ach, terrible, terrible, what has happened to her. There is no limit to the cruelty in this world. Yet no limit, either, to its wonders…”
Marie gave an earnest nod. She had a writer’s eyes. Eyes that notice: sensitive to atmospheres, the unseen, the unspoken, more so than we who deal in daily realities and politics can afford.
She would be perfect.
- 23rd August 2019 FIDELIO rising
With the Beethoven 250th anniversary coming up next year, just about every opera company I can think of is preparing to stage Fidelio, and plentiful orchestras are planning concert performances. It is the only opera Beethoven wrote - or at least, the only one he completed.
He started another, earlier, entitled Vestas Feuer, set in ancient Rome. The libretto was by Schikaneder (of The Magic…16th August 2019 Did he really?
Here's a little truism for a Friday lunchtime. Our sheer reverence towards the great composers of the past sometimes interferes with our understanding of their work. Occasionally it even affects performances of them. Do you agree?
Last year I undertook a project for BBC Music Magazine, comparing recordings of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata and choosing the "best" (I use inverted commas with…4th August 2019 Flying start, barefoot
Dear friends and supporters,
Thank you so much for your generous pledges! IMMORTAL is off to a flying start - 28 per cent funded after just five days - and I couldn't be happier. (Well, I could if it was 100 per cent, but y'know... this is really good.) It's incredibly encouraging and I value the moral support as much as the actual £ - because it means that you want this book, which means I…
These people are helping to fund Immortal.
Marjan and Jane Kiepura