By Jessica Duchen

The mystery of Beethoven's lost love – Immortal Beloved.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Beethoven Year is up and running

Dear friends and supporters,

Welcome to the first Friday Update of the new year. We slunk out of winter for a few weeks far, far away in the sun (we must have been the only Brits in town not going to the cricket...) and are now back and trying to come to terms with the dubious future that our home country is facing in 2020. There's a rock of strength to draw upon, though, and his name is Ludwig van Beethoven. 

The other day the Oxford Philharmonic set off the 250th anniversary celebrations in high style with a launch at the German Embassy featuring John Suchet, director of the Beethovenhaus Bonn Malte Boecker, the orchestra's founder and conductor Marios Papadopoulos - and a bijou appearance by Alfred Brendel.

As well as enjoying a wonderful performance of part of the 'Kreutzer' Sonata by Natalia Lomeiko and Marios, we had the chance to hear and meet two of the musicians I'll be working with in our narrated concert at the Holywell Music Rooms in November, baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Manon Fischer-Dieskau: if their performance here of 'An die ferne Geliebte' was anything to go by, we're in for a major, major treat. Please put 6 November into your diaries if you're within shooting distance of Oxford.

The atmosphere of celebration surrounding this anniversary is something very special: we need this unifying force deeply. It's a relief to feel we can mingle with friends united in a love of Beethoven, the universal energy of his music and the audible proof that boundaries do not exist. 

Some pieces of news reached me that evening that range from the encouraging to the distressing. The first is confirmation that IMMORTAL has targeted the right direction: it seems that around 99% of researchers now agree on who the 'Immortal Beloved' really was, and Josephine's rightful place is emerging at last. Also, that Minona Stackelberg probably was Beethoven's daughter. And that an opera has just been written about Minona's life by the Estonian composer Jüri Reinvere, who was able to research the Stackelberg side of the history in the archives of his native Tallinn. More about the opera here: The premiere is in Regensburg - tomorrow.

The distressing news is the recent death of the musicologist Dr Rita Steblin, a few months ago. I am deeply indebted to her research and many articles on this subject. (I had, indeed, been trying to contact her...) If you are not familiar with her work, I recommend her articles on Beethoven and also Schubert very highly.

This follows the demise, not all that long ago, of John Klapproth, a controversial figure who is responsible for the only English translations of several key texts, including Marie-Elisabeth Tellenbach's book about Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved. Klapproth was a pugnacious writer based in Australia. He had a tendency to take issue with anybody who refuted his interpretation of these events, sometimes excessively so. Nevertheless, I'm almost starting to wonder if there is a Tutenkhamun-type curse on all this. 

And IMMORTAL itself? As far as I'm aware, it is in the inbox of the editorial director and publication date is slated for 1 October. I'm waiting with some anxiety for feedback: no doubt there will be oodles of revision to do and I can't help wondering how much will have to be cut. Ghost Variations came back from the editor 14,000 words shorter, which was a bit of a shock, but worked; sometimes (usually) a sharp outside eye and an experienced editorial mind are the best things a writer can encounter. Stay tuned.

Here are a couple of treats for you to enjoy meanwhile. First of all, I've written an article about the 'Emperor' Concerto (and why the nickname is ludicrous) for Universal Music's website Udiscovermusic and you can read it here:

Next, if you subscribe to BBC Music Magazine, you will have noticed who's on the February issue's front cover. If you don't, no prizes for guessing. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to this anniversary edition - I've done the biographical element, Beethoven's life in 20 key dates, and am grateful to them for mentioning IMMORTAL in a round-up of forthcoming books about him. More info and subscriptions/orders here:

And finally, a listening treat... see/hear attached 'Emperor' Concerto with Bernstein and Zimerman. I know there are those who prefer early music interpretations and this is not one. I, however, adore it. Enjoy.

Love and best wishes,


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