By Jessica Duchen

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

Thursday, 21 November 2019

How it all began

Dear friends and supporters,

It occurs to me that in all these Friday updates I've never explained why I started on this crazy project, or why then. If you think I set myself a heck of a deadline, given that the Beethoven 250th year is nearly upon us, you are spot on. Several times a week (um, a day) I think I must be insane to try to make this work. Here, then, is the rationale.

A few years ago I was asked to give a talk in a festival at the Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove during a weekend in which the Dante Quartet were performing all the string quartets by Beethoven. I was asked to talk about Beethoven's women. I didn't actually know much about "Beethoven's women", other than that there were several likely candidates to be the Immortal Beloved, but I thought it would be an interesting topic to tackle. I started reading...and was amazed by some of the things I found (see the "Holey Smoke" update). The talk went extremely well; afterwards I knew it was anything but over. The wheels began to turn.

It seemed that with Beethoven year ahead, a narrated concert would be the perfect solution; perhaps in character, like my Anna Magdalena Bach project "Being Mrs Bach" (hooray - I could go back to the National Theatre costume hire department! What fun!). I ordered a ton of second-hand, out-of-print books; and another ton of brand-new but weighty ones. Soon these characters, rising up out of the 19th century, were becoming more real in certain respects than the living.

In spring this year I met up with a very old friend from New York: the person to whom I owe, actually, almost everything I've ever done. This is not an exaggeration. We were close in the mid 1980s and have remained fast friends ever since. He was in London for a few days for work and had come straight from Heathrow with his suitcase. We went to a Lebanese restaurant and feasted royally. Hours swept by. And somehow I found myself telling him the Immortal Beloved story.

This is someone who knows more about music than most other people rolled into one and whose opinion I trust more than anybody else's - and he sat "with eyes on stalks" as I talked. When you pitch a story, that's the reaction you want. If people yawn and change the subject, you have a non-starter. But if they go "WHAT?!?", chances are you may find some readers... It's tempting to turn it into a book, I said. "You have got to do this," said he. I've been in the habit of listening to him for 36 years, and most things he has recommended before have worked rather well (try studying piano with Joan Havill; what do you mean, you've never heard of Korngold?; why don't you try music journalism?...). 

It was late in the Beethoven day, but with encouraging words from Xander at Unbound, it seemed a book might be possible if I wrote fast enough and the fundraising worked out. It wasn't as if I hadn't done the reading; I couldn't get the Brunsviks out of my head, book or no book. I couldn't believe how obvious it all seemed, or how crazy some of what I'd read had been, or how uncomfortable it can become when people are totally, utterly obsessed with one or another aspect of this history and end up working against the very thing they long to support. I don't want to do that. But I do want to get the story out there, in a form which is highly accessible, readable, modern and musical - not a lousy translation of an obscure tract, nor trapped up bits of its own anatomy, but leaving room for error, consideration, argument, context and the effects of character upon perception.

 want you to enjoy this book; to find it as fascinating and astonishing as I found the story when I stumbled upon it; to be intrigued by the underlying complexities of the characters and infuriated by the societal restrictions that ruined their lives; and perhaps we can learn more about Beethoven's music through this intense delving into a sphere where music and its creator are inextricably entwined. Every musical note, remember, is the result of a choice by the person who put it there. It can't exist on its own. It never could. It never did.

And so I plough on. My manuscript is currently 130,000 words long (which is very long) (TOO long) and I am into the final fifth. I shall finish the first draft by Christmas, if it bloody kills me.

If you haven't already pledged to the book in advance, by the way, it would be utterly wonderful if you did - whether it's booking a private concert by me and Viv McLean, or pre-ordering a paperback copy. We've passed 100 per cent, but anything on top of that is absolutely invaluable as it enables special extras like a really wonderful cover image from a photo library or booking a special illustrator or a picture inside or...well, you get the idea.

Happy Friday, and thank you again for all your support, confidence and enthusiasm for this project! 

Love and best wishes,




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