Having achieved economic stability, he returned to his lifelong quest for a wife. He was a warmly sexual man. Presumably he found a variety of outlets,31 but he had long felt the need for a permanent companionship. In Bonn, according to his friend Wegeler, he was “always loving.” In 1801 he mentioned to Wegeler “a dear sweet girl who loves me and whom I love.” This is generally supposed to have been his seventeen-year-old pupil Countess Giulia Guicciardi; however, she married Count Gallenberg. In 1805 Beethoven centered his hopes upon the widowed Countess Josephine von Deym, to whom he sent a passionate declaration:
Here I give you a solemn promise that in a short time I shall stand before you more worthy of myself and of you—Oh, if only you would attach some value to this—I mean to founding my happiness by means of your love…. Oh, beloved Josephine, it is no desire for the other sex that draws me near to you, it is just you, your whole self, with all your individual qualities—this has compelled my regard—this has bound all my feelings—all my emotional power—to you…. You make me hope that your heart will long beat for me —Mine can only—cease—to beat for you—when—it no longer beats.32
Apparently the lady turned to other prospects. Two years later Beethoven was still appealing to be admitted to her presence; she did not reply.
In March, 1807, he paid such devout attentions to Mme. Marie Bigot that her husband protested. Beethoven sent “Dear Maria, dear Bigot,” a letter of apology, declaring: “It is one of my chief principles never to be in any other relationship with the wife of another man than that of friendship.”33
On March 14, 1809, expecting to be in Freiburg, he wrote to Baron von Gleichenstein:
Now you can help me to look for a wife. Indeed, you might find some beautiful girl at F—— who would perhaps now and then grant a sigh to my harmonies. … If you do find one, please form the connection in advance. —But she must be beautiful, for it is impossible for me to love anything that is not beautiful—or else I should have to love myself.34
But this was presumably one of Beethoven’s jokes.
More serious was his affair with Therese Malfatti. She was another of his pupils, daughter of a distinguished physician. A letter to her of May 8, 1810, has some of the air of an accepted lover. On May 2 Beethoven had sent an urgent request to Wegeler, then at Coblenz, to go to Bonn and locate and send him the composer’s baptismal certificate, for “I have been said to be older than I am.” Wegeler complied. Beethoven made no acknowledgment, and in July Stephan von Breuning wrote to Wegeler: “I believe his marriage project has fallen through, and for this reason he no longer feels the lively desire to thank you for your trouble.” Till his fortieth year he insisted that he had been born in 1772. The baptismal certificate gave his birth year as 1770.
After his death three letters were found in a locked drawer which are among the most tender and fervent love letters in history. They were never sent. As they name no name, no year, and no address, they remain a mystery that has produced its own literature. The first letter, dated “July 6, in the morning,” tells of Beethoven’s hectic three-day trip from Vienna to a woman in an unstated place in Hungary. Some phrases:
My angel, my all, my very self…. Can our love endure except through sacrifices—except through not demanding everything—can you change it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine. Oh, God! look out into the beauties of nature, and comfort yourself with that which must be—love demands everything…. We shall soon surely see each other…. My heart is full of many things to say to you—ah, there are moments when I feel that speech is nothing after all—cheer up—remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours….
The second and much briefer letter is dated “Evening, Monday, July 6,” and ends: “Oh God! so near so far! Is our love not truly a celestial edifice—firm as heaven’s vault.” The third letter:
Good morning, on July 7
Though still in bed my thoughts go out to you, Meine unsterbliche Geliebte [my immortal beloved], now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us. I can live only wholly with you, or not at all—yes I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home, send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits…. Oh God, why is it necessary to part from one whom one so loves and yet my life in W[ien—Vienna] is now a wretched life—your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men—at my age I need a steady, quiet life. … Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together—be calm—love me—today—yesterday—what tearful longings for you—My life—my all—farewell —Oh, continue to love me—never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved L.
Ever thine, ever mine, ever for each other.35
Who was she? No one knows. The pundits are divided, chiefly between the Countess Guicciardi-Gallenberg and the Countess Therese von Brunswig; nothing short of a countess would do. Apparently the lady was married; if so, Beethoven, in wooing her, was forgetting the excellent principle he had professed to the Bigots. However, the letters were not sent; no harm was done; and music may have profited.