THE IMMORTAL BELOVED (based on letters by Ludwig van Beethoven) (1999) Op.50

Opus number: 50

Title: “The Immortal Beloved” (based on letters by Ludwig van Beethoven)

Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano and piano

Date written: Summer 1999, Boston

Length: seventeen minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Judy May

Premiere performance: Judy May, mezzo-soprano, Larry Bell, pianist, November 11, 1999, Williams Hall, New England Conservatory

Important subsequent performances: Community Concert of Rhode Island, November 12, 1999 and Arizona State University, October 2000, Judy May, mezzo soprano, Larry Bell, pianist. Woodstock Fringe American Song/Fest, D’Anna Fortunato, mezzo-soprano, Larry Bell, pianist, August, 2003.

Recording: Albany Records CD (Troy741) D’Anna Fortunato, mezzo-soprano, Larry Bell, pianist.

Program notes: “The Immortal Beloved” is a song cycle based on the three letters that Beethoven wrote for Antonie Brentano in July 1812. It was written in June of 1999 for the mezzo-soprano Judy May and conceived from the point of view of the recipient of the letters.

The letters show Beethoven’s extraordinary ambivalence towards romantic commitment yet they also have an emotional immediacy and are genuinely heart-felt. This cycle of three songs is permeated with references to Beethoven’s own song cycle “An die Ferne Geliebte” (“To the Distant Beloved”). A fragment of his cycle is quoted towards the end.

            The texts are taken from a compilation of two translations, edited, of Beethoven’s three letters, written in July 1812, to a mysterious woman historians referred to for one hundred and fifty years simply as “the Immortal Beloved.” Due to research by Maynard Solomon, we now know the recipient to be Antonie Brentano.

I. July 6, 1812, in the morning

“My angel, my all, my very self–Why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks–can our love endure except by demanding everything from one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine–Oh God, look out into the beauties of nature and comfort your heart. You forget so easily that I must live for me and for you. If we were united you would feel the pain of it as little as I.

–My journey was a fearful one; I did not reach here until four o’clock in the morning. The post coach chose an awful route; I was warned not to travel at night; I was made fearful of a forest, but that only made me the more eager–and I was wrong. The coach broke down on the wretched, bottomless mud road. Esterházy, traveling by the usual road here, had the same fate with eight horses that I had with four–Yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties–

Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other soon. My heart is full of so many things to say to you–ah–there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all–Cheer up–remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours. The gods must send the rest, what for us must be and shall be–”

II. Evening, Monday, July 6

“My dearest creature–You are suffering–Ah, wherever I am you are with me. I will arrange to live with you. What a life!!!! Without you–persecuted by the goodness of man–which I little deserve as I little care to deserve it. Humility of man towards man–it pains me–and when I consider myself in relation to the universe, what am I and what is He–and yet–herein lies the divine in man. Much as you love me–I love you more. But never conceal your thoughts from me. Oh God–so near! so far! Is not our love truly a heavenly structure, firm as the vault of Heaven?–

III. Good morning, on July 7.

“While still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, will fate take pity on us. Either I must live only with you or not at all. Yes, I have resolved to wander in distant lands until I can fly to your arms. Yes, it must be so. You know my faithfulness to you. No one else can ever possess my heart–never–never. Oh God, why must one part from one whom one so loves. Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men–At my age I need a steady, quiet life–can that be so in our connection? My angel, Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our aim to live together–Be calm–love me– today–yesterday–what tearful longings for you–you–you–my life–my all–farewell.–Oh continue to love me–never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

ever thine

ever mine

ever ours”

Translation arranged from Thayer-Forbes Briefe no. 582, Letters no. 373.