My Angel Leonora: Beethoven's Love For Antonie Brentano
The great composer Ludwig van Beethoven often disgraced himself in public (he threw a bowl of hot stew at a waiter), was once arrested and charged with dereliction, and was widely believed to be mad. His clothes were so rumpled and dirty that street urchins would mock him. He had trouble holding on to servants, and what few friends he had, when they came to his flat, had to put up with stench from an unemptied chamber pot that he kept beside his piano. He became deaf. Mysterious ailments further isolated him from human society. Loneliness and desperation leap from the pages of his intimate letters and scribbled entries in his notebooks. He contemplated suicide. His relations with women were troubled and short-lived: at age forty he impulsively proposed marriage to a fifteen year old girl-who rejected him. Other liaisons came to naught. He wrote an opera about conjugal love in which the heroine, Leonora, rescues her husband from a dark cell under a fortress: one suspects this choice of subject reflects the composer's own need to be rescued, the need for such a woman in his own life. But a woman did come into his life-a woman different from all the others. She became his angel Leonora, whose identity he kept a secret from the world. After his death a few friends discovered a small compartment in his writing desk secured by a bent nail. In it was a three part love letter that he wrote to a woman who claimed that she loved him; he called her his "immortal beloved." We have long wondered who this woman is. We now believe she is Antonie Brentano. What took place between these lovers? Mr. Gregory's novel explores the fears and doubts that must have afflicted the great composer as the star-crossed lovers come together in a locked embrace.
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