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The many women in Beethoven's life

Rick Fulker
September 6, 2017

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven didn't pour all his passion into his music, as proven by the many loves in his life. The most important woman, however, may forever remain a mystery.

Portrait of Beethoven
Image: picture-alliance/akg-images

He was short, with a "crude shaped head," a dark skin hue, pockmarked face and often unkempt appearance. The dour demeanor visible in Beethoven's portraits was no exaggeration. Contemporaries said that his manners didn't help him make social connections. And with his hearing loss and various illnesses, the composer grew increasingly introverted and isolated over the years.

Yet Ludwig van Beethoven excerted a considerable attraction on the opposite sex. One contemporary reported that the unattractive musician was "forever in love relationships that would have been difficult for many an Adonis."

Read more: Who was Beethoven's Elise? A Berlin musicologist says he knows

These women were usually seduced - at least figuratively, though maybe also literally - by Beethoven's fantasy-filled piano improvisations. A striking number of them were of noble birth. That might be a key to the composer's aspirations.

Scarcely intimidated by those of a higher social standing, he felt he was in possession of an inner nobility that was certainly equal to any title. But class differences also stood in the way of any official recognition of his love affairs or even marriage.

From Johanna von Honrath, a girl he adored in his youth, to Countess Marie von Erdödy to the iconic "immortal beloved" to whom Beethoven bared his soul in a three-part letter, a pattern emerges among the women in Beethoven's life: affection, friendship, respect, passion (though probably mostly platonic).

Read more: What Beethoven has to do with love

In several instances, these women were his piano students. But his loves were usually impossible or at least unlikely, often because the objects of Beethoven's affection were women of noble birth or already married. As a result, what we would today call a "stable relationship" seems to have always remained just out of reach.

Click through the gallery above for more about the women in Beethoven's life.

Ta ta ta taaaaa! - Beethoven's 5th