Letter to Bettina Brentano

The German novelist Bettina Brentano stood out in the intellectual circle of Berlin in the first half of the 19th century. From her intense friendship with Goethe emerged her best known work, Goethe's Epistolary with a Girl (1835). As this letter shows, among her admirers was Beethoven.

250th anniversary

Ludwig van Beethoven


Vienna, August 11, 1810.


Never was there a lovelier spring than this year; I say so, and feel it too, because it was then I first knew you.

You have yourself seen that in society I am like a fish on the sand, which writhes and writhes, but cannot get away till some benevolent Galatea casts it back into the mighty ocean. I was indeed fairly stranded, dearest friend, when surprised by you at a moment in which moroseness had entirely mastered me; but how quickly it vanished at your aspect! I was at once conscious that you came from another sphere than this absurd world, where, with the best inclinations, I cannot open my ears.

I am a wretched creature, and yet I complain of others!! You will forgive this from the goodness of heart that beams in your eyes, and the good sense manifested by your ears; at least they understand how to flatter, by the mode in which they listen.

My ears are, alas! a partition-wall, through which I can with difficulty hold any intercourse with my fellow-creatures. Otherwise, perhaps, I might have felt more assured with you; but I was only conscious of the full, intelligent glance from your eyes, which affected me so deeply that never can I forget it.

My dear friend! dearest girl! -Art! who comprehends it? With whom can I discuss this mighty goddess? How precious to me were the few days when we talked together, or, I should rather say, corresponded! I have carefully preserved the little notes with your clever, charming, most charming answers; so I have to thank my defective hearing for the greater part of our fugitive intercourse being written down. Since you left this I have had some unhappy hours, -hours of the deepest gloom, when I could do nothing. I wandered for three hours in the Schönbrunn Allée after you left us, but no angel met me there to take possession of me as you did.

Pray forgive, my dear friend, this deviation from the original key, but I must have such intervals as a relief to my heart. You have no doubt written to Goethe about me? I would gladly bury my head in a sack, so that I might neither see nor hear what goes on in the world, because I shall meet you there no more; but I shall get a letter from you?

Hope sustains me, as it does half the world; through life she has been my close companion, or what would have become of me? I send you "Kennst Du das Land," written with my own hand, as a remembrance of the hour when I first knew you; I send you also another that I composed since I bade you farewell, my dearest, fairest sweetheart!

Herz, mein Herz, fue soll das geben,
Was bedränget dich so sehr;
Welch ein neues fremdes Leben,
Ich erkenne dich nicht mehr.

Now answer me, my dearest friend, and say what is to become of me since my heart has turned such a rebel. Write to your most faithful friend,


* Beethoven refers to the music he wrote for these verses by Goethe:

Heart, my heart, what can this mean?
What is it that torments you so much?
What a strange new existence!
I no longer know who you are.