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Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Part I

Anne Worbes Beethoven Small

This is the first post in a series of three exploring philosophical questions about love inspired by Beethoven’s letter to the Immortal Beloved.

PART 1. July 6, in the morning (or, “Love’s Demands”)

“My angel, my all, my very self –”

So Beethoven begins the first of three parts comprising the letter to his Immortal Beloved. In a lyrical line to this beloved woman he writes, “Love demands everything and that very justly.”

Demands are urgent, immediate, forceful; they call for action; they are not placid in being ignored. For these reasons, one might prefer to live a life devoid of demands. One imagines it involving far less accountability, pressure, and guilt than the demandful life.

Which is maybe why we don’t tend to talk about Love as a demanding creature. When we talk about Love today, we focus on the feeling – the delight, the exhilaration, the nervousness, even the pain. In many ways, it’s easier to talk about Love as if it were contained just within the skin, as if it didn’t push to break through our very contours for expression.

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Okay, okay. It’s true that we talk about Love’s external expression in duties. We suppose that parents have a duty to attend to their children in certain mundane but fundamental ways. We speak of friends and lovers having special duties in attending to one another, too. In a way, these duties are more difficult to confront than how love feels at any given moment. Their being duties just means that they call on us to uphold them even in the moments when we don’t particularly feel like it.

But the difference between duties and demands can be felt in shirking them. Neglect a duty and your conscience may speak out in protest; neglect a demand and hear it roar rebellion.

“I must live for me and for you.”

Beethoven writes of how he is compelled to live for the ‘we’ that is him and the Immortal Beloved, in spite of being forced by circumstance to live apart. In this sense, his Love demands everything – it provides an orientation of living that is not optional, but necessary.

This consuming boundness is precisely the kind of thing we might prefer to avoid. In focusing narrowly on Love as simply a feeling, we’ve grown skilled in evading it. Discussing duties rooted in Love also skirts the topic, important as it may be in other respects.

The question Beethoven challenges us to ask is this: are we alive to Love’s demands? Beethoven was, and for him the implications were radical. Love demands everything – it is that which orients living. So passion and purpose infuse his work.

If Beethoven was right, and if we have been looking everywhere but into Love’s demanding gaze, then our hearts must be roaring. We should give them a listen.

Noelle Lopez studies Philosophy at the University of Oxford; her doctoral project explores prospects for an interpersonal ethics rooted in Plato’s thought on love. Sometimes in her free time she writes other things too. Her creative fiction, poetry, and playwriting have been performed at venues in California, Arizona, and England.

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