Such a Marvelous Gift

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is said to have proposed marriage to Therese Malfatti, a supposition supported by the tender tone of a letter he wrote to her in May 1810. He referred first to something he had sent her, quite possibly a copy of a piano piece dedicated to her, later to become famous as Für Elise:

In this letter, beloved Therese, you are receiving what I promised you, and, in fact, if it weren’t for some very powerful hindrances, you’d be receiving even more, if only to prove that I always do more for my friends than I promise. I have every confidence that your avocations are every bit as charming as your entertainment is pleasant….No doubt I’d be expecting you to esteem me too highly if I were to say of you, “People are united not just when they’re together, even the distant one, the absent one, also being with us.”

Who would apply a saying like that to our whimsical Therese, who has such a carefree approach to all of life’s situations?

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As far as your pursuits are concerned, be sure not to neglect the pianoforte or music in general. You have such a marvelous gift for music. Why don’t you develop it seriously? You have so much feeling for everything that’s beautiful and good. Why not apply it to finding in such a glorious art that which is fine and perfect, attributes that in turn radiate beauty upon us?

My life is very lonely and quiet. Even though here and there, some poet would like to awaken me, all the same, ever since you left Vienna, I feel an emptiness that not even my art can fill.

Your pianoforte has been ordered and you’ll soon have it. I wonder what difference you’ll find between a theme that was improvised one evening and the way I recently wrote it down for you. Work it out for yourself, but please do not take punch to help you.