The Estonian composer/librettist Jüri Reinvere thinks he did, and has written an opera about it, titled Minona, that will have its world premiere 25 January at the Regensburg Theater.

In an interview in the January issue of Opernwelt, Reinvere says he was inspired by Beethoven’s 1812 letter to the “Immortal Beloved,” who, though never positively identified, is believed by some scholars to have been the Hungarian Countess Josephine Brunsvik. An excellent pianist, she and her sister Therese began taking lessons from Beethoven in 1799, and the young noblewoman and composer fell in love. Social conventions of the time made marriage between the two out of the question, and Josephine did make an acceptable match with Count Joseph Deyn. The marriage was a reasonably happy one and the couple quickly had three children. Beethoven continued visiting Josephine at the Deyns’ home, and after the Count’s unexpected death in January, 1804, the composer and the widow became close again. During this time, Beethoven wrote passionate love letters to her, more than a dozen of which have survived. Her actual responses to him were not preserved, but she kept the drafts of some of them and those indicate that his sentiments were reciprocated.

However, their relationship didn’t sit well with Josephine’s family, who pressured her to break off contact with Beethoven, and by the end of 1807, she began to give way. She was no longer at home when he came to see her. In 1808, her search for a teacher for her two sons finally led to her meeting the Estonian Baron Christoph von Stackelberg, and during the winter of 1808-09, Josephine finally yielded to the Baron’s amorous advances. (She’d been seriously ill, and surviving information from the diary of Therese, who accompanied her, suggests she couldn’t muster the strength to resist his importunities.) In any event, she was pregnant when the two sisters and Stackelberg returned to Hungary that summer, and she secretly gave birth to a daughter, Maria Laura, in December. The Brunsviks were not pleased by the prospect of Stackelberg as a son-in-law, as he was of lower rank than they and a non-Catholic as well. However, to legitimize Maria Laura, and because Stackelberg threatened to discontinue the boys’ education, Josephine’s mother reluctantly gave her consent to the nuptials and the marriage took place very quietly, with no guests present, in January, 1810.

The union was a disaster from the beginning, and by 1812, Stackelberg had separated from his wife. In her diary entry in June, Josephine indicated that she intended to go to Prague – the same city where, on 3 July, Beethoven evidently met the “Immortal Beloved,” to whom he addressed the letter of 6-7 July. However, since the diaries of both Josephine and her sister abruptly ended in June, there’s no way to positively determine whether or not she and Beethoven met in Prague. What is known is that Josephine gave birth to her daughter Minona nine months later, on 8 April 1813. Around this time Stackelberg left his wife for good, possibly because he suspected Minona was not his child. As for Beethoven and Josephine, they apparently met again in the spa town of Baden in the summer of 1816.

Reinvere says the source material for his libretto to Minona came from the book, Von die unsterbliche Geliebte (About the Immortal Beloved), by the Swiss musicologist Harry Goldschmidt, first published in 1977, as well as studies by the Canadian music historian Rita Steblin, who has researched the Beetoven-Josephine-Minona relationship for decades. He also consulted the Ritterschaftsarchiv (an archive of knighthoods) in Tartu, Estonia, where many documents pertaining to the Stackelberg family are located. His opera deals with Josephine’s tragic life, caught between a husband she disliked and the commoner composer she loved but couldn’t wed, as seen through Minona’s recollections. Reinvere admits there’s no evidence Beethoven and Josephine met in Prague and were intimate, but the opera is focused on the impact her mother’s emotional turmoil and conflicted family situation had on Minona.

In his score, Reinvere only quotes Beethoven’s music once with a reference to the Canon Quartet from Fidelio, as he believes the character of Leonore was a strongly idealized image of Josephine. He also notes that Beethoven incorporated a succession of hidden plays on Josephine’s name in the musical notation of a number of his works, such as rhythmic figures that follow the syllabic pattern of the name. Such allusions or motifs also play a role in Reinvere’s score, but as he explains, a shadowy one – as Beethoven was always but a shadow in Minona’s life.