Immortal by Jessica Duchen

My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. This review forms my honest opinion.

Blurb

Who was Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved’?
After Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, a love letter in his writing was discovered, addressed only to his ‘Immortal Beloved’. Decades later, Countess Therese Brunsvik claims to have been the composer’s lost love. Yet is she concealing a tragic secret? Who is the one person who deserves to know the truth? Becoming Beethoven’s pupils in 1799, Therese and her sister Josephine
followed his struggles against the onset of deafness, Viennese society’s flamboyance, privilege and hypocrisy and the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars. While Therese sought liberation, Josephine found the odds stacked against even the most unquenchable of passions…

Review

I’ve had a really long break from historical fiction up until the last few weeks, and I can’t fathom why. An obsession with the genre in my teenage and early twenties led to my studying for a degree in History as a dual honours alongside English Literature, and the books I’ve read recently have reminded me just how much history sparks in me. I find myself drawn in, wanting to know more, researching – the people, the places, the era, and in this case looking for music I would never ordinarily think to listen to. One of the things that haunts me however is how so few women are remembered. Stories forever lost, forced to hide in the shadows of men. That thought really resonated with me when reading Immortal.

Inspired by the life of Beethoven and letters addressing his ‘Immortal Beloved’, Immortal rather wonderfully, instead of following a Beethoven centred narrative, choses to tell the story through the eyes of Countess Therese Brunsvik, a woman suspected throughout history to be Beethoven’s secret love. Here, Beethoven, although an imposing presence throughout, takes a back seat to Therese and her sister Josephine. Inspired by the words and works of a man, this is a tale that belongs to the women.

Of course, the real details are lost to history and this is a fictional imagining concocted by piecing together pieces of the past and casting assumptions. But I loved it. Therese is a wonderfully strong, competent woman, an ardent feminist in a time when women were viewed as pretty pieces of property with no rights. And it was these lack of rights and the ‘rules’ of a hypocritical society that form the real tragedy of this tale. The details of how women were treated in the past always make me angry, more so when, although clearly there has been great strides in terms of women’s rights in the modern day, I can still see shadows of what was still lingering today.

The era is tumultuous, set to the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Based in large part in Vienna, the aristocracy display their privilege unashamedly. The hypocrisies of the class system burned me, and I found myself endlessly frustrated at the ways in which Josephine in particular found herself in an unending cycle of imprisonment, trapped by consequence of her gender. I found it particularly interesting how Beethoven, although male and revered by the aristocracy, was subject to similar constraints in matters of love, due simply to his class.

One of the most wonderful aspects of this novel is the treatment of music. I love music, but I would say in a superficial way and I claim no expertise in the subject, except that I love the way that it makes me feel. And I think that this came through so strongly here. The way in which Therese describes music, the mirroring of emotion in the notes played, the subtleties and the way in which the music spoke to those listening. Very often the description of the music being played felt so incredibly sensual, and soul baring, that I would find myself flooded with goosebumps. True immortality is the way in which the composer lives on in these works of art.

A wonderful novel, compelling, clever and beautifully told through the eyes of an incredible woman. I found utter escape in these pages, and I felt sad to reach its end. Immortal has inspired me.

About the Author

Jessica Duchen writes for and about music, encompassing fiction, biography, journalism, plays, narrated concerts and opera librettos (notably Roxanna Panufnik’s Silver Birch at Garsington Opera, 2017). She was classical music correspondent for the Independent from 2004 to 2016 and has written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Observer and BBC Music Magazine. Her biographies of the composers Gabriel Fauré and Erich Wolfgang Korngold have met with wide acclaim and her novel Ghost Variations (Unbound, 2016) was chosen by John Suchet in the Daily Mail as his Best Read of 2016. Jessica was born in London and studied music at Cambridge. She lives in London with her violinist husband.

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