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Title The enigma of Minona Stackelberg (1813-1897)

The Brunswicks and Beethoven

The Brunswicks belong to an old Hungarian family and resided in Martonvàsar. Count Anton II Brunswick had four children: Maria Theresia (Thérèse) born on the 27th July 1775, Franz de Paula, born 25th September 1777, Maria Josepha Aloysia (Joséphine) born 28th March 1779 and Caroline (Charlotte) born 25th March 1782.

During a brief stay in Vienna in May 1799, Thérèse and Joséphine made the acquaintance of Beethoven and became first the pupils, then great friends, of the composer. Joséphine married on 27th June that same year, without any enthusiasm, the fifty year old Count Joseph Deym. The good relationship Beethoven had with the two sisters continued and he still met them frequently, whether in Vienna, or in Hungary during visits to Martonvàsar, Ofen or Korompa.

During the following years, Beethoven began to develop a particular attachment to Joséphine Brunswick. Her marriage terminated with the sudden death of her husband in January of 1804.

A group of letters, written approximately between 1804 and 1807, were discovered and published by Doctor Schmidt Gorg (Beethovenhaus, 1957). They reveal a passion which was cemented with the hope of marriage. Joséphine's family, seeing the eccentricity of the candidate, opposed the match with strong practical reasons to prevent the young woman giving her consent: the custody of Joséphine's four daughters, the complicated affairs of the Deym succession, a problem which continued for a number of years… the difficult financial situation of Beethoven, his state of health, his eccentricity and, perhaps also, some preconceived ideas of the noble family in order to break the union.

In 1808 Joséphine married again, with the Baron Christoph Stackelberg, of Estonian origin. This marriage was no happier than the previous one.

Minona Minona, Joséphine's daughter

According to a hypothesis exposed and sustained during the '50's, (Kaznelson, "Beethovens ferne und unsterbliche Geliebte", Zurich, Standard Buch Verlag - 1954), the relationship between Beethoven and Joséphine continued after her second marriage and had an intimate epilogue in Prague in July of 1812; the letters known as “to my immortal beloved”, are considered to have possibly been written for Joséphine. A final analysis of the paternity of Joséphine's last daughter, Minona, born Stackelberg on 9th April 1813 is under question.

Indeed, the Baron Stackelberg had been in Estonia since 1810, where he was dwelling with another woman. He only visited Joséphine twice, in January and October of 1812. A few therefore find it easy to reach the conclusion that Minona was not the daughter of Stackelberg.

The hypothesis is not pure conjecture, but also cannot be proven. If anyone attempted to attach any certitude to the matter, the contrary is also true: no one can contemplate this possibility. The descendants of the Brunswick family, today residing in Hungary, always deny the possible relationship between the musician and the illegitimate daughter of Joséphine.

Joséphine had three other daughters and died in Vienna, practically abandoned by her husband, on 31st March 1821. In the last period of her life the police frequently interested themselves in the amorous relationships of Joséphine, as her sister Thérèse reported in her journal.

The life of Minona, the illegitimate daughter whose name reversed reads “Anonim”, was abandoned along with her mother. During the delivery only Thérèse assisted her sister. Thanks to surviving fragmentary documents, at the age of eighteen months, the child was growing and was healthy and strong. Meanwhile, the bad spirit which tormented this unfortunate family saw that the three other daughters of Joséphine were taken away by their father in Estonia, after a denunciation by the police in Vienna. The mother did not deny this denunciation until a few days before her death.

Minona and music

A little about Minona: some pieces of music, which were published by the house of F. H. Kunhel in Leipzig (the original score can be found in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna). You can listen to two world premier Midi files of Minona's compositions exclusively on this site! (see the bottom of the page).

The compositions do not stand out from other works of the time. However it is very stimulating to think that the creative genes may have come from her father...

Minona Two photos of Minona

Two photos have come to us and are presented here. The first appears to date from 1845-1850. We see a young woman, of robust figure, with penetrating eyes and a strong jaw line, completely the opposite to the typical German look, but much more similar to the “Spanish”, which Ludwig was named in his youth...

The other is a portrait from the end of her life. Minona has high cheek bones, small lips and tight mouth, with a downwards gaze. Her resemblance to her presumed father is striking. No surviving portrait of Beethoven gives such an impression as this photography.

The mystery remains

The truth about Minona was known only by her mother and Thérèse. But this woman, who lived until 1861, and who dedicated her life to the assistance of poor and abandoned children, honoured the memory of her poor sister: in her whole journal, which she maintained until her death, she did not let out the least doubt that would tarnish the memory of Joséphine.

Minona Stackelberg died on the 27th February 1897 in Vienna. Her last place of residence was Casa Cavriani, Habsburggasse 5. She is buried in the Central Cemetery in Vienna. Her headstone bears the inscription of Palm 103, verse 16:

Wenn der Wind darüber geht, so ist sie nimmer da,
und ihre Stätte kennet sie nicht mehr.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone,
And the place thereof shall know it no more.

Further information:

To know more about the Brunswick family, as well as the relationship between Beethoven and this family, we recommend:

  • Chris Stadtlaender
    “Ewig unbehaust und verliebt” BEETHOVEN UND DIE FRAUEN.
    Amalthea 2002
    ISBN 3-85002-470-9.

  • Mariam Tenger
    “Beethoven's Unsterbliche Geliebte”
    Bonn Nusser 1890.

  • A. Konei
    “Beethoven in Martonvàsar”
    Budapest 1962.

Works by Minona - World Premieres by Armando Orlandi
1 - Ecossaise 0'57"
Sequenced by Fiorella e Armando Orlandi
2 - Ecossaise Allegro 1'36"
Sequenced by Fiorella e Armando Orlandi
Many thanks to Melanie PIDDOCKE
for her translation of this page from French into English
© Dominique PREVOT
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