One January evening in 1816, 25-year-old Franziska Giannatasio del Rio wrote in her diary:
I cannot describe the delight I feel at being thus brought into communion with a man whom I honour so much as an artist, and esteem so highly as a man. It seems like a dream that my wishes are at last realised.
The person in question was Ludwig van Beethoven, and earlier that day Franziska had met him for the first time at her family’s home in Vienna. Her father, Cajetan, was a teacher and the director of a boarding school at which Beethoven’s nephew, Karl, was soon to stay, and from that day on, as Karl’s legal guardian, the composer would show up often, usually without warning, and stay for hours. Judging by her diary from that period, Franziska grew increasingly smitten with each visit; this entry came a couple of months in, with her feelings becoming difficult to contain.
The Diary Entry
Thursday, March 21st.
I have been eager to get to my diary, because I have not dared even to tell my sister all that has been passing in my mind since this morning; and she, hitherto, has shared my every thought. Can I conceal from myself that which makes me long to weep continually? Yes; it must be confessed, Beethoven interests me to the selfish point of desiring, nay, longing, that I, and I alone, may please him!
When father repeated [Beethoven’s] remark, made in reference to a contemplated journey (to London), that he would never be able to form a closer tie than the one which bound him now to his nephew, then the thought that we should be separated from him gave rise to the idea—for what else can I call it?—which has been troubling me all day, and put me in this state of longing to weep my eyes out.
I am deeply ashamed to make this confession, but let the one judge me who, with a heart capable of untold powers of loving, has already begun to understand that these exquisite feelings must be pent-up within oneself. And that in spite of the inward conviction that this great love would make the loved one happy, if it dared to find expression, yet it must be hidden away out of sight, and suppressed!
I have been asking myself lately the same question which I did formerly: Why it is impossible to be satisfied with childish and sisterly affection? Speculate as one may on the subject, it is of no use: all one can do is to become master of one’s own emotions, unfortunately a hard task hitherto for me. Until I have attained this mastery over myself, and so gained peace, I will try and think less of my future on this subject, or rather promise myself that I will wait with childlike patience, and in the meantime continue to live as a true and faithful daughter, sister, and friend. In this manner I shall live on till the time comes when it will not be such a hard matter to overcome the deep, but unreasonable longings of my heart, and enjoy peace. A little hope will thus brighten my existence, without which peace will never come. So I will hope on! It is a pity that I must never forget, but always remember that, hope as I may, no certainty, no belief, can be mixed up with it! I know I have written much that I ought not even to think about, but my feelings are so intense!
Edited by Beethoven scholar Ludwig Nohl and translated by Annie Wood, Franziska’s diary was published in 1876 with the title, An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven, from the Diary of a Young Lady. Now in the public domain, you can read that book online at the Internet Archive. Some of Franziska’s diary entries have also been reprinted in various Beethoven biographies over the years, e.g. Thayer’s Life of Beethoven.
The story of Beethoven’s nephew, and of how Beethoven came to be his guardian, is a sad one. As is often the case, Wikipedia is a good place to start if you’re keen to learn more.
As for the Giannatasios, Beethoven removed Karl from their school in January of 1818. His visits slowed considerably, but not entirely.
Leave a Reply