I don’t want to betray my sappy side, but there’s nothing quite like a love letter. I mean the good old-fashioned, hand-written kind. I don’t claim to have the finger on the pulse of modern romance, but I assume the majority of it is done though Tinder, iMessage and Facebook. (Maybe Instagram too, but I still haven’t really figured out what that one is for). Generally, I get irritated with people who romanticize the past; I’ve been around long enough to know that things were not necessarily better in the good old days, and quite often, things were horrifyingly worse. Think of dental procedures. But the art of the love letter is one aspect of life in the days of yore that has effectively vanished, and its disappearance has left our lives feeling just a bit more empty.
Even if you’re the curmudgeonly type, I defy you to look up the following love letters and not feel like a romantic: Napolean’s to Josephine; Winston Churchill’s to his wife Clementine; even Henry VIII’s letter to Anne Boleyn—in happier times, of course. Required reading is Johnny Cash’s letter to June Carter Cash. “We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. I love you very much.”
One of history’s greatest grouchy figures was Beethoven, but even he had a flare for penning romance. In a letter to a mysteriously anonymous woman he described as his “Immortal Beloved” he wrote, “I have determined to wander about for so long far away, until I can fly into your arms, and call myself quite at home with you, and can send my soul enveloped by yours into the realm of spirits. Never doubt the faithfullest heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.” So the man who had earned a reputation as impossible with a volcanic temper, the man whom you gave a wide berth in restaurants because he spat bones in a great radius, the man who called some of his wealthy patrons donkeys did in fact have a softer side, a tenderness, and a heartbreaking vulnerability.
The same goes for his music. The Beethoven we know best is in his violent and hair-raising Fifth Symphony. But he had another side to his art entirely that we see in his less known Fourth Symphony. It contains some of the most lyrical, gentle and charming music he ever wrote. The achingly tender second movement somehow uncannily suspends time, and the final movement is pure joy rendered in sound. I can never hear this symphony without being overtaken by an unbridled feeling of optimism. It’s music like this that reminds us of all the beauty in our tired old world. It’s an irreplaceable antidote to worries we may have, for example, about billionaire celebrities and the world’s most powerful job.
Most of us are not capable of writing music like this, but we all—even the most cantankerous amongst us—can pull out paper and pen and send a little note to someone we care about. I will if you will.