Listening to Beethoven #26 – Prüfung des Küssens


An image of Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich

Prüfung des Küssens (“Meine weise Mutter spricht”) WoO 89 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Giorgio Federico Ghedini
Duration 5’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven wrote two arias for the bass Joseph Lux, a popular singer in Bonn known for his comic sensibilities. Little is known of the exact composition date beyond the years 1791-92, and it is also thought the works were not performed in Bonn.

A vocal part from the first aria, Prüfung des Küssens, survives from Beethoven’s time in Vienna, which suggests it was to be published – but again there is no evidence of performance. Ernst Herttrich, writing in the booklet notes for DG’s complete edition, notes that Beethoven offered both arias to a publisher in 1822, evidence that he still held them in high regard.

Thoughts

A lightly playful, slightly syncopated introduction brings in our bass singer – with what could easily be an excerpt from a much larger stage work. Beethoven’s writing is impish, slightly cheeky, and although the words are relatively nonsensical the character of Joseph Lux comes through.

The singer dominates, with occasional probing from the orchestra – and the vocal line encourages the character to take liberties with the tempo, to bring humour to the text and to stamp their personality on the aria. The orchestral writing offers plenty of room for this, and the false ending – the aria finishing but then restarting – only adds to the comic potential.

Recordings used

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)

Thomas Hampson is more convincing as a comic baritone in his account, taking a few more liberties with Beethoven’s tempo than Kevin Greenlaw – who is nonetheless a fine performer himself. The newer Naxos recording is more sympathetic in its sound.

Spotify links

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1792 Cimarosa – Il Matrimonio Segreto

Next up Mit Mädeln sich vertragen

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