Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ludwig van Beethoven, walking in Teplitz / Teplice, Czech Republic. Painted by Adolf Karpellus
Mit Mädeln sich vertragen WoO 90 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)
Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Background and Critical Reception
“With girls we get along, with men we brawl about”. So runs the first line of Goethe’s Mit Mädeln sich vertragen (With girls we get along), the first of his works to be utilised by Beethoven for musical gain. It is the second of two arias written for the Bonn-based bass (!) Joseph Lux.
Neither of the arias is mentioned much by Beethoven biographers, beyond the date of composition which is thought to be 1791-92. It is not thought the works were performed in Bonn.
In his booklet notes for a new Naxos recording of the aria by Kevin Greenlaw, Keith Anderson writes of how the aria is in fact a setting of a song text from Goethe’s Claudine von Villa Bella, described as ein Schauspiel mit Gesang (‘A play with songs’), and later set by Schubert.
Beethoven revised it in 1795-96, and Anderson talks of how the songs ‘are highly typical of the genre, if not necessarily of Beethoven.’
Beethoven’s melodic inspiration is evident throughout this entertaining piece of music for the stage. It brings out his playful side, which we have now seen on a couple of occasions – and is certainly more lighthearted than you might anticipate for a setting of a Goethe text.
Yet this is a song for men to sing, potentially in a raucous fashion – so it helps that there is a distinctive melody that the strings latch on to, and a refrain that sticks in the head too.
Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)
Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)
Kevin Greenlaw is ideally suited to this aria, slightly playful and jousting with the strings of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, who enjoy their echo of his refrain. Thomas Hampson’s version is a little broader, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt allowing the horns to rasp in the introduction, giving an edge to the music. Hampson is terrific in the refrains, hurling out the words.
A quickfire version for voice and piano also exists, in the capable hands of the masterly Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus.
Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam
Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus
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 Haydn – Symphony no.98 in B flat major
Next up Violin Concerto in C major