Listening to Beethoven #46 – Que le temps me dure (1st version)


Beethoven stamp, issued by Guernsey Post – part of a series of four
Design: The Potting Shed

Que le temps me dure WoO116a for voice and piano (1793, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Text Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Duration 3’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

“How slowly time passes, when I spend it far from you!”

So runs the English translation of the first line of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s short poem, which Beethoven appears to have set soon after arrival in Vienna. An interesting choice of words, which might suggest a concentrated bout of homesickness. Unfortunately nothing could be found in writing about this setting, which suggests it was kept hidden and maybe only performed in private.

The text evidently meant something to Beethoven, for he made two settings. The first of these, for high voice and piano, is in the key of C minor – a key in which he was spending a good deal of time, with the third piano trio of his forthcoming Op.1 sharing this ‘home’.

Thoughts

This setting is a short one, but it is quite poignant. A sombre if elegant introduction from the piano brings in the singer, with a simple and largely stepwise melody (one note per syllable). There are two verses which are more or less identical, before the music moves into the major key (in Hermann Prey’s version but not Peter Schreier’s).

Schreier’s finishes with a piano postlude that keeps the downcast mood of the song.

Recordings used

Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Olbertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)
Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)

Hermann Prey’s version is almost twice as long as Peter Schreier – and rather more sorrowful, given its much slower pace. This offers greater meaning when the music moves into the major key. By comparison the tenor Schreier feels more matter of fact in his reflections, especially without the coda that Prey uses.

Spotify links

Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Olbertz (piano)

Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)

Also written in 1793 Beauvarlet-Charpentier Variations on La Marseillaise

Next up Ein Selbstgespräch WoO114

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