Listening to Beethoven #53 – Der freie Mann

Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Der freie Mann WoO 117 for voice and piano (1792-94, Beethoven aged 23)

Dedication not known
Text Gottlieb Conrad Pfeffel
Duration 1’30”


Background and Critical Reception

“Who is a free man? He on whom only his own will and no despot’s whim can impose laws; that man is free!”

So runs the translation of this very short setting of Pfeffel. Very little is written about this setting, but the text obviously appealed to the composer as he wrote an earlier version before settling on this in 1794. The entry for this piece on the Unheard Beethoven website writes, “One may even say it expresses one of his basic beliefs: the right of individuals to be free, and take destiny in their own hands”.

The notes for DG’s Complete Beethoven edition class this song as a ‘Gesellscaftslieder’ – joining the two drinking songs we heard recently. This is a sober, political alternative.


This may be a short song but it has a bracing blast from the ensemble at the outset, followed by a wholesome melody from solo singer in response.

For the listener it is good fun – completely lacking in subtlety but all the better for it!

Recordings used

Hermann Prey (baritone), Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Obertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

Hermann Prey and the Heinrich Schütz Kreis, Berlin throw their all into this with impressive heft, supported by the fullbodied piano of Leonard Hokanson. As though to stress the text they repeat it too. Peter Schreier gives a really strong account also, and in the tenor register the song acquires greater upward reach.

Spotify links

Hermann Prey, Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Walter Obertz

Also written in 1794 Hummel 3 Fugues Op.7

Next up Giura il nocchier

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