Listening to Beethoven #57 – Opferlied


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

Opferlied WoO 126 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Friedrich von Matthisson
Duration 3′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven set the text to Freidrich von Matthisson‘s Opferlied on no fewer than four occasions, and there are signs that he became somewhat obsessed with its text. The ChoralWiki entry for the piece – which was eventually set in a choral version – details how Beethoven included the statement Das Schöne zu dem Guten! (“The beautiful to the good”), in his late manuscripts.

The entry goes on to describe how ‘Matthisson’s text depicts a young man in a oak grove offering a sacrifice to Zeus. The man asks Zeus to be the protector of liberty, and to give him, both now and in his old age, beautiful things, because he is good’.

This first version remained unpublished – but by the time of the fourth version Beethoven was writing for a four-part chorus and orchestra, indicating perhaps how the importance of the text had amplified.

Thoughts

The Opferlied is an invitation to the baritone to sound forth, Beethoven assigning his singer a strong melody which is doubled by the piano almost throughout.

The song is a passionate one, with long notes for the singer that make it sound rather like a hymn – and the the piano responds in reverential kind.

Recordings used

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Obertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

The two baritone versions are very fine indeed, though Fischer-Dieskau’s tones are perhaps a little more luxurious. The tenor version from Peter Schreier takes the key up into F major (the baritone versions are in D) and his ringing tone is suitably dramatic.

Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jörg Demus

Hermann Prey, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Walter Obertz

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 1795 Viotti –  Violin Concerto no.24 in B minor

Next up Trio for 2 oboes and cor anglais in C major Op.87

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