Listening to Beethoven #194 – Graf, liebster Graf, liebstes Schaf, WoO 101

graf-grafPeanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Graf, liebster Graf, liebstes Schaf WoO 101 for three voices (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication Count Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz
Text Beethoven
Duration 0’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is one of Beethoven’s early musical jokes, which he included in a letter to his friend, Count Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz. The short text translates as ‘Count, Count, dear Count, best sheep!’

Thoughts

Literally scribbled on the back of an envelope, this is a charming fragment – cleverly working the pronunciations into the melody. Very much a case of less is more!

Recordings used

Cantus Novus Wien / Thomas Holmes (Naxos)

Coro della Svizzera / Diego Fasolis (Arts Music)

Also written in 1802 Reichardt Das Zauberschloss

Next up 6 variations on Ich denke dein WoO 74

Listening to Beethoven #180 – Silvio, amante disperato, WoO 99/12

beethoven-fragment

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

Silvio, amante disperato WoO 99/120 for soprano, alto, tenor and bass (1801-02, Beethoven aged 31)

Text Metastasio
Duration 10″

Listen

You can hear this fragment on the excellent site The Unheard Beethoven

Background and Critical Reception

This entry is more of a placeholder for a short song (26 bars) written by Beethoven as a product of his studies with Salieri. There seems to be some contention on when it would have been written – the IMSLP list of works, which this study has been using, says 1801-02 while the Unheard Beethoven resource speculates at 1795.

Thoughts

Although there is very little to listen to here, the existence of this piece is well worth noting, as we have had very little music for unaccompanied voices from Beethoven up to this time. From this fragment the mood seems downcast.

Recordings used

None as yet, other than the fragment heard from Unheard Beethoven – this link will download the small file

Also written in 1802 Zeller Sammlung kleiner Balladen und Lieder Z123

Next up 7 Bagatelles Op.33

Listening to Beethoven #176 – Man strebt, die Flamme zu verhehlen, WoO 120

man-strebt

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

Man strebt, die Flamme zu verhehlen WoO 120 for voice and piano (1802, Beethoven aged 30)

Dedication Johanna von Weissenthurn
Text Johanna von Weissenthurn
Duration 2′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven dedicated his song Man Strebt, die Flamme zu Verhehlen (One strives to conceal the flame) to Johanna Franul von Weissenthurn, an actress, poet, and playwright active in Vienna beginning in 1789.

Charles Petzold, in his Beethoven 250 series, sets the song in a good deal of context here, revealing a little more about the elusive Frau Weissenthurn in the process.

Thoughts

Given that this song only lasts just over two minutes, it has an unusually elaborate introduction from the piano – maybe part of Beethoven’s portrait-setting?

When the voice enters it sounds preoccupied, and the piano responds again. Translated, the text talks of how ‘a glance says more than a thousand words…a glance will often unbolt the door of passion long concealed. The voice seems to be portraying the glance, the piano more intent on opening the door with its florid right hand.

Recordings used

Natalie Pérez, Jean-Pierre Armengaud (Warner Classics)

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

Both versions convey the preoccupied feel of this text.

Also written in 1802 Zeller Sammlung kleiner Balladen und Lieder Z123

Next up Sonata for piano and violin no.6 in A major Op.30/1

Listening to Beethoven #172 – 6 Lieder von Gellert Op.48

songs-op48
Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

6 Lieder von Gellert Op.48 for voice and piano (1801, Beethoven aged 30)

1 Bitten
2 Die Liebe des Nächsten
3 Vom Tode
4 Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur
5 Gottes Macht und Vorsehung
6 Busslied

Dedication not known
Text Christian Fürchtegott Gellert
Duration 14′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Although Beethoven was enjoying a fierce period of creativity in his compositions, his health was suffering – and in particular his hearing. This cycle of six Gellert settings captured his state of mind at the realisation that his loss of hearing may well be temporary.

Jan Swafford feels the anguish in songs whose roots go back several years. ‘That Beethoven turned to the artless North German piety of these poems, and set them in a style more interested in declaiming the words than in waxing lyrical, is another indication of his state of mind’, he writes. ‘If doctors could not help him, maybe God could, at least in giving him consolation. These song come from the heart of his anguish and incipient depression.

The texts are revealing, perhaps nowhere more so than the third song Vom Tode, with its line ‘Meine Lebenszeit verstreicht, Stündlich eil ich zu dem Grabe (My life is ending and with each hour I move swiftly to the grave)’.

This is followed by two hymns of praise, before an expansive final song Busslied which explores both sides of the ‘argument’.

Thoughts

The deeper emotion Beethoven has been investing in his instrumental pieces can also be keenly felt in these six settings.

The music of Bitten, in a pure C major, offers a kind of cold and rather downcast consolation, the poet (and composer) contemplating their fate. The tone of Die Liebe des Nächsten, however, is upward looking, and more than a little operatic, the piano answering the voice as a Handel orchestra might have done.

Vom Tode itself has a very hollow ring, and is a sombre affair indeed, one of Beethoven’s most moving songs – and we can surely allow him the exploration of his fate. In the wake of such an empty song, deep in the minor key, Die Here Gott also sounds a little hollow in spite of its status as a genuine hymn of praise. The musical language remains stern, but when Beethoven switches to the major key it becomes genuinely exultant, with massive peals from the piano at the close. Gottes Macht is very much in the same vein, all about strength and power – and here the stance is a Handelian one too.

Busslied is an epic in comparison to these shorter settings, as long as the previous three songs put together. It starts in very withdrawn fashion but moves to a more positive outlook, with a hymnlike melody in the voice. The piano scampers to keep up, turning in some particularly athletic counterpoint.

This is a side of Beethoven we have not yet seen in the vocal music, a deeper and more personal expression which seems more suited to the world of the Lied than the stage. It is a private and rather moving 15 minutes spent with a composer whose physical ailments were destined to challenge him greatly, but ultimately not to overcome his fierce will to compose.

Recordings used

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Hartmut Höll (piano) (Warner Classics)
Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano) (Signum Classics)
Matthias Goerne (baritone), Jan Lisiecki (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)

These are four really excellent versions, from the ‘old-school’ and imperious approach from Hermann Prey and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to the newer versions from Roderick Williams and Matthias Goerne. Goerne is especially fine here in his new recording with Jan Lisiecki, finding a moving and reverent stillness in the slower songs and tempering the exuberance of the hymns of praise. Roderick Williams phrases Vom Tode beautifully, with a deliberately flatter tone (not pitch) to the voice.

Spotify links

A playlist of four different versions of the Op.48 Lieder can be found here:

Also written in 1801 Haydn The Spirit’s Song Hob.XXVIa:41

Next up 7 Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’

Listening to Beethoven #143 – Neue Liebe, neues Leben WoO 127

Neue Liebe neues LebenPeanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Neue Liebe, neues Leben WoO 127 for voice and piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)

Dedication not known
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Duration 3′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The third of Beethoven’s songs thought to be written in 1799 – and the third different language!

Susan Nouen, in some impressively detailed notes accompanying Signum’s disc of Beethoven Lieder with Ann Murray, recounts the composer’s history with this particular song. ‘The words…were borne of Goethe’s brief betrothal for some months in 1775 to Anne Elisabeth Schönemann’, who he nicknamed ‘Lili’. Their engagement ran into trouble because of her social circle, but her presence stayed with the poet. ‘She was the first woman I truly and deeply loved’, he said. ‘I can also say that she was the last’.

Beethoven identified strongly with this poem, setting it first in sketches in 1792, then this version, and then his final encounter with the text as Op.75/2.

Thoughts

A song of great urgency and concentrated feeling. Most of Beethoven’s writing is for the upper range of the tenor voice, and with quite short notes too – the singer is not allowed to rest at any point. Although in C major the song has no sense of repose, and Goethe’s words are delivered almost breathlessly. It will be interesting to see the music Beethoven finally brings to this text, for this is restless and less than comfortable.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Peter Maus (tenor), Hans Hilsdorf (piano)

 

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 1799 Salieri Falstaff o sia Le tre burle

Next up Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1