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′

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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

Listening to Beethoven #142 – Plaisir d’aimer WoO 128

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

Plaisir d’aimer WoO 128 for voice and piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)

Dedication not known
Text Anon

Duration 1’15”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This Romance has a text of unknown source, set to music by Beethoven either in late 1798 or early 1799. Beethoven hardly set any songs in French, so this is a notable if very short piece of work, lasting little over a minute.

The singer is worried about the power a lover can have over their soul, and that they might lose their peace in pursuit of a happiness that is far from guaranteed.

Thoughts

A short song, and a worrisome one too. The vocal melody is simple but affected, followed closely by the piano.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Olbertz (piano)

Pamela Coburn & Leonard Hokanson

 

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 Neue Liebe, neues Leben, WoO 127

Listening to Beethoven #141 – La tiranna WoO 125

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

La Tiranna WoO 125 for voice and piano (1799, Beethoven aged 28)

Dedication not known
Text Anon, translated William Wennington

Duration 3′

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Background and Critical Reception

This work is described by Susan Youens as a ‘song-aria’, published in London at the end of 1799. William Wennington, who appears to have been in Vienna towards the end of 1798, translated the text from English into Italian. Youens suggests Beethoven probably made his acquaintance, and ‘acceded to his request to set this dramatic lament about unrequited love.’

Youens writes of how ‘Beethoven makes the piano part froth and foam in such a way as to display his own pianism’.

Thoughts

There is quite a substantial piano introduction to this song before the high voice appears, using a more operatic profile than what we have been used to in the songs so far from Beethoven.

The writing is more descriptive, the piano more independent of the vocal line as it sets the scene. The vocal is floated, the piano flowing but adding comments of its own inbetween. in the tempestuous middle section the melody has a curious premonition of The Phantom of the Opera.

Recording used and Spotify link

John Mark Ainsley (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)

Pamela Coburn & Leonard Hokanson

 

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 Neue Liebe, neues Leben, WoO 127

Listening to Beethoven #121 – Kriegslied der Österreicher WoO 122


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

Kriegslied der Österreicher WoO 122 for voice and piano (1797, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication not known
Text Josef Friedelberg

Duration 3’15”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

There is no official translation of Friedelberg’s text – at least none that I could find – but a loose interpretation via Google reveals something of a hymn to Germany, while inspiring his newish home countrymen too. ‘Man, woman and child in Austria. feel deeply your own worth’, runs the last verse.

The song draws out the point made by the unknown writer of the booklet notes for Capriccio’s set of the complete songs, who notes that ‘Beethoven’s songs are not music for the concert hall, but, for the large part, house music for the sophisticated entertainment or the edification of the educated classes.’

Thoughts

As with his previous setting of Friedelberg’s poetry, Beethoven offers a full bodied setting of a celebratory text. As noted in that setting, the piano functions to double the melody and provide a bit of punctuation between verses. It is the sort of song you can imagine being sung after a few drinks!

Recording used and Spotify link

Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano), Berlin Heinrich Schütz Choir / Wolfgang Matkowitz

Hermann Prey is brilliant here, a wonderful tone complemented by the Heinrich Schütz Kreis, Berlin, in the refrains.

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 1797 Dussek La Consolation Op.62

Next up Piano Sonata no.4 in E flat major Op.7