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

Listening to Beethoven #102 – Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger WoO 121


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

Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger for voice and piano (1794-6, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication not known
Text Josef Friedelberg

Duration 2’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

It is interesting and slightly curious that Beethoven should set Josef Friedelberg’s poem Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger (Song of Farewell to the Citizens of Vienna on the Departure of the Flag Division of the Viennese Voluntary Corps) while seemingly away from the city himself. The date of composition is given as November 1796, just as he was on the point of returning from Berlin and the successful premiere of his two Sonatas for cello and piano.

The uncredited booklet for Capriccio’s complete edition of the Beethoven songs puts its composition in context. ‘The Beethoven of the songs for voice and piano is thus less concerned with establishing his own artistic autonomy than with serving music lovers with compositions in accordance with their expectations and possibilities. This explains why he kept the technical requirements for playing the piano movement to a low to moderate standard, and also the fact that he set texts to music as a favour to people, or when commissioned to do so, which explains the choice of many of the poems’.

Thoughts

This song for lower voices and piano is a red-blooded offering, with a fulsome vocal from the male soloist as the piano sets the march tempo. Then there is a brisk intervention from the male chorus as a refrain. The song feels nationalistic, especially with the choir, and is designed as a basic but bracing ensemble piece.

Recording used and Spotify link

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

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 1796 Cramer Piano Concerto no.2 in D minor Op.16

Next up Ah! Perfido Op.65

Listening to Beethoven #99 – Opferlied Hess 145


Friedrich von Matthison – portrait by Ferdinand Hartmann

Opferlied Hess 145 for voice and piano (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication not known
Text Friedrich von Matthisson
Duration 3′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is our second encounter with a text Beethoven was to set four, maybe even five times in the course of his life – and it is his second setting in a year, following the version tagged as WoO 121. The poet Friedrich von Matthisson has also featured previously in his output – through the cornerstone song Adelaide – but now the Opferlied (‘Song of Sacrifice’) appears in a setting for lower voice and piano. As the Unheard Beethoven site points out, it would be finally completed to the composer’s satisfaction when properly published as Op.121b in 1824.

The text stayed with him from now until the end of his life – and again we refer to Unheard Beethoven for noting that it runs hand-in-hand with Ode an die Freude, the Ode to Joy, as a text the composer was mildly obsessed with.

Thoughts

This setting of the Opferlied pairs singer and pianist closely – the right hand of the keyboard shadowing the melody almost throughout. The tempo is slow but the song seems to end a bit too soon, perhaps reflecting its unpublished status.

As with the first version there are strong hymn-like moments in Beethoven’s writing, the singer transported by his text.

Recordings used

Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone), Bernadette Bartos (piano) (Naxos)

Seemingly the only available recording of this version of Opferlied, the performance has a nice poise in the hands of Paul Armin Edelmann and Bernadette Bartos.

Spotify link

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 1796 Boieldieu –  Duet no.2 in B flat major for harp and piano

Next up Sonata for piano and cello in F major Op.5/1

Listening to Beethoven #97 – Erlkönig


Goethe in c1775

Erlkönig for voice and piano (1794-6, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication not known
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Duration 3’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Those readers who know the songs of Schubert will recognise Erlkönig as one of the composer’s most popular songs, a tumultuous setting of Goethe’s heroic poem. Yet here is a response from Beethoven some twenty years earlier, a fragment completed for publication by Reinhold Becker.

The Unheard Beethoven site helpfully goes into detail on Becker’s amendments and extensions to Beethoven’s work, adding a downloadable score and audio. It also presents the original, unmodified sketch, as written by Beethoven and transcribed by Gustav Nottebohm.

Thoughts

Beethoven’s setting is a pretty dramatic one, a turbulent piano introduction then shadowing the baritone’s bold melody. The key is D minor, which until now we have not heard Beethoven use. It is the ideal vehicle to convey the tragic-heroic text, and the composer keeps a keen air of occasion running throughout. The end is hollow on the part of the singer, who signs off with a whisper.

Recording used and Spotify link

Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone), Bernadette Bartos (piano) (Naxos)

You can compare notes with the Schubert setting below:

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 1796 Haydn Saper vorrei se m’ami Hob.XXVa:2

Next up Piano Sonata no.20 in G major Op.49/2

Listening to Beethoven #89 – La Partenza WoO 124


Portrait of Italian poet Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) Image used courtesy of Wikipedia

La partenza WoO 124 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 1’10”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven joined a prestigious list of composers in setting Pietro Metastasio’s canzonetta from 1749. Paisiello and Mozart had already taken the text as inspiration, but now Beethoven – setting Italian again – took the plunge. This would appear to be a result of his continuing training with Salieri, who was encouraging the setting of songs in his native language.

Thoughts

Beethoven shifts from the G major of previous song Zärtliche Liebe to A flat major, a tonal centre that would inspire some of his best and most contemplative music over the years. It is a shift in mood, too – the previous song a declaration of love, this one (translating as The Departure) sat in the cloud of departure and loss.

It is a relatively simple setting, and a short one too at just over a minute. A flowing piano is the bedrock for a smooth, mid-range melody, but the overriding mood is sombre and relatively downcast.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hartmut Höll (Warner Classics)

Hermann Prey, Leonard Hokanson (Capriccio)

Cecilia Bartoli, Andras Schiff (Decca)

Both Fischer-Dieskau and Prey give this song a good deal of gravitas, their pianists providing solid support. However the bright tones of Cecilia Bartoli and the light-fingered accompaniment of András Schiff give the song a new lease of life.

Also written in 1795 Salieri “Armonia per un tempio della notte” in E flat major for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns

Next up 12 German Dances WoO8 (piano version)