Listening to Beethoven #205 – Der Wachtelslag WoO 129

peanuts-birds

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

Der Wachtelslag WoO 129 for voice and piano (1803, Beethoven aged 32)

Dedication not known
Text Samuel Friedrich Sauter

Duration 3’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The guide to this song on the website of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn lists it as a ‘box office hit’. Certainly Beethoven was aware of the popularity of Der Wachtelschlag (The Call of the Quail), informing the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, “I am offering you the following works for 300 gulden: A quail song, the text of which you may know. It consists of three verses, but my setting is entirely durchkomponiert (through-composed)”

For some reason the publishers did not take the song and it was released the following year by Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir in Vienna. The autograph score hints at another dedication to Count Browne, but this did not carry over to the original.

For Susan Youens, writing booklet notes for Signum Classics, the song “belongs to the antique tradition of bird calls in music…a bird whose calls invoke God”. She compares Beethoven’s setting with a later one from Schubert. “Both men inevitably devised the same dotted rhythmic figure for the quail’s calls”. Beethoven, however, “takes the poem far more seriously and from the perspective of the human being who listens to these worshipful injunctions. Ranging farther afield tonally than his younger contemporary, Beethoven’s storms are more tempestuous (the low bass rumble of thunder is a particularly wonderful detail), his acclamations of God’s praise grander, and his pleas for God’s aid more plangent.”

Thoughts

This is surely one of Beethoven’s most descriptive and dramatic songs – and is an indication of his development into a song composer of greater experimentation. The form of the song is quite unusual, being through-composed and taking an operatic air at times. Beethoven also brings the piano and voice close together in a shared depiction of the source material.

As Youens notes above, the rumble of the piano, low in the left hand, is a brilliant dramatic touch, while the ‘recitative’ nature of some of his vocal writing brings Handel to mind (to this ear at least!). Around the time of this song Beethoven had been working on a large, dramatic score (Christus am Ölberge, to be covered shortly) and this may be a fruitful result of the inspiration from that stage work.

It certainly makes a strong impact!

Recordings used

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Peter Schreier (tenor), András Schiff (piano) (Decca)
Barbara Hendricks (soprano), Love Derwinger (piano) (Arte Verum)
Christopher Maltman (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano) (Signum Classics)
Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (Capriccio)

Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau is the ideal singer for this song, forcefully bringing it to life with the equally fervent tones of Jörg Demus. Yet his is not the only way to express Beethoven’s thoughts – Peter Schreier and András Schiff may be higher up the register (F major rather than D), and they glower less, but they still invest plenty of feeling in the text. The other versions listed are also very fine – including soprano Barbara Hendricks and Love Derwinger, at the same higher pitch but with a sharper tone from the singer. Christopher Maltman and Hermann Prey complete a formidable discography.

Also written in 1803 Krommer Symphony no.2 in D major Op.40

Next up Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives), Op.85

Listening to Beethoven #205 – Das Glück der Freundschaft (Vita felice) Op.88

schulz-friendship

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

Das Glück der Freundschaft Op.88 (Vita felice) for voice and piano (1803, Beethoven aged 32)

Dedication not known
Text Anon / Christian Tiedge
Duration 2’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Slightly confusingly, this song has a title in German but the words are in Italian. This is because the original text from which the words are taken is the anonymous Vita felice – which were then seemingly adapted by Christian Tiedge.

The date of composition, and the language, suggest this song to be a product of Beethoven’s studies with Salieri in Vienna, which were just coming to an end.

Thoughts

A flourish from the piano begins this ode to the joy of friendship, ‘offering its hand in these hard times’. The vocal line has a largely stepwise movement, closely shadowed by the piano – but Beethoven does take the opportunity with the key of E major to use some more exotic harmonies.

The profile of the song is quite expansive. Its flowing nature and characterisation are close to Schubert in style, suggesting an influence on the latter composer’s Lieder that is not considered very often.

Recordings used

Pamela Coburn (soprano), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
René Jacobs (countertenor), Jos Van Immerseel (fortepiano) (Accent)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)

Pamela Coburn has a bright sound in her version, which is transposed up from E major. René Jacobs, full of tone, sings at ‘period’ pitch with Jos van Immerseel giving flowing support on the fortepiano, Perhaps inevitably the version to treasure is from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, commanding but elegant and with fulsome support from Jörg Demus.

Also written in 1803 Salieri Gesù al limbo

Next up 3 Marches for piano four hands, Op.45

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