Listening to Beethoven #190 – “Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93

Portrait of Pietro Metastasio, c1770, by Meytens or Batoni

“Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93, duet for soprano, tenor and orchestra (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication Not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 7′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Ne’ giorni tuoi felici (‘In your days of happiness’) uses text from Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, with Beethoven becoming the third recorded composer to set these words behind Leonardo Leo and Florian Gassmann. Writing briefly about the duet in booklet notes for Hyperion, Nicholas Marston notes that two of the soloists at the premiere, which appears not to have taken place until 1814, were Anna Milder-Hauptmann and Carl Weinmüller. They helped create the roles of Leonore and Rocco respectively in the premiere of Fidelio later that year.

Very little is written about this piece, other than to note its position in Beethoven’s output as one of the last vocal works written under the tuition of Salieri.

Thoughts

We hear the tenor first, pleading, ‘in the days of your happiness remember me’ – and his lover, the soprano, answers in kind. Initially the mood is relatively calm, but as the duet progresses things become more agitated. The singers’ lines are deeply expressive, and initially slower that has perhaps been the norm in Beethoven’s vocal music with orchestra so far. The composer gives the voices plenty of room, the orchestra at a polite distance, but the violins have important counter melodies to contribute.

A quicker section arrives just over half way through, the singers ‘dying of jealousy’ as they experience considerable distress, not to mention ‘savage pain’. This sours the mood and tugs at the heartstrings, ending the duet on a fractious note. At this point it feels unfinished, with more of the story to play out – as though Beethoven could have continued to write a more expansive piece using Metastasio’s text.

The soprano writing often hits the heights, but in a way less concerned with overt display and more with lyrical passion. She leads the duet, which makes a powerful impression – and gives notice that Beethoven’s dramatic gifts will be more than capable of shifting to the operatic stage before too long.

Recordings used

Dan Karlström (tenor), Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Christopher Maltman (tenor), Janice Watson (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion) (an excerpt can be heard here)

Arthur Apelt (tenor), Hannelore Kuhse (soprano), Staatskapelle Berlin / Eberhard Büchner (Eterna)

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 1802 Charles-Simon Catel Sémiramis

Next up Bagatelle in C major / minor ‘Lustig-traurig’

Listening to Beethoven #189 – “No, non turbarti”, WoO 92a

Portrait of Pietro Metastasio, artist unknown

“No, non turbarti”, WoO 92a, scene and aria for soprano and strings (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

1. Scena: No, non turbarti’…
2. Aria: Ma tu tremi, o mio tesoro

Dedication Not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 6′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This scena and aria, setting text from Metastasio’s La tempesta, is for soprano and strings, and marks one of the final pieces of work completed by Beethoven when still under the tuition of Salieri.

The autograph manuscript has corrections from his teacher, from whom Beethoven had been learning vocal composition, pointing his efforts towards the stage. Andrew Stewart, notes that Beethoven did not completely finish the orchestration, and that the premiere of this relatively short piece did not take place until 1814 – by which time he had completed his opera Fidelio.

Soprano Chen Reiss, writing about the piece for her recent album Immortal Beloved, observes that the aria seems ‘to predict the misfortunes in love he was to experience later in life’. Using the manuscript, she restored the music to predate Salieri’s ‘corrections’, offering a more authentic account of the composer’s intentions.

Thoughts

A sad stillness inhabits the start of the recitative, but soon the music becomes agitated. When the text observes, “See how the entire sky now blackens; the wind stirs up the dust and the fallen leaves”, Beethoven takes his cue with a rush of strings, their tremolo figuration portraying the restless storm.

The aria itself feels higher in register, with a greater distance between the singer and the strings as a form of solace in pure C major. The poet, however, is after a little more, and as Ian Page says, ‘pursues more amorous intentions’. “When there’s thunder and lightning I shall be with you”, consoles the text – and this music, appearing to indulge Beethoven’s love of Handel, does likewise.

Spotify playlist and Recordings used

Sophie Bevan, The Mozartists / Ian Page (Signum Classics)
Chen Reiss, Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr (Onyx)
Reetta Haavisto, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Three excellent performances here, but those from Sophie Bevan and in particular Chen Reiss are to be heard again. The latter has a slightly fuller voice, especially lower in the register. Both are accompanied by instruments of the period and conductors using harpsichord – which perhaps brings out the Handelian connections. Reetta Haavisto gives a powerful interpretation, and together with Leif Segerstam takes a more expansive view of the pair, clocking in at nearly seven minutes in comparison to Bevan’s five.

The below playlist collects all three recordings referred to above:

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 1802 Charles-Simon Catel: Sémiramis

Next up Ne’ giorni tuoi felici, WoO 93

Listening to Beethoven #109 – “Ah! Perfido”, Op.65

Portrait of Josepha Duschek in 1796

“Ah, perfido!”, Op.65 for soprano and orchestra (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

1. Scena: Ah! perfido, spergiuro
2. Aria: Per pietà, non dirmi addio

Dedication Josepha Duschek
Text Pietro Metastasio / Anonymous
Duration 14′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven wrote Ah! Perfido as a two-part concert scene and aria, with the Czech soprano Josepha Duschek in mind. He met the singer and her husband on his visit to Prague in 1796, but in the end had to entrust the debut on 21 November to Countess Josephine Clary, because of a clash of engagements. Despite its relatively early genesis the work was not published until 1807, and it appeared on the programme of Beethoven’s famous Akademie concert in 1808.

Many commentators see the roots in Ah! Perfido from Mozart’s writing for voice and orchestra. Writing in The Beethoven Companion, Leslie Orrey sees a clear prototype for the work in Mozart’s Bella mia fiamma, K528 – itself a scene and an aria written for Duschek. Daniel Heartz, in his comprehensive appraisal of early Beethoven, is not so sure.

He writes in typically revealing detail. “Since the text is pathetic, his (Beethoven’s) choice of E flat is appropriate, and so is the form, that of the two-tempo rondo, still the height of fashion in 1796 and just the sort of piece a professional like La Duschek would want to sing. Its languid first part, Adagio in 3/4 time, has a theme that returns after contrast, while the second part, Allegro assai in common time, has a gavotte-like theme that also returns after contrast. The faster transition between the two parts, which appears later, is unusual. It has been claimed that Beethoven modelled Op.65 on Mozart’s Bella mia fiamma. Yet there is little in common between them aside from the form, which Mozart treats more freely still.” 

Thoughts

Beethoven puts our emotions through the wringer with this dramatic scene. The orchestra’s brisk introduction sets the picture for our soloist, who is given some powerful and declamatory high notes. Seen live, the effect is arresting, the dialogue with the orchestra like a recitative from a Handel opera, with comments made in quick bursts.

Yet with the solo aria the mood changes markedly. A slow introduction from the orchestra leads to a beautiful melody from the soloist, which requires great control but fully conveys the emotion of the unknown author. Beethoven provides subtle orchestral complements from clarinet and woodwind, and in the middle of the aria we pull back to just the singer and soft pizzicato, a moving moment indeed. Our protagonist is resigned to a troubled end, with fresh drama through a burst from tremolo strings and another heartfelt plea. Finally the slow music returns, rather beautifully.

Recordings used

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan (EMI)

Janice Watson (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion)

Chen Reiss (soprano), Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr (Onyx)

Charlotte Margiono (soprano), Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner

Camilla Tilling (soprano), Gabrieli Players / Paul McCreesh (Archiv)

In her interview with Arcana, Chen Reiss talked about approaching Ah! Perfido from two different historical directions. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf brings the romantic drama in a commanding performance, singing with fulsome tone and vibrato. Herbert von Karajan’s sleek orchestral accompaniment makes the piece sound around 70 years younger.

By complete contrast, the leaner tones of the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr have the excitement of the new, as the strings burst from the blocks. Reiss’s voice is clear and urgent, the words still fresh off the page. Hers is a dramatic account indeed, and Egarr ensures the detail from the orchestra is beautifully shaded.

A mention, too, for Charlotte Margiono, whose clear singing matches John Eliot Gardiner’s detailed account – and for Camilla Tilling, who makes an excellent partnership with Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Players. Not quite as dramatic as Reiss and the AAM though!

Spotify links

This playlist collects most of the available versions mentioned above:

 

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 1792 Cimarosa – Gli Orazi e i Curiazi

Next up 6 German Dances for violin and piano

Listening to Beethoven #82 – 2 Arias for Die schöne Schusterin oder Die pücefarbenen Schuhe

Engraved portrait of Gottlieb Stephanie dem Jüngeren

2 Arias for Umlauf’s Singspiel Die schöne Schusterin oder Die pücefarbenen Schuhe for tenor, soprano and orchestra (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

1 O welch ein Leben (tenor)
2. Soll ein Schuh nicht drücken (soprano)

Dedication Ignaz Umlauf
Text Gottlieb Stephanie dem Jüngeren
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

These two songs were written for Ignaz Umlauf’s Singspiel Die schöne Schusterin oder Die pücefarbenen Schuhe (The Beautiful Shoemaker’s Wife or The Puce-Coloured Shoes). They were completed in 1795 for the composer Umlauf, who sadly died the following year. Beethoven provided an aria each for tenor and soprano, the singers accompanied by a small orchestra of woodwind and strings.

Andrew Stewart, in his sleeve notes for a recent recording of the second aria by Chen Reiss, gives a helpful overview of the story. “Die schöne Schusterin revolves around Lehne, a shoemaker’s wife, subject of a prank played on her husband, the aptly named Sock, by the boisterous yet good-natured Baron von Pikourt. Beethoven’s interpolations complement the work’s genial humour: Sollein Schuh celebrates the pleasures of a pair of fine new shoes, even if they demand the pain of do-it-yourself chiropody.”

Reiss herself describes the soprano Magdalena Willmann, for whom the second aria was written – and with whom Beethoven was briefly infatuated: “She was famous for her unusually deep low register, which may explain the many low passages in both arias.”

Thoughts

The two arias are a contrast. The tenor aria, O welch ein Leben, ein ganzes Meer von Lust (‘Oh! What a life, a whole ocean of pleasure’) proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner, with Beethoven’s control of the vocal line and orchestra interaction resembling Mozart. The approach is an elegant one, with a hint of playfulness.

Soll ein Schuh nicht drücken (‘For shoes not to pinch’) is a different story. After an extended orchestral introduction the soprano really gets a chance to let herself loose in a wide-ranging aria. Beethoven moves from the depths to the heights, asking his singer to really extend herself. The bravura takes her centre stage, the orchestra supplying the punctuation.

Recordings used

Chen Reiss (soprano), Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr (Onyx Classics)
Dan Karlström (tenor), Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)
Nicolai Gedda (tenor), Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano), Convivium Musicum München / Erich Keller (Deutsche Grammophon)

On a new recording for Naxos, with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra sensitively conducted by Leif Segerstam, Dan Karlström sings with great clarity, while Reetta Haavisto gives her aria plenty of gusto in the higher passages.

Nicolai Gedda and Anneliese Rothenberger are both very good in a recording that shows its age a little. Chen Reiss gives a wonderful account of Soll ein Schuh with the Academy of Ancient Music and Richard Egarr, supplying the brio and full dose of passion that this aria really needs. The high notes are sensational.

Spotify links

This playlist collects the available versions mentioned above:

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 1792 Salieri – Palmira

Next up Canon in G major Hess 248

Listening to Beethoven #32 – Primo amore

Beethoven and Jeannette d’Honrath (Bonn 1785: the young Beethoven at the house of Hofrätin Helene von Breuning; first love for Jeannette d’Honrath, later Greth by marriage).
Woodcut, 1865, after drawing by Wilhelm Lindenschmit (1829-1895).

Scena ed aria ‘Primo amore’ for soprano voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Text Anonymous
Duration 15′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Primo amore is a passionate aria for soprano and orchestra, a single unbroken scene of a quarter of an hour. It was not published until 1888 – and initially it was thought to have been written in Vienna while Beethoven was studying with Salieri. However more recent, forensic analysis of the autograph score dates it to 1790-92, late on in his time at Bonn.

The aria sets an anonymous text on the subject of early love, and given its emotion surprisingly little is written about it by scholars of the composer. The focus is thought to have been soprano Magdalena Willmann, a daughter of Beethoven’s neighbour in Bonn, who had an unusually low range – or even Jeanette d’Honrath, described by the Bonn physician Franz Gerhard Wegeler as ‘a beautiful, vivacious blonde, of good upbringing and friendly character’.

Writing about the aria in the booklet notes for her recent disc of Beethoven vocal music, soprano Chen Reiss describes how Primo amore ‘displays a startlingly mature way of looking at love’s complexities, with its disjointed structure, inner turmoil and restlessness. The music – both instrumental and vocal – is strange, almost brutal in comparison with that of his contemporaries’.

Thoughts

The text for Primo amore is matched by Beethoven’s lovelorn music. ‘Primo amore, piacer del ciel! Penetrasti il mio cor’ (‘First love, joy of heaven, you penetrated my heart’). The soprano sings with long notes, often well above the accompaniment of a smallish orchestra. As the aria progresses so the mood becomes more fraught, the orchestra less controlled – and the lasting impact of this first love is laid bare.

Beethoven asks his soprano to cover a lot of ground, with lower notes in the opening pages but much greater heights later on. The writing feels very instinctive, the composer responding keenly to the text with music of broad phrases and great feeling. In the process he echoes some of the soprano writing in the Cantata on the death of Joseph II. Here, as in that piece, the singer is almost completely dominant – and the piece leaves a lasting impression.

Recordings used

Chen Reiss (soprano), Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr (Onyx Classics)
Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Chen Reiss is a fervent devotee of Beethoven’s music for voice and it shows as she completely inhabits the loss and sorrow of the writing. Her beautiful tone soars effortlessly above the well-matched phrasing of the Academy of Ancient Music, who bustle along into the aria’s second section.

Reetta Haavisto, in another new recording for Naxos, sings in a much broader view of Primo amore, complete with expansive introduction from the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under Leif Segerstam. Her voice has a creamy tone and is beautifully controlled.

Both sopranos hit the highest notes of the aria with some aplomb and manage the demanding range of Beethoven’s vocal writing impressively.

Spotify links

Reetta Haavisto, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Chen Reiss, Academy of Ancient Music / Richard Egarr

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 1792 Cimarosa – Il Matrimonio Segreto

Next up Trinklied