Listening to Beethoven #27 – Mit Mädeln sich vertragen


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ludwig van Beethoven, walking in Teplitz / Teplice, Czech Republic. Painted by Adolf Karpellus

Mit Mädeln sich vertragen WoO 90 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

“With girls we get along, with men we brawl about”. So runs the first line of Goethe’s Mit Mädeln sich vertragen (With girls we get along), the first of his works to be utilised by Beethoven for musical gain. It is the second of two arias written for the Bonn-based bass (!) Joseph Lux.

Neither of the arias is mentioned much by Beethoven biographers, beyond the date of composition which is thought to be 1791-92. It is not thought the works were performed in Bonn.

In his booklet notes for a new Naxos recording of the aria by Kevin Greenlaw, Keith Anderson writes of how the aria is in fact a setting of a song text from Goethe’s Claudine von Villa Bella, described as ein Schauspiel mit Gesang (‘A play with songs’), and later set by Schubert.

Beethoven revised it in 1795-96, and Anderson talks of how the songs ‘are highly typical of the genre, if not necessarily of Beethoven.’

Thoughts

Beethoven’s melodic inspiration is evident throughout this entertaining piece of music for the stage. It brings out his playful side, which we have now seen on a couple of occasions – and is certainly more lighthearted than you might anticipate for a setting of a Goethe text.

Yet this is a song for men to sing, potentially in a raucous fashion – so it helps that there is a distinctive melody that the strings latch on to, and a refrain that sticks in the head too.

Recordings used

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)

Kevin Greenlaw is ideally suited to this aria, slightly playful and jousting with the strings of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, who enjoy their echo of his refrain. Thomas Hampson’s version is a little broader, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt allowing the horns to rasp in the introduction, giving an edge to the music. Hampson is terrific in the refrains, hurling out the words.

A quickfire version for voice and piano also exists, in the capable hands of the masterly Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus.

Spotify links

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus

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 Haydn – Symphony no.98 in B flat major

Next up Violin Concerto in C major

Listening to Beethoven #26 – Prüfung des Küssens


An image of Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich

Prüfung des Küssens (“Meine weise Mutter spricht”) WoO 89 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Giorgio Federico Ghedini
Duration 5’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven wrote two arias for the bass Joseph Lux, a popular singer in Bonn known for his comic sensibilities. Little is known of the exact composition date beyond the years 1791-92, and it is also thought the works were not performed in Bonn.

A vocal part from the first aria, Prüfung des Küssens, survives from Beethoven’s time in Vienna, which suggests it was to be published – but again there is no evidence of performance. Ernst Herttrich, writing in the booklet notes for DG’s complete edition, notes that Beethoven offered both arias to a publisher in 1822, evidence that he still held them in high regard.

Thoughts

A lightly playful, slightly syncopated introduction brings in our bass singer – with what could easily be an excerpt from a much larger stage work. Beethoven’s writing is impish, slightly cheeky, and although the words are relatively nonsensical the character of Joseph Lux comes through.

The singer dominates, with occasional probing from the orchestra – and the vocal line encourages the character to take liberties with the tempo, to bring humour to the text and to stamp their personality on the aria. The orchestral writing offers plenty of room for this, and the false ending – the aria finishing but then restarting – only adds to the comic potential.

Recordings used

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)

Thomas Hampson is more convincing as a comic baritone in his account, taking a few more liberties with Beethoven’s tempo than Kevin Greenlaw – who is nonetheless a fine performer himself. The newer Naxos recording is more sympathetic in its sound.

Spotify links

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

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 Mit Mädeln sich vertragen

Listening to Beethoven #25 – Romance cantabile in E minor


18th century engraving of Bonn (unknown artist)

Romance cantabile in E minor WoO 207 (1786-7, Beethoven aged 16)

Dedication not known
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

We step back briefly for an encounter with a fragment dating from slightly earlier in the teenage Beethoven’s Bonn years. The Romance cantabile seems to have been written as the slow movement to a concerto – or more likely a Sinfonia concertante for several instruments and orchestra. Its relatively unusual instrumentation suggests it could have been with the Westerholt-Gysenberg family of Bonn in mind, as Beethoven wrote his substantial Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano around that time.

After the main theme there is a second section, but it is incomplete and peters out after a short while.

Thoughts

The Romance cantabile is a rather charming piece, though it is laced with melancholy. The elegiac tones of the orchestral introduction are soon given a brighter edge from the piano soloist, who enjoys a little more amiable dialogue with the flute before the serious theme returns.

Beethoven would revisit the key of E minor for a concerto slow movement much later in his career, for the Piano Concerto no.4 .

Recordings used

Patrick Gallois (flute), Pascal Gallois (bassoon), Philharmonia Orchestra / Myung-Whun Chung (piano) (DG)

Johanna Haniková (piano), Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice / Marek Štilec (Naxos)

The Philharmonia strings give a luxurious cushion to the version on DG, which is a relatively glossy account from Patrick and Pascal Gallois, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, who is also the piano soloist. The Naxos recording is smaller scale and a little more intimate as a result.

Spotify links

Patrick Gallois, Pascal Gallois, Philharmonia Orchestra / Myung-Whun Chung

Johanna Haniková, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice / Marek Štilec

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 1787 Haydn 6 String Quartets Op.50 (‘Prussian’)

Next up Prüfung des Küssens

Listening to Beethoven #24 – 6 Variations on a Swiss Song WoO54


Swiss and German folksong collector Johann Friedrich Reichardt (left, picture by
Carl Traugott Riedel) and the young Ludwig van Beethoven

6 Variations on a Swiss Song WoO 64 for piano (1790-92, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Duration 3′

Listen

What’s the theme like?

The theme is a 17th-century Swiss song, Dursli and Babeli – which appears in the collections of old Swiss and German folk tunes, made by composers such as Reichardt, Herder and Müller. It is a simple but catchy tune that bears a resemblance to a hymn that followed a century or so later, This joyful Eastertide. The tune was a favourite of Goethe, who is said to have described it as ‘a charming story of peasant love’.

Background and Critical Reception

Very little is written about these variations. The short note for Cécile Ousset’s recording declares the variations ‘do not go any further than mere charm’. Meanwhile Barry Cooper, writing in his guide for the DG complete Beethoven edition, describes the variations as ‘relatively simple an unadventurous’.

It seems these variations are popular student pieces, the standard suitable for developing pianists and markedly different from the Righini variations we heard very recently.

Thoughts

The source material does at least ensure a memorable melody for the short series of variations, which feel more like a set of unfinished doodles. The hymn-like main theme slips into the minor key for a little while, its second variation given a sideways glance by the composer as he does so. There is a nice bit of humour here at times, but the piece does ultimately feel lightweight, more of a student exercise.

Recordings used

Cécile Ousset (Eloquence), Mikhail Pletnev (DG); Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21)

Three fine recordings – but again it is Ousset who emerges with a greater poise, and less of a tendency to indulge than Pletnev. Ronald Brautigam takes a typically quick tempo in his sprightly version.

Spotify links

Mikhail Pletnev

Cécile Ousset

Ronald Brautigam

 

Also written in 1792 Hummel Piano Trio no.1 in E flat major Op.12

Next up Prüfung des Küssens

Listening to Beethoven #23 – Ritterballet WoO 1 (piano version)


Beethoven and Count von Waldstein. Artist unknown, Alamy stock photo

Dedication Count Waldstein
Duration 13′

1. March
2. Deutscher Gedsang: Allegro moderato
3. Jagdlied: Allegretto
4. Romanze: Andantino
5. Kriegslied: Allegro assai con brio
6. Trinklied: Allegro con brio – Trio
7. Deutscher Tanz: Walzer
8. Coda: Allegro vivace

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

We have already examined (and enjoyed) Beethoven’s Ritterballet in its orchestral form. It is the piece he was prepared to ‘hand over’ to Count Waldstein… but it is clear that the composer thought highly enough of the piece to transcribe it himself for solo piano. Beethoven retains the same format and order as the orchestral version, and the arrangement appears to be a completely faithful one.

Thoughts

Perhaps inevitably the piano version of Ritterballet loses a little of its colour, though the March does benefit from firmer rhythmic impetus. The German Song retains its charm and memorability, but does lose a little of its dance-like poise when transferred to the keyboard.

Recordings used

Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21)

Cyprien Katsaris clearly enjoys the Ritterballet, and its abundance of good tunes. He can’t resist the chance to make the opening March flourish, with a lively left hand part, and his ‘war’ scene is suitably dramatic too.

Spotify links

Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21)

Also written in 1791 Mozart La clemenza di Tito

Next up 6 Variations on A Swiss Song WoO 64