Listening to Beethoven #210 – “Tremate, empi, tremate”, Op.116

Portrait of Niccolo Bentini, artist unknown

“Tremate, empi tremate”, Op.116 for soprano, tenor, baritone and orchestra (1803-4, published 1814. Beethoven aged 33 at time of composition)

Dedication Not known
Text Niccolo Bentini
Duration 9′


by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

A dramatic trio for three vocal soloists and orchestra, Tremate, empi, tremate has its origins in Beethoven’s lessons with Salieri. It is thought Beethoven drafted the work early on in 1802, but it did not receive a first performance for quite some time. It was scheduled for April 1803, but that concert became full of new works such as the first two symphonies, the Piano Concerto no.3 and Christ on the Mount of Olives. The première of the trio finally occurred several years later during a similarly large concert on 27 February 1814, alongside the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and Wellington’s Victory. Nicholas Marston’s note for Hyperion tells us that the vocal parts were sung by the star soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann (Beethoven’s first Leonore), Giuseppe Siboni and Carl Weinmüller, who created the role of Rocco in Fidelio.

Salieri is likely to have suggested the text – Tremate, empi, tremate translating as Tremble, guilty ones, tremble – and which tells a turbulent love story. Soprano Chen Reiss, interviewed for Arcana, talked about the piece. “It reminded me a little of the trio in Fidelio with the Father and the two lovers. Marzelline is thinking that Fidelio is a man, and she’s in love with him, and the father basically gives his blessing. It is of course a different story altogether, but the ending is very dramatic. I think it’s a very good piece to perform as an encore in a concert, don’t you agree?”

Given the way the voices combine, and the dramatic third part, she has a strong point. “Yes. I think it is very well conducted, with the middle part which has these beautiful long lines. I think it is an early piece, and of course Beethoven has these dramatic parts, which come later, but he also has a very good sense of lyricism and melodic beauty, a pureness which reminds me very much of Mozart and Haydn. You see it in these early works that he was more classical, and then he became much more dramatic.”


Tremate certainly is a dramatic piece of music, and Beethoven wastes no time in making a bid for his audience with a call to arms from the bass. The soprano and tenor – now a couple – respond but the baritone declares “I want them both restrained”. He is the poisoned onlooker, the other two declaring their innocence.

As the dramatic scene unfolds so too does Beethoven’s vocal writing, with the voices dominating and very little chance for breath between their thoughts, certainly in the breathless opening. The second section gives the soprano and tenor more room to declare their love, finishing each others musical sentences to ‘classical’ accompaniment from the small orchestra. The bass is never far from their side, however, still lamenting his lot.

After a tender clinch we return to the stormy music of the opening, with rolling timpani and braying horns as the three soloists face off. Translated, the text reads, “Cruel stars, I have tolerated for long enough this violent cruelty” – which would still seem to mean a dreadful outcome for the bass and togetherness for the other two.

It is another example of Beethoven’s dramatic vocal writing, though does give the impression to start with that it is trying all the tricks to impress his teacher. There is never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

Spotify playlist and Recordings used

Diana Tomsche (soprano), Joshua Whitener (tenor), Kai Preußker (baritone), Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra / Timo Jouko Herrmann (Hänssler)

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

Janice Watson (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Gwynne Howell (bass), Corydon Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion)

Chen Reiss (soprano), Jan Petryka (tenor), Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone), Beethoven Philharmonie / Thomas Rosner (Odradek)

Four fine recordings – but by a whisker the finest is the newest, headed by Chen Reiss. The playlist below collects five versions together, while a clip from the sixth – with Janice Watson and company – can be heard on the Hyperion website

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 1804 Ferdinando Paer Leonora

Next up Bagatelle in C major, WoO 56

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′


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.


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′


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.” 


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

Talking Heads: Beethoven 250 – Chen Reiss

interview by Ben Hogwood

If you ask a classical listener to name their favourite works by Beethoven, it is unlikely that the vocal works will sit towards the top of their list. This is partly due to the invention and inspiration of Beethoven’s instrumental works, but also because the vocal works have been rendered unfashionable, and therefore easy to dismiss, for decades.

While Arcana have been listening to the works of Beethoven it has emerged that this verdict on the vocal works is less than fair. With that in mind it seemed only right to seek out a performer whose love for the vocal works of Beethoven has really come to the fore in this, the composer’s 250th anniversary year. Soprano Chen Reiss has made a number of contributions, headed by a disc of arias for Onyx Classics with the Academy of Ancient Music and Richard Egarr. In the course of our discussion Reiss, born in Israel and now living in the UK, sheds new light on these neglected works.

Our chat finds Reiss on holiday. “I’m on vacation! she says excitedly. “I have two children, and I have been locked down with them in Vienna since March, and we couldn’t go anywhere. Now they have been to school for a bit but not full time, it was an arrangement of three days a week, something like that. Since the end of June they are on vacation completely, and it has been quite a challenge at times, as parents. Luckily I wasn’t working, so I could deal with it, but I’m not used to being a 24-7 mum!”

She responds warmly to my observations on the vocal works heard so far. “I’m very glad to hear you saying that. Beethoven has such a reputation of writing badly for the voice, which I don’t understand. His writing is challenging, that is true, and that may have kept a lot of singers away from his music – but the music is fantastic, you know, as he is a genius after all. Anything that he writes, even if it is not the best in his standards, is much better than many other composers. When I did the research for my CD, it was also a surprise for me how few recordings there are of his vocal music. Everybody is recording the Ninth Symphony and Fidelio, but only these. With the arias that are on my CD, a lot of them are early works, that were not published in Beethoven’s lifetime. After the research that I did with some scholars, I found he approved the pieces to be published, and they just didn’t manage to happen. Each aria has an interesting story behind it. That was the reason why I did this CD, not just because it’s Beethoven year but because of a strong belief that these arias belong in the main repertoire and should be performed as often as Ah! Perfido.”

Her reference is Beethoven’s most popular work for solo voice. “Everybody is singing Ah! Perfido, and I agree that the form and dramatic development of the piece is probably the most complete. It was written later, but the earlier pieces are also excellent, and very interesting. Beethoven was a revolutionary composer, and you have one foot in the classical tradition, maybe Haydn or Mozart, and the other foot is already in the future. Maybe the sound of the early pieces reminds us more of Haydn – not Salieri, in my opinion – and even though he wrote them before he started with Haydn he knew his music and was very much in the period. We shouldn’t forget that Beethoven wrote those works around 1790, when Haydn was still active. The music of Mozart was also very much known to Beethoven, and so you hear the influence of those masters.”

Her opinion of the pieces, as a singer, has never been in doubt. “I do think they belong in the main repertoire, not only because they are good vocally. Maybe you need to practice them a little more, but then you would practice a Donizetti aria too. Of course you have the Italian masters, where the music sits in the voice much more authentically than Beethoven, because he wasn’t really in my opinion thinking vocally at this point, it was instrumentally. For example, the concept of ‘solfeggio’ in the voice, that is the transfer between the register of the mid voice to the high voice, it didn’t exist with Beethoven! Many times he writes in that particular part of the voice, which is not so comfortable, and this is why one needs to have a clear tone, and not just a dramatic plan but a vocal one too. This is a challenge, but it is the case for the music of Bach too. It’s not like Beethoven is the only one. Bach writes in a very instrumental way, and there are some recitatives that lie in the solfeggio area and are not so comfortable. Beethoven is not the only composer to do it.”

Reiss has done a good deal of background reading. “I found from research that Beethoven did not do it on purpose to upset the singers, not at all. He actually had contact with the singers and constantly spoke with them, and he wanted to get their input and improve his writing for the voice. In my opinion this is also the reason he went to have lessons with Salieri, and we shouldn’t forget that when he took these lessons he was already an established composer. He felt that to write for the voice was not as natural for him as writing for the piano, which was his instrument. He chose Salieri, who was the master in Vienna at writing for the voice, and I think that although musically there was no comparison with the genius of Beethoven, Salieri had a skill of writing for the voice. That was why Beethoven studied with him.”

When performing Beethoven, Reiss is keenly aware of the role played by her allies. “The other challenge in Beethoven is not so much for the singer but more for the conductor. In many of the pieces he writes for the voice in a very low register, and not very loud, but he would write passages where the orchestra is really loud. Beethoven was relying on the fact that he would have good conductors conducting his music, and that they would know how to balance. His writing is very dramatic, in Ah! Perfido especially, but also in Primo amore.”

She elaborates on the latter piece, an earlier work for soprano and orchestra. “You really need a good conductor for this piece because of the dynamics and the balance. There are a lot of different sections in this aria, and they have very different characteristics, so it is really down to the conductor to create magic and for the orchestra to be very soft and transparent, but also to give the oomph and the drama when needed. We definitely rely on the conductor!”

This approach extends further. “My arguments here also apply to the Missa Solemnis”, she says. “I have spoken with several big conductors, and they have said it is really not an easy piece to conduct, and that it is very challenging because of the balancing. The orchestra is large and there is a quartet of singers, so in order not to cover them you have to really take a delicate approach. When the music is written as forte the orchestra does not have to blast, it has to be relative to the quartet of voices that you have. You really rely on the fact that you have a good conductor to give the right interpretation of what is on the page.”

Would this explain why Beethoven’s vocal works were not so well known; that he had trouble finding the right conductor for them as much as the right singers? “I am not sure what the reason is”, she says honestly. “There is an aria on the CD from the Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold (Fliesse, Wonnezähre, fliesse!) and there is a rumour I read that orchestras of the time did not want to play it because it was unplayable. For an orchestra of today that is no problem, because our technical level is higher than it was 200 years ago. Physically it was a problem, but that became musical too. You need very sensitive musicians to play it, because it is very technically challenging not just for the soprano but for the soloists in the orchestra – the cello and the flute solos are not easy. Beethoven was a challenging composer, he wanted to push the boundaries as much as he could. The pianists back then found his music challenging, maybe not so much now because if you play Rachmaninov or something then Beethoven is not quite so difficult.”

Reiss expands her thinking to consider other operatic composers. “I do agree that Verdi or Puccini wrote for the voice in a more confident way, but I’m now learning Zaïde, the early Mozart opera, and I’m finding similar challenges to Beethoven. There are long phrases where you need impeccable breath control, which in my opinion is not easier for the voice. That is no reason not to sing it, though! Primo amore shows what I love about Beethoven, in that he was very human. He writes about very fundamental feelings and he writes about them with his heart on his sleeve. It is romantic but not pathetic, it is substantial and filled with feeling. Today they would probably give him Prozac, because he was someone with very grand feelings! Those feelings are very true, there is no melodrama. I don’t want to insult other composers, but there are others who were melodramatic. Some of the French and Italian composers wrote on a very grand scale.”

The accompanying interview for Chen’s Beethoven release features not just conductor Richard Egarr’s clear enjoyment of the music, but also Reiss talking about how she really identified with how Beethoven was feeling, and that he felt he was reflecting what a lot of us feel in relationships and romantic situations in his music. “He was misfortunate with love”, she says, “but then who could stand up to his standards? At first, I chose the arias that I thought were good for my voice and also good dramatically. I find the orchestras love them too, as it gives them the possibility to shine. If you think of a composer like Donizetti, it’s not as challenging for the orchestra, and I think they like challenges. There is so much character in the writing for the orchestra in these pieces, not so much ‘oom-pah oom-pah’ as there is in Salieri or a lot of the Italian composers of that time. Here the orchestral players are just as important as the singer. I really enjoyed working with Richard and the Academy of Ancient Music, because they took this role and played with real gusto and passion.”

On the Odradek release, Chen sings the substantial aria Tremate, empi, tremate (Tremble, guilty ones, tremble) with tenor Paul Armin Edelmann and bass Jan Petryka. “My ambition was try to record or sing the Beethoven music that is suitable for my voice”, she explains. “In July this summer I was supposed to do the Missa Solemnis, which I have never performed before. Unfortunately it was cancelled because of COVID, but I did learn the piece. Other than that I managed to do everything. I sang in Lenore, which was marvellous, and then Fidelio itself, and these arias. The only thing I didn’t do was this trio, so I’m very glad that we found the possibility to record it in another city. It was a coincidence that I met Thomas Rösner, the conductor. It was in Liege where I was singing, two years ago, and he said, ‘I’m doing a disc with the Piano Concerto arrangement of the Violin Concerto, do you think we could do something?’ We thought we could do the Mozart aria Ch’io mi scordi di te?, and I said, ‘Listen, there is a Beethoven trio I would really like to record’. When I did this Tremate it reminded me a little of the trio in Fidelio with the Father and the two lovers. Marzelline is thinking that Fidelio is a man, and she’s in love with him, and the father basically gives his blessing. It is of course a different story altogether, but the ending is very dramatic. I think it’s a very good piece to perform as an encore in a concert, wouldn’t you agree?”

Given the way the voices combine, and the dramatic third part, she has a strong point. “Yes. I think it is very well conducted, with the middle part which has these beautiful long lines. I think it is an early piece, and of course Beethoven has these dramatic parts, which come later, but he also has a very good sense of lyricism and melodic beauty, a pureness which reminds me very much of Mozart and Haydn. You see it in these early works that he was more classical, and then he became much more dramatic. The third version of Fidelio, which we play today, is much more dramatic than the first two versions because I think the magic aspect was less interesting for him ten years later. Then he was more interested in the political aspect of the scene. He steps away from a beautiful sound to make music in the service of the emotion, rather than in the service of just beauty, which we have more with Donizetti.”

She considers once again the operatic works of Beethoven’s contemporaries. “Of course Mozart also wrote operas with political aspects. It’s really interesting with Zaïde, which I’m learning at the moment. It is an early piece, but he presents the conflict between East and West, the Christians and the Muslims. It’s amazing how nothing has changed in the tension between the regions, and between people who come from different cultures and mentalities. We have not really changed. Of course, today we are much more politically correct. Back then the European culture, manners and way of life was seen as superior to the Turks, for example, or the Muslims. Mozart was always talking about these things politically, but I think the music always has to sound beautiful and eloquent. In Beethoven the drama and the emotion are very much in the foreground.”

Reiss’s Immortal Beloved program finishes with perhaps Beethoven’s best-known solo vocal piece. “Ah, Perfido! is a real joy to sing”, she says passionately. “What is so great about these pieces is that lighter voices can sing them. It depends what approach you take – do you take the Baroque approach, the Classical approach, or do you take the more Romantic, Wagnerian approach? Are you presenting where he is coming from, or where he is going to? In my case, doing this CD, I was presenting with where he was coming from. I started with an early piece from 1791, and I finished with the later Ah! Perfido. It is about showing his development as a composer for the voice, how he maxed out his way in writing for voices.”

Has Chen recorded many of the songs with piano? “I haven’t done those this year, I have concentrated more on the orchestral pieces. My friends at the opera were struggling with them. I do think that people who claim it is really difficult to sing Beethoven perhaps approach from heavier productions such as Wagner and Verdi. My idea was that if you approach the instrumental, classical / baroque approach – in German we call it ‘schlicht’, which means ‘simple’. The voice production has to be more like you would sing Mozart, and when you approach from that direction it is easier to manage the ‘solfeggio’ and his vocal lines, which are often instrumental. If you sing with a lot of weight on the voice then you might find the songs quite tiring, because they do not always lie in the sweet part of the voice. But, if you approach them with a little less vibrato but still a warm sound – but not heavy – then I think you sing them much more easily.

Given some of the versions heard in our journey through listening to Beethoven’s works, this makes sense. “Or even Schubert”, offers Reiss. “A lot of people who sing Beethoven like Wagner, why not sing like Schubert? After all he was a contemporary, and again Schubert could be sung in a Romantic way. That doesn’t mean you have to sing Beethoven in a Baroque way, as he was a very Romantic composer. If you go in the direction of Schubert it would be much more manageable. I don’t think Beethoven would have expected a Wagner sound, it was not the way they sang in Vienna back then. This is how we often play his symphonies, for example, with a very rich sound, but instruments are different from back then, the piano now is different from how it was back then. The voice is not.”

Outside of the vocal music, what would Reiss class as her favourite Beethoven? She hesitates, laughing a little. “For me, the Piano Concertos. I really love these – number one, four and five. I am a frustrated pianist, and it is an instrument that can express so much. I wish I had the patience when I was seven or eight to practice more!”

Chen Reiss’s Beethoven album Immortal Beloved is out now on Onyx. You can listen to clips and explore purchase options from the Onyx website

Chen Reiss also appears on Voices, an album of works by Beethoven and Mozart under the direction of conductor Thomas Rösner. You can read about it and listen to clips on the Odradek website. Meanwhile the soprano’s own website is here

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′


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.”


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