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:

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Also written in 1792 Salieri – Palmira

Next up Canon in G major Hess 248