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