Listening to Beethoven #89 – La Partenza WoO 124


Portrait of Italian poet Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) Image used courtesy of Wikipedia

La partenza WoO 124 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 1’10”

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Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven joined a prestigious list of composers in setting Pietro Metastasio’s canzonetta from 1749. Paisiello and Mozart had already taken the text as inspiration, but now Beethoven – setting Italian again – took the plunge. This would appear to be a result of his continuing training with Salieri, who was encouraging the setting of songs in his native language.

Thoughts

Beethoven shifts from the G major of previous song Zärtliche Liebe to A flat major, a tonal centre that would inspire some of his best and most contemplative music over the years. It is a shift in mood, too – the previous song a declaration of love, this one (translating as The Departure) sat in the cloud of departure and loss.

It is a relatively simple setting, and a short one too at just over a minute. A flowing piano is the bedrock for a smooth, mid-range melody, but the overriding mood is sombre and relatively downcast.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hartmut Höll (Warner Classics)

Hermann Prey, Leonard Hokanson (Capriccio)

Cecilia Bartoli, Andras Schiff (Decca)

Both Fischer-Dieskau and Prey give this song a good deal of gravitas, their pianists providing solid support. However the bright tones of Cecilia Bartoli and the light-fingered accompaniment of András Schiff give the song a new lease of life.

Also written in 1795 Salieri “Armonia per un tempio della notte” in E flat major for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns

Next up 12 German Dances WoO8 (piano version)

Listening to Beethoven #88 – Zärtliche Liebe WoO 123


Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Zärtliche Liebe WoO 123 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Karl Friedrich Herrosee
Duration 2’20”

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Background and Critical Reception

The seemingly uncredited booklet-writer for Beethoven’s complete songs as released on the Capriccio label is unequivocal in their praise for this song for higher voice and piano. They describe it in the company of two others as “masterpieces in the restrained use of musical means, a particular feature applicable to more than merely a few of Beethoven’s songs for voice and piano. This characteristic is not easily incorporated in the prevalent image of Beethoven, but it is nonetheless indispensable if the full scope of Beethoven’s art is to be appreciated.”

Leslie Orrey, writing in The Beethoven Companion, sits firmly on the other side of the fence. “There could hardly be…a much less ardent protestation of love than Ich liebe dich…” which he describes with a number of other songs as “looking over their shoulders to another age, to the artificial Arcadian poetry of nymphs and shepherdesses”.

Thoughts

Less is indeed more where this song is concerned. The singer has the first note, an upbeat to a graceful song that proceeds smoothly and largely without incident. There is room to accommodate both the views above, though my thoughts fall with the ‘restraint saying more’ than the Orrey view that Beethoven’s version of love is completely removed.

The gently undulating piano as the singer grows more ardent helps the restrained approach, but does enhance the emphasis on the words and stepwise melody.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jörg Demus (Warner Classics)

Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake (Warner Classics)

Fritz Wunderlich, Hubert Giesen (Deutsche Grammophon)

Fritz Wunderlich is the tenderest of the three male singers chosen here, his smooth line beautifully phrased. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings down a tone and with characteristic strength of feeling. Ian Bostridge has a leaner tone but shapes the phrasing affectionately. All three are convincing advocates of a song dividing opinion.

Also written in 1795 Salieri Palmira

Next up La Partenza (Der Abschied)

Listening to Beethoven #63 – O care selve WoO 119


Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

O care selve WoO 119 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 1’30”

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Background and Critical Reception

This is Beethoven’s second song to be set in Italian, a possible side-product of his studies with Salieri. The Italian composer’s influence on his pupil extended to a more operatic approach.

Very little is known or written about this song, but it is part of a clutch of short works completed in Vienna in 1795. We are effectively peering into the engine room, beneath the bonnet of Beethoven’s large-scale works.

Thoughts

This is a short and tender song in a lilting triple time, with a winsome melody that is easy on the ear. O care selve (O beloved forests) is as dreamy as its words imply, quite a wistful number with a faraway mood.

In fact this is a surprisingly relaxed utterance from Beethoven, a lullaby in all but name.

Recordings used

Hermann Prey (baritone), Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Obertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

Two chaste accounts, especially from Hermann Prey by way of the Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, dreaming of their escape.

Spotify links

Hermann Prey, Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Walter Obertz

Also written in 1795 Salieri Palmira

Next up 2 Triple Fugues

Listening to Beethoven #54 – Giura il nocchier (1st version)


Beethoven stamp, issued in Hungary to mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, 1970

Giura il nocchier Hess 230 for four unaccompanied voices (1794, Beethoven aged 23)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Antonio Domenico Bonaventura Trapassi (1698 – 1782), as Pietro Metastasio
Duration 0’45”

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Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s began setting Italian texts in 1793, just as he was beginning to study with Antonio Salieri in a calculated move to bring more operatic elements of composition to his attention. The new teacher would offer his own musical thoughts which the composer kept for posterity.

This particular text, setting Pietro Metastasio, has no fewer than three version – of which this is the first. The translated first verse of two reads, ‘The helmsman swears that he will no longer trust the ocean, but if he sees it calm, he hastens to set sail again’.

Thoughts

This song feels like an exercise, as though Beethoven were feeling his way back into choral composition, after his only previous settings in the big cantatas of the Bonn days.

This setting is foursquare, close harmonies between the voices in the purity of C major – and a very straightforward piece of writing.

Recordings used

Cantus Novus Wien (Naxos)

This recently released version is nicely sung in quite a reverberant setting. It is part of a valuable recent release from Naxos bringing together Beethoven’s secular works for voice. Recorded in Vienna, it highlights the more ‘functional’ side of his writing, with pieces for weddings, name days or departures of a friend.

Spotify links

Cantus Novus Wien

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 1794 William Billings The Continental Harmony

Next up Rondo for piano and violin in G major WoO 41