Listening to Beethoven #197 – Polyphonic Italian Songs WoO 99

Portrait of Antonio Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, 1815 Polyphonic Italian Songs for largely unaccompanied voices (1801-1803, Beethoven aged 32) 1. Bei labbri che amore (duet) 2. Ma tu tremi, o mio tesoro (trio) 3. E pur fra le tempeste (solo) 4. Sei mio ben (duet) 5. Giura il nocchier: trio (5a), quartet (5b), quartet (5c) 6. Ah rammenta (duet) 7. Chi mai di questo core (trio) 8. Scrivo in te (duet) 9. Per te d’amico aprile (trio) 10. Nei campi e nelle selve: quartet (10a), quartet (10b) 11. Fra tutte le pene: duet (11a), trio (11b), quartet (11c) 12. Salvo tu vuoi lo sposo: solo (12a), duet (12b) 13. Quella cetra ah pur tu sei: trio (13a), quartet (13b), quartet (13c) 14. Già la notte s’avvicina: trio (14a), quartet (14b) 15. Silvio amante disperato (quartet) Dedication not known Duration most songs between 1′ and 1’30” Listen Background and Critical Reception This collection of Italian songs provides us with a fascinating insight into Beethoven’s studies with Antonio Salieri, while also closing this particular chapter in his career. All the settings are of texts by Pietro Metastasio, whose poetry Beethoven was already familiar with. Keith Anderson writes for Naxos that the exercises provide a substantial collection of songs in varied form, in many cases offering Beethoven’s original version, followed by Salieri’s corrected version. They have been brought together under the number WoO 99, with a series of numbering from Beethoven compiler Willy Hess for each item. These settings offer varied insights into Salieri’s teaching methods and Beethoven’s achievements in these years. The unaccompanied Italian settings were written during Beethoven’s early days in Vienna, generally between 1793 and 1797 and those with accompaniment up to 1802. The listings and earlier complete recordings are discussed in full by Mark S. Zimmer in The Unheard Beethoven. Jan Swafford gives valuable insight into Beethoven’s manner as a student. “As with his counterpoint masters, in his dealings with Salieri Beethoven was a wilful student even as he dutifully set his assigned old-fashioned Italian texts in a suitable style. One day Beethoven ran into Salieri in the street after the teacher had thrashed one of rhose efforts. Salieri complained that he hadn’t been able to get the tune out of his head. “Then, Herr von Salieri,” Beethoven grinned, “it can’t have been so utterly bad.” Thoughts These songs give fascinating insights into Beethoven’s development as a composer. The music feels much ‘older’, with the overriding impression that the pupil is diligently aiming for a style coveted by his teacher, rather than breaking particularly new ground – bolstering his abilities and covering perceived weaknesses. The first of these settings, Bei labbri, che amore, is a chaste two-parter for male and female voice in close harmony. Ma tu tremi is initially similar but there is a slightly more awkward top line in the middle section. E pur fra le tempest is a short setting of just under a minute, for solo voice and flowing piano, moving to an unaccompanied and quite serene Sei mio ben for three voices. It is interesting to hear three versions of Giura il nocchier, the second of which is much fuller in texture than the first, while the third shifts the pitch down a tone. The four-part Chi mai di questo core is the fullest song here, and features a nice dialogue between the voices, if still polite and functional. Some of the arrangements are written for full, choral textures, such as the second and third short arrangements of Giura il nocchier. There are no fewer than six versions of Fra tutte le pene availble, each of the three originals with revisions by Salieri to make the part movements a little more logical. Other songs include the pure C major of Scrivo in te, a minute-long setting in three parts, and the fuller choral songs Per te d’amico aprile and Nei campi e nelle selve, in two versions – the second of which has a mournful edge. Also in two versions are Salvo tu vuoi lo sposo, and Gia la notte savvicina, which has a feather light choral setting for its alternative. Meanwhile the choral Quella cetra ah pur ti sei has three – and sounds rather like Haydn in the first. Spotify playlist and Recordings used Soloists, Ensemble Tamanial, Cantus Novus Wien / Thomas Holmes (Naxos)
The Naxos recordings are very well delivered, with the caveat that it is difficult to convey emotion in songs that are so short. The solo items have the necessary intimacy, while the choral numbers have a nice space surrounding the textures in the recording picture. Occasionally the top edges of the soprano lines feel like a bit of a strain, but that could be as much due to the composer’s writing as anything else! 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 1803 Boieldieu Clarinet Concerto no.1 in E flat major Op.36 Next up Bei labbri, che Amore WoO 99/1

Listening to Beethoven #190 – “Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93

Portrait of Pietro Metastasio, c1770, by Meytens or Batoni

“Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93, duet for soprano, tenor and orchestra (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication Not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 7′


Background and Critical Reception

Ne’ giorni tuoi felici (‘In your days of happiness’) uses text from Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, with Beethoven becoming the third recorded composer to set these words behind Leonardo Leo and Florian Gassmann. Writing briefly about the duet in booklet notes for Hyperion, Nicholas Marston notes that two of the soloists at the premiere, which appears not to have taken place until 1814, were Anna Milder-Hauptmann and Carl Weinmüller. They helped create the roles of Leonore and Rocco respectively in the premiere of Fidelio later that year.

Very little is written about this piece, other than to note its position in Beethoven’s output as one of the last vocal works written under the tuition of Salieri.


We hear the tenor first, pleading, ‘in the days of your happiness remember me’ – and his lover, the soprano, answers in kind. Initially the mood is relatively calm, but as the duet progresses things become more agitated. The singers’ lines are deeply expressive, and initially slower that has perhaps been the norm in Beethoven’s vocal music with orchestra so far. The composer gives the voices plenty of room, the orchestra at a polite distance, but the violins have important counter melodies to contribute.

A quicker section arrives just over half way through, the singers ‘dying of jealousy’ as they experience considerable distress, not to mention ‘savage pain’. This sours the mood and tugs at the heartstrings, ending the duet on a fractious note. At this point it feels unfinished, with more of the story to play out – as though Beethoven could have continued to write a more expansive piece using Metastasio’s text.

The soprano writing often hits the heights, but in a way less concerned with overt display and more with lyrical passion. She leads the duet, which makes a powerful impression – and gives notice that Beethoven’s dramatic gifts will be more than capable of shifting to the operatic stage before too long.

Recordings used

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

Christopher Maltman (tenor), Janice Watson (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion) (an excerpt can be heard here)

Arthur Apelt (tenor), Hannelore Kuhse (soprano), Staatskapelle Berlin / Eberhard Büchner (Eterna)

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 Bagatelle in C major / minor ‘Lustig-traurig’

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 #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”


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.


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”


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”.


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)