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8.574071 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Lieder, Vol. 1 (Breuer, Trost, Edelmann, Bojórquez, Bartos)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Lieder • 1


Beethoven’s principal contribution to music has always seemed to lie largely in his orchestral and instrumental works. Nevertheless he added significantly to the repertoire of German song, leaving some 90 or so songs from his early days in Bonn to about the year 1816. His achievement as a composer of songs and as an important figure in the development of German song came to an end, therefore, as Schubert, a native of Vienna, was embarking on his own remarkable body of songs.

The son of an unreliable singer in the employ of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, and grandson of a former distinguished Kapellmeister, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn and until 1792 served there in the court musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector. His family circumstances were difficult and any musical instruction he may have had from his father was irregular. As a member of the court musical establishment, however, he was able to profit from the instruction of the court organist, Gottlob Neefe, whose assistant he became. In 1787 Beethoven was sent to Vienna, where he was expected to study with Mozart, but the illness of his mother obliged him to return to Bonn and it was not until the close of 1792, a year after Mozart’s death, that Beethoven was again sent to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, from whom he churlishly claimed to have learnt nothing.

In Vienna, where Beethoven settled for the rest of his life, he had direct contact with the operatic and Italianate culture of the place. He arrived there armed with introductions to leading members of society and made an early reputation for himself as a pianist and, a concomitant, as a composer. While Mozart had brought to Vienna, his home from 1781 until his death ten years later, a wide linguistic culture and the benefits of a carefully planned early education, Beethoven needed to read more widely and to improve perceived gaps in his training. He took lessons in counterpoint from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and again seeking the best available help, he took lessons in Italian word-setting with the old court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri.

Throughout his career in Vienna, Beethoven had the support of members of the nobility and of a member of the Imperial family, Archduke Rudolph, a friend and pupil. From the turn of the century, when the first signs of growing deafness became apparent, Beethoven’s participation in musical performance gradually diminished, while his activities as a composer developed very considerably. It is through the circumstances of his life that we have much less information about the possible performances of his songs. While Mozart fulfilled longstanding operatic ambitions in German Singspiel and in Italian collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte, and Schubert, living in a more bourgeois society than Beethoven, found a milieu for the performance of his songs, there is little information about the composition and performance of Beethoven’s songs, except for works that formed part of his ambitiously mismanaged public orchestral concerts, such as the Italian concert aria Ah! perfido. Relatively few songs by Beethoven were published, so that many now survive with WoO (Werke ohne Opus) numbering.

The first song included here  1  Klage, WoO 113, (‘Lament’), dates from 1790 and is a setting of a poem by Ludwig Hölty, a member of the group of German Romantic poets known as the ‘Göttinger Hainbund’. It is followed by a setting of a poem by Goethe, an older contemporary who was to outlive Beethoven by five years,  2  Neue Liebe, neues Leben, WoO 127 (‘New Love, New Life’), written in 1798 and published in 1809 as part of Op. 75, with three other poems by Goethe.  3  Erlkönig, WoO 131 (‘Erlking’ or ‘Elf King’), reconstructed, suggests inevitable comparisons with Schubert’s well-known setting.  4  In questa tomba oscura, WoO 133 (‘In This Dark Grave’) was written in 1807 as the result of a contest between composers. Countess Rzewuska improvised an aria, to which the poet Carpani wrote a text, then set by composer after composer, 63 in number, with Beethoven, to his chagrin, the last of the published set. It was dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.  5  7  Beethoven held Goethe in the greatest respect and in the same year published four settings of Mignon’s song, Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, WoO 134, (‘‘Only those who know what it is to yearn’) from Goethe’s seminal Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

 8  Gesang aus der Ferne, WoO 137 (‘A Song from Far Away’) sets a poem by Christian Ludwig Reissig, a cavalry officer to whom Beethoven had recourse for four other songs. The proposed ‘private’ printing of the song annoyed Beethoven, who made it clear that he had intended it for the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, whereas ‘that rascal Reissig’ had seemingly allowed it to be thought a work commissioned by him from Beethoven.  9  11  An die Geliebte, WoO 140 (‘To My Beloved’) has three versions, with words, also set by Schubert, from the poet Josef Ludwig Stoll. Three years later Beethoven issued the song as an addition to a summer edition of Friedensblätter, an inducement to attend a benefit performance of Fidelio in July 1814.

 12  14  Freudvoll und leidvoll, Op. 84 (‘Joyful and sorrowful’) is sung by the heroine Clärchen in the incidental music by Beethoven for Goethe’s tragedy Egmont: she sings of her love for Egmont, for whom she is finally to die. Beethoven’s incidental music was first heard in Vienna in the summer of 1810. A contrast of mood is heard in settings of two Austrian folk songs  15  and  16 , Das liebe Kätzchen (‘The Darling Kitten’) and Der Knabe auf dem Berge (‘The Lad on the Mountain’), written in March 1820. These are followed by a setting of  17  Schwinge dich in meinem Dom (‘Swing Yourself into My Cathedral’) by Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt, a homely poet whose work was the object of Goethe’s criticism. Beethoven’s setting, dating from 1796/97, has been suspected of ribald intentions.

There are two versions  18   19  of Dimmi, ben mio, che m’ami (‘Tell me, my darling’), published as the first of Four Ariettas and a Duet, settings of Italian words, with the second version completed by July 1811. The original setting was made in 1801. The first of the five publications of song collections by Beethoven start in 1803 with six songs dedicated to Count Johann Georg von Browne, settings of poems by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, verses taken from Gellert’s Geistliche Oden und Lieder (‘Spiritual Odes and Songs’). The sixth of the set,  20  Busslied, Op. 48, No. 6 (‘Song of Penitence’) is a heartfelt prayer, turning from repentance for sin to joy at forgiveness.  21  Wonne der Wehmut, Op. 83, No. 1 (‘Delight in Melancholy’) is the first of three settings of poems by Goethe, written in 1810 and dedicated to Princess Caroline Kinsky.

 22  Feuerfarb, Op. 52, No. 2 (‘The Colour of Fire’), setting a poem by the German Romantic writer Sophie Mereau, later to marry Clemens von Brentano. Op. 52, a set of eight songs with texts of varying authorship, include earlier works. The collection was published in 1803.  23  Opferlied, Hess 145 (‘Song of Sacrifice’), from 1798, sets a poem by Friedrich von Matthisson, whose Adelaide is among the best known of Beethoven’s songs. The lighthearted  24  Traute Henriette, Hess 151 (‘Dearest Henriette’) dates from 1790–92 and is followed here by  25  Gretels Warnung, Op. 75, No. 4 (‘Gretel’s Warning’), of which the first verse only is sung here. Three settings of Goethe are followed in Op. 75 by this setting of a poem by Georg Anton von Halem and two poems by Reissig. The Italian word-setting  26  Languisco e moro (‘I am languishing, dying’) is known as a two-voice canon, as a song with violin and piano, as a riddle canon and in the form of a song with piano accompaniment, the form in which it is here included. The author of the brief text is unknown.

Keith Anderson

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