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|Mark Padmore (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)|
An die ferne Geliebte is Beethoven’s only true song cycle, and the first important example of the form. It is based on poems taken from Alois Jeitteles’ 1815 collection entitled Gedichte in Selam, the name of an almanac edited by one Ignaz Castelli. Both Jeitteles and Castelli were members of an artistic group called ‘Lülamshöhle’, whose musical members included Salieri and Weber (Beethoven was an infrequent guest at their meetings).
All six poems concern the feelings of love as translated through nature – or at least the kind of idealized countryside vistas that had already been immortalized in the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony. All are cast in strophic form except the last, but Beethoven constantly varies and develops his accompaniments. Although these musical changes are not entirely for poetic reasons, they nevertheless help create a sense of progressive musical architecture totally denied strict strophic form.
Beethoven’s poetic sensitivity extends to such lengths as Wo die Berge so blau being kept on an uncomplicated harmonic leash until the words ‘Innere Pein’. Similarly, the move to the tonic minor for the last three stanzas of Leichte Segler in den Höhen is a moment of profound musical insight.
The cycle is quite literally brought full circle by the final song, which recalls material from the first. This technique was to prove a profound influence on the song cycles of Robert Schumann, who also concealed a number of other musical references to An die ferne Geliebte in his work, including the Beethovenian Fantasy in C, Op 17.
from notes by Julian Haylock © 1999
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