Although C minor may justifiably be regarded as a key that Beethoven made peculiarly his own, that of E major also seems to have had particular connotations for him. Instrumental movements such as the slow movement of the second ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet and the variation theme in the Piano Sonata, Op 109, may be placed alongside songs such as Sehnsucht
, WoO146, and Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel
, WoO150, to suggest that Beethoven turned to E major when he wished to conjure a partly religious, contemplative mood tinged with an element of melancholy or nostalgia. Thus it is not surprising to find him choosing this key for his setting of Matthisson’s Opferlied
. Beethoven was evidently fascinated by this poem: in addition to the version dating from 1824 that is recorded here, there exists an 1822 version for soprano, alto and tenor soloists, chorus, and clarinets, horn, and strings, as well as an earlier independent setting for voice and piano (WoO126, composed 1794/5 but revised in 1801/2); furthermore, two canons of 1823 and 1825 set the closing words, ‘Das Schöne zu dem Guten’. The evocation of a religious mood is obvious in the hymnic setting, and the intensity of expression required is emphasized by the performance direction ‘Langsam mit innigster Andacht’, one of many from Beethoven’s late period that face ‘inward’. But many listeners may be immediately struck by a more external reference, to yet another work in E major: Fiordiligi’s great rondò ‘Per pietà’ in Mozart’s Così fan tutte
, to the opening of which Beethoven seems to make a very direct allusion at the outset. Whether or not this was intentional is impossible to say.
from notes by Nicholas Marston © 1997