Unusually, Beethoven strives throughout to translate directly in musical terms what is actually being sung. He adopts an uncharacteristically flexible approach to tempo, especially in the opening section when the questioning of the first four lines finds resolve first in an Allegro affirmation (‘Hoffen soll der Mensch!’) and then in the gently flowing triplets of a dreamy Larghetto (‘Die du so gern in heil’gen’).
Beethoven also subtly colours the vocal line to heighten the meaning of the text (the second stanza’s ‘Den Dulder ahnen’, for example), and uses changes of tonality to enhance contrasting moods, as at the unexpected move down a major third at the start of the third stanza. He even makes abrupt changes of figuration to emphasize the poetic content, as at the third stanza’s mention of ‘Mitternacht’, where the accompaniment suddenly changes to gently agitated semiquaver triplets.
from notes by Julian Haylock © 1999