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The first in a two part set of Beethoven's Lieder und Gesänge. Beethoven himself was not a keen song writer, yet despite this almost half of his total works call for a voice. This album includes some of the best of those compositions.
Ann Murray has appeared with some of the world's greatest orchestras and conductors, her discography reflects both her broad concert and operatic repertoire and also her great operatic roles.
Roderick Williams is active in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital, encompassing a repertoire from baroque to world premieres. He has performed with all BBC orchestras and other acclaimed ensembles internationally.
Iain Burnside enjoys a unique reputation as pianist and broadcaster and is most recognised for his collaborations with leading international singers. This will be Iain's sixth disc with Signum Classics.
A note about our title: in Beethoven’s day, there were two large categories of song, and he contributed to both. “Lieder” designated the stylistically simpler, shorter, often strophic songs that continued the 18th-century predilection for such works, while the word “Gesänge” was reserved for longer, richer, more complex songs in forms other than strophic and often with airs and graces borrowed from the operatic realm. Song anthologies, sets, or opuses were frequently emblazoned with the joint title Lieder und Gesänge; if this translates awkwardly into English as “Songs and Songs”, the German-speaking world of the late 18th- and 19th-centuries would have understood the distinction. The “simpler” approach to Lieder does not mean “simplistic:” one need only hear the marvelous harmonic subtleties of the Lied “Vom Tode” to realize that artistry was lavished on these works as well, but there is an undeniable difference in scale between “Urians Reise um die Welt” (Lied) and “Adelaïde” (Gesang).
First we have the six songs of Op 75, published in 1810 but composed at various earlier times, and with the setting of a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a reigning genius of the age and someone with whom Beethoven has often been compared. Beethoven was not prone to adulation of others, but in 1825, he would direct a downright adoring letter to Goethe: “The admiration, love, and esteem which I have cherished since my youth for the one and only immortal Goethe have persisted…I feel constantly prompted by a strange desire to say all of this to you, seeing that I live in your writings.”
The words of Neue Liebe, neues Leben were born of Goethe’s brief betrothal for some months in 1775 to Anne Elisabeth Schönemann (1758-1817), the daughter of a patrician family in Frankfurt. Goethe despised the social circle in which “Lili”, as he called her, moved, and the engagement soon came to shipwreck. In 1830, two years before his death, Goethe said of her, “She was the first woman I truly and deeply loved; I can also say that she was the last.” Beethoven had a long history of engagement with this poem: he sketched it circa 1792, set it to music in 1798/99 (WoO127), and revised it thoroughly as Op 75, No 2. The energy of new passion bubbles throughout this music, in which exultation is at war with the desire to break away from such bonds. (Beethoven too knew the clash between the longing for intimacy and the demands of artistic creativity.) That the persona charges right into the proceedings without any piano introduction is youthful erotic impetuosity incarnate.
Christian Ludwig Reissig’s (1783-?) name would probably be unknown to us now if Beethoven had not been drawn to his verse for eight songs, more than any other poet except Goethe. The words for An den fernen Geliebten came from the first edition in 1809 of Reissig’s anthology, Blümchen der Einsamkeit (Little flower of loneliness). Distant beloveds were a sad obsession of the composer’s; the repetitions in this tiny strophic song convey something essential about the nature of grief, whose sufferers traverse sad ground over and over. In two sources, one an autograph manuscript, one printed, Beethoven provides us with slightly different endings to the strophe, the second with its own built-in echo. As if to console both the persona of “An den fernen Geliebten” and us, the same poet-composer pair defines contentment in another strophic song, Der Zufriedene, to a text also taken from Reissig’s Blümchen, in which the pianist alternates between unity with the singer and demonstrations of contentment’s merry vitality, the song in accord with the Enlightenment concept of friendship as a prime source of happiness.
Yet another strophic song is Gretels Warnung to a poem by Gustav Adolph von Halem (1752-1819) that Beethoven found either in the Homer translator Johann Heinrich Voss’s Musen-Almanach for 1793 or Halem’s 1789 anthology of poetry and prose. This little song belongs to a sub-category of 18th- and 19th-century poetry in which a young woman, seduced and abandoned, warns the reader against incurring—or causing—a similar fate. (Goethe’s “Die Spinnerin”, set to music by Schubert, D274, is a particularly poignant example.) Beethoven’s song is in major mode and does not exude lamentation, but the rising chromatic tension in mid-strophe to depict Chris’s persistence in wooing is an eloquent touch.
Beethoven was neither the first nor the last to be drawn to Mephistopheles’s “Song of the Flea” (Aus Goethes Faust) from the scene in Auerbach’s Keller, already included in Faust. Ein Fragment (the earliest stage of this lifelong project on Goethe’s part) and later in Part 1 of the great German tragedy. Auerbach’s is a real place: Goethe’s favourite wine bar, now located below the Mädlerpassage at Grimmaische Straße 2. According to legend, the alchemist Johann Georg Faust—the distant progenitor in real life of Goethe’s title character—once rode a wine barrel in this establishment from the cellar to the street, a feat he could only have accomplished with the devil’s help. For this satirical song of a king who loved his flea and forbade his court to kill the miniature tormenters, Beethoven intersperses the narrative in the singer’s part with biting, grace-noted pinpricks and figures that plunge downwards in diabolical glee. Those who know the first theme of the first movement of his Symphony No 1 will hear its twin in the dynamism of this song’s introduction. And finally, we end the set with its first song, Mignon, or “Kennst du das Land” from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship). Mignon, one of literature’s most haunting figures, is a quasi-androgynous creature (Goethe calls her a “Knabenmädchen”, or “boy-girl”) in her early teens. Kidnapped when very young, she is rescued from her harsh life in an acrobatic troupe by the title character Wilhelm Meister and falls in love with him. She symbolizes humanity’s two natures, earthly and spiritual, male and female; she is the spirit of Romantic poetry, and her life is governed by “Sehnsucht” or “longing”, a form of desire manifested as affliction. At the beginning of Book 3, Mignon sings Kennst du das Land with “a certain solemn grandeur, as if…she were imparting something of importance.” Beethoven imbues her memories of her native Italy with the solemnity and expressivity Goethe wanted and then ends each stanza with the urgent refrain “Dahin, dahin!” and an appeal to her “Beloved, Protector, Father” (Wilhelm) to take her there. The “moderately slow” portion of each verse is set in duple metre, the “faster” refrain in 6/8, Beethoven thus emphasizing the surge of sudden passion that animates each of Mignon’s appeals to Wilhelm.
When Beethoven realized that he was losing his hearing—”the one sense that ought to be more perfect in me than in others”, he lamented in the Heiligenstadt Testament of October 1802—he underwent an immense crisis, personal, musical, and ideological. Sometime before March 1802, the non-doctrinaire Beethoven turned to the 54 Geistliche Oden und Lieder (Spiritual Odes and Songs) by the pious Leipzig philosopher Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715-1769); these poems combining religiosity with Enlightenment rationalism were enormously popular with late 18th-century composers. For five of the six miniature sermon-songs first published in August 1803, Beethoven recalls the textures and devices of hymnody, but with nuances indicative of his attentive response to Gellert’s words. In Bitten, for example, the acclamation of God as “my fortress, my rock, my treasure” and the plea “to hear my supplication” is set as a single persistent, pleading pitch while the piano sinks gradually downward. Gottes Macht und Vorsehung begins as a fiery proclamation of God’s strength; if the musical strophe is tiny (18 measures), there are fifteen verses of text to which we can hear it repeated, or from which performers can select. In Die Liebe des Nächsten, the composer leaps emphatically to the initial syllable of the word “truth” (“Gottes Wahr – heit”); in that one gesture, one realizes how important truth was for this man. For a composer who seems to have contemplated suicide when deafness encroached, one would expect him to respond with particular intensity to the poem Vom Tode, and so he did, setting the song in sepulchral minor mode and employing a degree of chromaticism and dissonance not found in the other Gellert songs. This is a memento mori, an enjoinder to remember our mortality; hollow sonorities in mid-song and a tolling death-knell in the low bass at the end would make anyone think death-haunted thoughts. Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, like “Gottes Macht und Vorsehung”, begins in triumphal-proclamatory mode, but switches suddenly to hushed rapture and pulsing, repeated chromatic chords when the numberless stars of the cosmos are invoked: this is a Beethovenian hallmark and an unforgettable gesture, both here and elsewhere. The set ends with a surprise in the form of Busslied, a much longer, more elaborate concluding Lied in two parts. For what exactly Beethoven might have felt penitent, we cannot know, but the intensity of the song’s beginning, the tension-laden ascent in the initial phrase, does not seem as if issuing from abstraction.
Beethoven took seriously the challenge of fitting music and words together, and the Op 82 Four Ariettas and a Duet, first published in London and Leipzig in 1811, are a case-study in cross-cultural song: the original text in Italian goes hand-in-hand with a singer’s paraphrase in German. Three of the texts (one is set twice) come from the works of the great librettist Pietro Metastasio (the pseudonym of Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi, 1698-1782) whose texts were set to music by Handel, Mozart, and a host of other composers. Both Beethoven and Schubert would study composition for a time with Antonio Salieri, and both would set Metastasio to music under his tutelage. But we do not know who wrote the words for the first song of Op 82, Hoffnung (Dimmi, ben mio, che m’ami); in this lover’s plea, Beethoven drapes the reference to the beloved’s smile—“Cara, con un sorriso”—in mildly flowery vocal ornament, followed by a change of tonal place that clearly signifies the paradise of reciprocal love (“tu m’apri il paradiso”).
Liebes-Klage, or T’intendo, sì, mio cor comes from Metastasio’s cantata, “Amor timido”, set to music by Antonio Vivaldi and a score of other composers. Because the lover addresses this plaint to his heart, saying that he can hear its wild beating, Beethoven devises a stylized figure in the right part that is evocative both of a palpitating heart and sobs or gasps of lamentation. In mid-song, there is a “purple patch” of heightened intensity to harmonies based on the flatted sixth degree of the scale: this is one hallmark of Beethoven’s musical language. The third and fourth songs, Stille Frage and Liebes-Ungeduld, are actually settings of the same text by Metastasio, L’amante impaziente or “Che fa il mio bene?” from act 2, scene 6 of the second version of his dramma per musica, Adriano in Siria. Here, Beethoven engages in a demonstration of how to derive two different emotional contexts from the same words: the first is subtitled “arietta buffa” and the second “arietta assai seriosa.” The German paraphrases (author unknown), however, register the difference in tone: “Will I never be allowed to approach you?”, the comic lover complains, while the second—perhaps having been given his walking papers in the interim—laments, “And so I must renounce the hope I nourished so long?” In the buffa air, we can practically see the impatient lover pacing back and forth, tethered to the spot where he waits, while the more serious version alternates between slower and faster tempi, between duple and compound metres, like a fever chart of fresh rejection. Love’s utterances, Beethoven tells us, must be interpreted. The set ends with the duet, Lebens-Genuss, to Metastasio’s words, Odi l’aura che dolce sospira from the 1738 “azione teatrale” La pace fra la virtù e la bellezza. Here, Beethoven devises exquisitely rustling breezes and streams in the piano; against this backdrop, the singers both announce that Nature sings of love and that each hearer will know from experience whether it brings delight or sorrow.
Composers often revisit a text already set, sometimes to tweak details, sometimes to alter the entire conception of the song, and Beethoven too engages in the exercise; one would hardly expect otherwise from this perfectionist composer. The words of An die Geliebte are by Josef Ludwig Stoll (1778-1815), a Viennese journalist who also inspired three songs from Schubert’s pen. In this poem, appearing first in the almanach Selam for 1814 and Johann Erichson’s Musen-Almanach, a lover pleads that he be allowed to drink the tears from his beloved’s cheeks so that her sorrows may become his (tears are poetic transpositions upwards of erotic fluids). The second version (WoO140) is a refinement of the previous version, not a reconceptualisation: the accompaniment is less busy the second time around, and prosodic matters are corrected (“in seinem liebevollen Schein” no longer begins on a downbeat).
With Sehnsucht, WoO134, its four versions spanning a period from before March 1808 to circa 1823, we return to Mignon and Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre for one of the most famous poems in world literature. In the novel, it appears at the end of Book 4, chapter 12, when Wilhelm hears a “free duet” sung by Mignon and the mysterious, melancholy-mad Harper, whose tragic history we only learn after his suicide near the end of the novel. He was once Augustin, the son of the eccentric Marquis Cipriani in Italy; brought up apart from his younger sister Sperata (her name derived from “Speranza”, or hope) and ignorant of her existence, he meets her as a young man, they fall in love, and she bears him a child: Mignon. Fate brings father and daughter together in Germany—but they do not know their close kinship with one another. Because this poem was included among the “Mignon” poems in Goethe’s poetic anthologies, it was often set as a solo song, and it drew composers like iron filings to a magnet. Beethoven’s first three versions are all tiny, strophic (two verses), devoid of piano introductions, and musically modest, as if Beethoven had tried to match Goethe’s own preference for music that respected his poetry by taking a back seat to it. But even in these deliberately modest works, Beethoven was experimenting with different metres for Goethe’s rhythmically complex words—duple, triple, compound metres—and minor or major mode as the most appropriate musical garb for this enigmatic character. After two versions in minor, we hear a third version in major mode, its opening mood of calm abnegation intensified in midstream by the rise to “aller Freude”, those joys now lost. Only in the fourth version, no longer strophic, does Beethoven invest Goethe’s Old Testament-like language about burning bowels (“Es brennt mein Eingeweide”) with throbbing pulsations in the piano and make even more of the Neapolitan harmonies (chords on the flatted 2nd degree of the scale) that first appear in the second version. When Schubert came to set the same text, he too would make the gravitational force of this harmony an element of poetic expression for the tragic figures of Mignon and the Harper.
Das Geheimnis. Liebe und Wahrheit, WoO145, first published in a Viennese almanach in 1816, is a setting of a poem by Ignaz Heinrich Freiherr von Wessenberg (1774-1860), a liberal Catholic churchman who advocated a German national church and incurred papal displeasure for it. Here, the poet asks the Muse for the whereabouts of the flower that never fades and the star that shines forever, and the Muse bids him search within for those enduring treasures. No wonder Beethoven was drawn to this poem: could he have read it personally as signifying the inner treasure of musical creativity? The initial very soft questions—this is a query to the self—rise straight upward, and Beethoven repeats the answer at song’s end in quiet emphasis.
The words of Als die Geliebte sich trennen wollte (Empfindungen bei Lydiens Untreue), WoO132 of 1806 (?), are still ascribed in older editions to Frédéric Soulié as translated by Beethoven’s friend Stephan von Breuning, but Soulié was born in 1800 and could not have written an erotic lament at six years of age or even nine years (the song was published in 1809). We now know that it was François Benoît Hoffmann (1760-1828) who wrote the poem “Je te perds, fugitive espérance”, rendered into German by Breuning. Love obsessed with Time, with what “remains eternal” and what is forgotten, is the subject here, and Beethoven knew to intensify the words “bleibt ewig” and “vergessen” harmonically. Rejection in love was, sadly, something the composer knew well by this point, in the wake of futile attractions to Jeanette d’Honrath in Bonn, Eleonore von Breuning, Magdalena Willmann, Giulietta Guicciardi and Giulietta’s cousin Josephine von Brunsvik née Deym, and more pain of the same sort would follow after this song was printed.
In the wake of such tragic themes, we turn to a bit of comic relief, a delightfully sexy romp set to Christian Felix Weisse’s (1726-1804) pastoralerotic poem Der Kuß, Op 128 of 1822; the text comes from the poet’s Scherzhaften Liedern (Jesting Songs) of 1758, reprinted in the first volume of the same poet’s Kleine lyrische Gedichte (Little Lyrical Poems) of 1772, the latter probably Beethoven’s source. Here, the eponymous Chloe seems to resist the persona’s advances but only makes good on her threat to scream at the point of orgasm, when her cries assume an altogether different meaning. Hearing this saucy exercise in mutual seduction, one can and should ascribe lubricious meanings to the rising sequence in the piano introduction and the long-drawn-out conclusion.
The Sehnsucht (WoO146, 1815-1816) of Christian Reissig’s poem is not Goethe’s indefinable and profound yearning for something beyond our knowledge but a more commonplace matter of nocturnal longing for the sweetheart. In Beethoven’s reading, the song quickens as thoughts of love overwhelm the persona; we hear a built-in accelerando as the song wends its way. Der Mann von Wort, Op 99 of 1816, to a text by Friedrich August Kleinschmid (1749-1838), is in another vein altogether; as German nationalism post-Napoleon was in its initial fervent stages, Beethoven, who was prone to the occasional outburst of patriotic sentiment in song, set this poem about German honour, masculine pride, and Teutonic worthiness to stirring strains (“a little military piece”, or “Feldstück”, he called it). Musical nationalism tends to the absence of subtleties and ambiguities, so one should not look for Beethoven’s most radical strains here, but the energy is undeniable.
When Beethoven set Gottfried August Bürger’s (1748-1794) Seufzer eines Ungeliebten—Gegenliebe, WoO188, in 1794, he probably knew the simple settings by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz from the Lieder im Volkston of 1782, and yet the later composer adopts operatic airs and flourishes for the first poem, complete with dramatic recitative. The first words, “Wüßt’ ich”, of “Gegenliebe” become the musical bridge between the two Bürger poems, and no listener could fail to hear that the melody of the pendant song anticipates both the Choral Fantasy and the Ninth Symphony’s “Ode to Joy.” If the prosody leaves something to be desired, it is nonetheless fascinating that this melodic idea was brewing in Beethoven’s brain literally for decades and that the song’s impulse gave rise to the mighty symphony. In questa tomba oscura, WoO133, is the result of a musical challenge issued in 1807-1808, when composers were invited to set this poem by Giuseppe Carpani (1752-1825), an Italian poet resident in Vienna. Sixty-three of them obliged, but Beethoven’s setting is the only memorable version of this poem on an antique theme: the dead lover’s reproach to the “ingrata”, the faithless woman. The dark, chromatic liquefaction of the texture in mid-song, at the plea to allow “the naked ghosts” their peace in the tomb, is extraordinary.
With the eight songs of Op 52, composed in the early 1790s, we return to the domain of strophic song and to poetic subjects whose attraction for this composer we can easily discern. Feuerfarb’ is a setting of a poem by the Romantic writer Sophie Friederike Mereau (1770-1806), a gifted woman who died in childbirth three years after her stormy marriage to the great Romantic poet Clemens Brentano. (He was half-brother to Franz Brentano, the husband of Antonie Brentano, née von Birkenstock, who has been tentatively but convincingly identified by Maynard Solomon as Beethoven’s “immortal beloved.”) Sophie Mereau’s unconventionality is on display in this song, in which she extols the fiery hue of truth. Not for her the usual feminine tint of rose petals symbolic of love that fades or the white of innocence, soon besmirched by envy and defamation: she, and Beethoven, preferred truth.
The poet Hermann Wilhelm Franz Ueltzen (1759-1808) may have sunk into deserved obscurity after his death, but his meditation in Das Liedchen von der Ruhe about whether greater repose is to be found in love or death, thoughts born of the persona’s forced parting from his Elise, elicited a gently lovely song from Beethoven. Marmotte comes from Goethe’s 1773/1778 (he revised it) comic play, “Das Jahrmarkts-Fest auf Plundersweilern” (“Plunder” is “trash”). Here, a young beggar-lad from the Savoie sings a simple song about travels with his “marmotte”, a ground squirrel that sometimes accompanied hurdy-gurdy players and other such itinerant musicians. Another text by Goethe, “Maifest” or Mailied, is one of the so-called Sesenheimer Lieder associated with Goethe’s brief dalliance in the spring of 1771 with “Mamselle Rikchen”, or Friederike Elisabeth Brion (1752-1815), the pastor’s daughter in the Alsatian village of Sesenheim near Strasbourg. The affair does Goethe little credit—she was crushed by it—but the poem is wonderful, a variation on the antique genre of the spring song in order to celebrate the immediacy of contact between the feeling heart and the object of its emotion.
The “Molly” of Mollys Abschied was Bürger’s sister-in-law Auguste Leonhart; he married her in 1785, but she died in childbirth a year later. (Bürger led a life as stormy as some of his immense, extended ballads.) At the end of each strophic expression of longing and loss in her voice, we hear a melisma expressive of desire in the postlude. Present-day listeners come to Lied, with its sweet plea for a wife and domesticity penned by the great Enlightenment philosopher and writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) in pained awareness of Beethoven’s frustrated longing for those same joys; this song was, of course, composed long before the composer’s “marriage project” came to an end. Das Blümchen Wunderhold is the epitome of the folk-like Lied (Lied im Volkston), its musical modesty appropriate for Bürger’s allegory of the wondrously fair flower “Bescheidenheit”, or Modesty (only verses 1, 2, 3, and 10 appear in the song); note the unison of voice and piano for the initial phrase establishing the fairy-story atmosphere of it all. And finally, we conclude with a song that is a comic counterpoint to 18th-century Germany’s fascination with travel writing and the literature of exploration long before its later ventures into imperialism.
Flitting around the world leads to no good, warns Matthias Claudius’s (1740-1815) Mr. Urian, who suffers beatings, extreme heat and cold, bizarre sustenance (that pitcher of blubber), and inhospitable landscapes in Urians Reise um die Welt, only to discover that people are just the same everywhere. The chorus of listeners, who for thirteen verses have encouraged his serial tales of Mexico, America, China, Africa and elsewhere take exception to his concluding moral and declare the proceedings at an end. Fourteen iterations of the same tiny twelve-bar musical strophe are just the ticket for Urian’s refusal to espy difference in the world.
Susan Youens © 2008
Several very famous singers have insisted that the listener does not need the words, their artistry is such that the meaning is fully conveyed. However, our appreciation of a song sung in our own language is quite different; the words add a vital dimension which we would not wish to be without.
Also, we realise that in the case of these songs it was the poem which came first. It follows that the poem must have had some quality that ‘inspired’ the composer, that ‘struck a chord’ and it is this that underlies the writing of the song. And, of course, this was more than just the words, it was the poetry of the text.
The problem then is to find a way in which the listener can appreciate some of this essential third dimension of a song, the poetry, without a working knowledge of the original language. In these English versions of the poems I have tried to convey some measure of this poetic sense, the quality that gives the text its life, to help the reader to a fuller appreciation and enjoyment of the song.
Of necessity things have been changed and as a consequence the listener will not be able slavishly to follow the text during the performance. Inevitably, as in any translation, problems of interpretation arise, layers of subtext may have been omitted, elements may have been added in the service of clarity.
But, the many famous settings in translation of, for instance, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Byron, Sir Walter Scott etc. lose nothing from the fact that the German version frequently bears only very limited comparison to the originals. They are true to the originals, yes, in their fashion; meaning that, despite the words having been changed a bit, or even quite a lot, they do manage to convey that original, characteristic quality. The translators have managed to capture the essence of the original in the new language and this has been recognised by the composer. I hope that I have to some extent been able to match their achievement.
Uri Liebrecht © 2008