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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Lieder und Gesänge

John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano)
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: May 2008
St Paul's Church, Deptford, London, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by Andrew Mellor
Release date: January 2009
Total duration: 77 minutes 32 seconds

The second in a two part set of Beethoven's Lieder und Gesänge, with the luminous collaboration between the tenor, John Mark Ainsley and his accompanist Iain Burnside. Beethoven himself was not a keen song writer, yet despite this almost half of his total works call for a voice. This disc includes some of the best of those compositions.

John Mark Ainsley is accomplished as both a concert and operatic vocalist, performing at some of the most well renowned venues in the world. As well as having great experience and success as a live artist he also benefits from an extensive discography which covers repertoire from Bach to Stravinsky.

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 seventh disc with Signum Classics.


'Tenor John Mark Ainsley is already recognized as one of the most exciting talents around … with a total vocal and emotional commitment. A riveting singer' (Opera Now)» More

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Beethoven grumbled about his discomfiture with vocal writing on more than one occasion: he once said, 'When sounds stir within me, I always hear the full orchestra; I know what to expect of instrumentalists, who are capable of almost everything, but with vocal compositions I must always be asking myself: can this be sung?' Song was not his native tongue, as it was for his younger contemporary Schubert; given Beethoven’s predilection for the infinite over the finite, for universality over the particular, that is not surprising. On the other hand, Beethoven’s great biographer Maynard Solomon reminds us that more than forty percent of the works that the young genius composed in Bonn, before moving to Vienna in 1792, are vocal, and roughly half of his 600 works call for the human voice. He began composing songs when he was a student of Christian Gottlob Neefe (with 'Schilderung eines Mädchens,' perhaps composed in 1783 when he was thirteen years old), and he would continue to do so sporadically thereafter. In this genre, he could experiment with the artful simplicity of pseudo-folksong and with other vocal styles, and above all with the fitting of word-rhythms to vocal melody. Pace those who say that art and life are not enmeshed, song also enabled him to engage with various religious, ethical, erotic, and artistic concerns on a canvas more intimate than his large-scale public works.

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 eighteenth-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 eighteenth- and ninetheenth-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).

Resignation, WoO149, composed in 1817 and first published in the Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode for 31 March 1818, is the setting of a mysterious poem about extinguished passion—for what or who, the poet does not say—by Count Paul von Haugwitz (1791-1856). Beethoven prefaces his setting with elaborate instructions for its performance, 'With feeling, yet resolutely, well accented, and sung as though spoken', and we gather from this fussiness a hint of the song’s importance for its creator. (In a now-vanished notebook, the word 'feeling' in the admonition to performers was originally preceded by the word 'inniger', or 'intimate'.) One thing the instructions do is tell us from the start of a musical interpretation with a stiffer spine and greater resolve than the poet would seem to provide in his depressed, defeated words. The repeated root-position triads that erupt in loud-louder-loudest guise from the bare octaves a semitone lower follow just after the crucial words, 'Ja, du mußt nun los dich binden' (Yes, you must now detach yourself) and are the incendiary heart of the song. The grim musical pun by which Beethoven does not 'find' the cadence he had prepared or sought ('sucht-sucht') at the words 'findet nicht' is another marvelous detail of a haunting song. Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel, WoO150, presents us with another enigma in the person of the poet 'H. Goeble', about whom nothing is known at present. Beethoven set it to music on 4 March 1820, and it appeared first in the Wiener Zeitschrift for 28 March 1820 and again in the Vier deutsche Gedichte of February 1823. Whoever Goeble was, he wrote a poem made to order for this composer, with its soul that wishes only to strive, to soar, to transcend earthly limits. In this varied strophic song, each stanza begins in hymnlike manner, with the bass sinking downwards like the setting sun, but at the first invocation of the shimmering stars, the musical cosmos is filled with pulsating, full textured chords traveling in a majestic circle of fifths. This is the music of the spheres, and its pulsations will recur, gloriously, in the last song of An die ferne Geliebte and elsewhere in Beethoven’s oeuvre. The third stanza elicited from Beethoven the most far-reaching variation from the pattern, with its earthly storms in measured tremolos, its unjustly happy evildoers, the consolation of looking up at the stars, and the dotted rhythmic triumph over princes and powers.

Andenken, WoO136, is the setting of a 'bestseller' of a poem, Ich denke dein, by Friedrich von Matthisson (1761-1831), a popular purveyor of stylized melancholy in the late eighteenth and early 19th centuries. Schiller praised Matthisson’s ability to point out the inner connection between images of nature so that they become 'pictures of the soul', and here, the persona sees the beloved imprinted everywhere on the landscape. Matthisson published this poem, written by 1792, ten years later, that is, seven years after Goethe’s parody entitled Nähe des Geliebten, familiar to many from Schubert’s great setting. Beethoven might have composed this sweetly graceful song as early as 1805 for Josephine von Brunsvik, but did not publish it until 1810 (and again in 1816 and 1818). The way in which the vocal line falls to a lingering half cadence at the end of each verse creates tension across the pattern of strophic repetitions; that the song’s most emphatic peak is the revelation of a 'distant beloved' seems only to be expected from this composer. Tellingly, there is no piano postlude, only the echo of the final ardent words, 'nur dein' (only of you) in the silence beyond the song’s end.

The title of La tiranna, WoO125, hints at the source of this English text in an Italian aria, but we do not yet know the source; the song-aria was first published in London on 12 December 1799. The translator was British: a man named William Wennington, who was in Vienna at the end of 1798, when Beethoven probably made his acquaintance and acceded to his request to set this dramatic lament about unrequited love. Beethoven makes the piano part froth and foam in such a way as to display his own pianism; the offbeat heavy accents at the outset of each plunge by the piano into the precipice of despair are echt Beethoven in their dynamism.

The genesis of An die Hoffnung, Op 32, is bound up with Beethoven’s frustrated love in 1804-1805 for Countess Josephine von Brunsvik; Josephine wrote her mother on 24 March of that year to say, 'The good Beethoven has composed a lovely song for me on a text from Urania ‘An die Hoffnung’ as a gift for me'. Urania: Über Gott, Unsterblichkeit und Freiheit … in sechs Gesängen (Urania: On God, Immortality, and Freedom in six cantos) by Christoph August Tiedge (1752-1841) refers to the muse of astronomy and astrology, from the Renaissance on, the muse of Christian poets as well ('Urania' means 'heavenly'). By the summer of 1805, however, Josephine had rebuffed Beethoven as a suitor and the composer removed her name from the dedication, but the song he wrote for her is indeed lovely. The reverential melody of this strophic song is constantly on the move, appropriate for Hope as a force of forward propulsion in human lives; its major mode optimism is rendered profound by darker touches of minor. The singer’s eloquent leap upward and thequiet blaze of a new (major) key for theacclamation to Hope—'O Hoffnung'—are unforgettable.

The librettist, translator, and lepidopterist Georg Friedrich Treitschke (1776-1842) both revised the libretto of Fidelio in 1814 at Beethoven’s request and provided him with the text for Ruf vom Berge, WoO147, first published by Wallishausser in 1817. The poem is an expansion of the folk song 'Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär’, which appeared both in Johann Gottfried Herder’s Stimmen der Völker in Liedern (Voices of the Peoples in Song, where this poem is entitled Der Flug der Liebe) and Achim von Arnim’s and Clemens Brentano’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) of 1806-8. Here, Beethoven gives it an appropriately pareddown, artfully simple folksong-like setting. Klage, WoO113, to a poem—a lamenting lover’s acclamation to the moon—by Ludwig Hölty (1748- 1776, dead tragically young) as emended by Johann Heinrich Voss in 1783, was among the songs not published until after Beethoven’s death. This lovely lyric by one of the best poets of the 'Hainbund' (the Fellowship of the Grove, or a group of young writers who formed this association on the night of 12 September 1772 while out on a moonlit walk), was popular with many composers; Schubert set it as 'An den Mond', and Beethoven set it twice, the second version published for the first time in 1888. With an almost fussy precision that indicates his care for this song, he instructs pianists to play in the most polished, sustained, legato fashion possible. Here, the persona remembers past happiness, when the moon smiled down at him in sweetest major mode, but at mid-song, we turn to the sad present, to parallel minor mode, and to an exquisitely expansive vocal line.

In 1822, Beethoven made a list of earlier unpublished compositions that he clearly wanted to bring out in print, including Ein Selbstgespräch, WoO 114, his only setting of a poem by Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719-1803), known as 'Father Gleim'. Of the songs on the composer’s list, only Der Kuß was published before his death. Like that delightfully saucy work, this too is an idyll in the groves of Eros, its Anacreontic persona someone who formerly scorned love—but now, to his great surprise, finds himself in love with Doris. In fact, he is so stunned by this novel experience that he repeats his musical bemusement over and over again to deliciously comic effect. The vault of a tenth at the word 'glaube' ('I believe I love Doris') will make anyone who remembers the combined exultation and touch of disbelief ('Who, me?') in new love smile. Beethoven milks the playful excess for all it is worth, including a dramatic measure of silence before the final proclamation 'that I love'.

Adelaide, Op 46, is a setting of a poem in Sapphic meters by Friedrich Matthisson, first published in Voss’s Musen Almanach for 1790 and again in the third edition of Matthisson’s collected poems. The autograph manuscript of this 'cantata'—it is described thusly on the title page of the first edition, printed by the Viennese firm of Artaria in February 1797—is lost, but sketches indicate the genesis of this masterpiece in late 1794 or early 1795. At this time, Beethoven was making a bid to impress Viennese musical society, so it is no wonder that the piano part is so rich throughout. How sad that Matthisson himself did not approve of this glorious aria/song/cantata (it defies categories), saying that of the settings his poem had already inspired, Beethoven’s was the least sensitive. In this love-poem, the persona sees his beloved’s image imprinted on everything in Nature, from the hues of a garden in spring to the snowy Alps, from the evening breezes in the arbor to the rustling of the waves and the fluting of nightingales. Beethoven makes of the first syllable of the beloved’s name an exhalation of awe and rapture each time; the numerous ecstatic reiterations of her name mark the passage of time and the motion towards love’s fulfillment beyond the grave. At the end, just as in an operatic finale, the thematic material is recast in a faster tempo with many repetitions, but the final utterance of the beloved’s name brings us back to the intimacy of Lied. Sadly, Beethoven’s last public performance as a pianist was on 25 January 1815, when he accompanied the singer Franz Wild in a performance of this song for the Empress of Russia.

The songs of Op 83 Wonne der Wemuth, Sehnsucht, and Mit einem gemalten Band are Beethoven’s last Goethe songs, composed in 1810 just after his music for Egmont and published in 1811 with a dedication to Antonie Brentano. It was perhaps, Solomon speculates, in the autumn of 1811 that mutual reverence flowered into passion, destined for sublimation into exalted friendship. Little more than a year later, she and her husband would return to his native city of Frankfurt, and it seems unlikely that Antonie and Beethoven ever saw one another again. For a poem that never progressed beyond its first line, Michelangelo once wrote, 'Du' occhi asciutti, e’ mie, fan tristi el mondo' (Two dry eyes, mine, make the world sad), and Goethe several centuries later said much the same thing in Wonne der Wehmut: eyes filled with tears see wonders while dry eyes can only contemplate a wasteland. Beethoven’s setting of Wonne der Wehmut, with its repeated 'falling tears' motif in the piano, is one of his most important and beautiful songs. One notes in particular the harmonies that underscore the adjectives 'öde' and 'todt' (desolate, dead), the expressive fragmentation of the vocal melody in places, and the heartfeltemphasis on 'unglücklicher [Liebe]' (unhappy love). The ingenuity with which Beethoven spins out the precisely paired rhythms of his first two measures into longer and longer vocal phrases is marvelous; the sense of something uncoiling, releasing itself as the persona sings, is palpable.

Sehnsucht, or 'Longing', is a crucial concept in late eighteenth-/ early nineteenth- century Romantic poetics, and Goethe’s initial questions, 'Was zieht mir das Herz so? / Was zieht mich hinaus?' (What tugs at my heart so? What draws me outside?), are its classic formulation … but here, the longing is for the sweetheart, not for distant Romantic realms. The opening vocal phrase, in an ingenious conception, is drawn upwards by ever-increasing melodic leaps, and the nifty idea recurs four times thereafter; this is a strophic song in which the singer’s melody stays the same, the only exception being the turn from the key of B minor in the first four verses (the 'schwarze Tonart', Beethoven called this key, traditionally associated with grief and mourning) to a brighter B major for the reunion with the sweetheart in the final stanza. Mit einem gemalten Band is a reminder of Goethe’s early allegiance to the Anakreontiker, those earlier eighteenth-century German poets who took their cue from the Greek poet Anacreon (sixth century B. C.). He, and they, sang of Eros, springtime, wine, crickets, roses, of reveling in all life’s beauty despite Time and the ticking clock which bear us to our deaths. Goethe did not remain long among the neo-Anacreontic poets, but before he left their company, he endowed the repertory with several masterpieces, and this is one of them. Until the final stanza, the sentiments seem conventional sugary compliments to a sweetheart (although one notes the doubled artistry of painted ribbon and written poem … One creates art to celebrate love and Nature), but at the end, Goethe shatters the rococo conventions. The sweetheart is bidden to feel what he feels, to give him her hand freely, to know that what links them is an enduring human bond with nothing frivolous about it. Beethoven got the point: the song trips along in an enchantingly mellifluous, pastoral vein until the first statement of the crucial verb in the imperative, 'Fühle' (Feel). When that word (indicative of the Goethean revolution in poetry) first appears, it is set apart by rests on either side, while the other crucial verb, 'verbindet' (that which binds us) is the occasion for a soaring mini-cadenza.

Gesang aus der Ferne, WoO 137, is a setting of a text from the third edition of Christian Reissig’s Blümchen der Einsamkeit; it became 'Anxiety of Absence, a favorite Arietta … by Lewis van Beethoven' when it was published in London in 1810, the same year as its initial appearances in Leipzig and Vienna. For this long song, Beethoven begins with an extended piano introduction, quite like the start of a sonatina, followed by the same strains varied and extended as the persona remembers how joyous, how dance-like, how full of nightingale song his life was when his sweetheart was with him. But now—and here the music changes key, meter, tempo, and mood— they are apart, and longing drives him into the heights to long for her. The vows that he has never loved anyone as he loves her lead to an ecstatic cadence on the crucial verb 'loved'; the final section is a quicker, livelier variation of the initial passage as the lover begs his distant sweetheart to transform his cottage into a temple of contentment, with her as its goddess. The text of Die laute Klage, WoO135, possibly composed in late 1814 or early 1815, comes from a compilation of Oriental poetic paraphrases in Johann Gottfried Herder’s 1792 Zerstreute Blätter. This complaint to the turtle dove who robs the lamenting lover of oblivion in sleep is filled with eloquent harmonic and melodic details: the dark chord that enshrouds the 'verschlossene Brust' is one, and so too is the huge outcry against love in mid-song and again near the end, before the song sinks to its mournful end. Unlike the famous and influential Herder, the poet of Lebensglück, Op 88, is unknown. On 22 October 1803, Beethoven’s friend Ferdinand Ries wrote the publisher Nicholas Simrock in Bonn to say that Beethoven had sent him the words of his new song, Glück der Freundschaft, the title subsequently altered for its publication that same year. The old axiom that 'shared joy is doubled, shared-sorrow dispelled' is brought to melodious life at the beginning and then flowers into a celebration of love, its joy made evident in the triplet figures in the piano—greater motion to tell of love’s vitality—and the trills of delight at song’s end.

Der Wachtelschlag, WoO129, belongs to the antique tradition of bird calls in music, in this instance, a bird whose calls invoke God ('Fear God … Love God … Praise God … Trust in God … Implore God', it sings). The words were written in 1796 by Samuel Friedrich Sauter (1766-1846), a village schoolmaster whose unpretentious poems were attributed to one 'Gottlieb Biedermeier'—a sarcastic appellation—'by Ludwig Eichrodt and Adolf Kußmaul in Munich’s Fliegende Blätter, thus giving rise to the stylistic term 'Biedermeier' for the period between revolutions in the German-speaking world (1815-1848). Sauter based his paraphrase, first published in 1798 in Carl Lang’s Taschenbuch für häusliche und gesellschaftliche Freuden, on a folk song widely known in the eighteenth century (Goethe knew it). It is a fascinating exercise to compare Beethoven’s setting with Schubert’s better-known setting, first printed in 1822, then revised as Op 68 in 1827: both men inevitably devised the same dotted rhythmic figure for the quail’s calls, 'Fürchte Gott! Liebe Gott! Danke Gott! Lobe Gott!', but almost everything else is different. Schubert’s artful Lied im Volkston is the voice of Nature, of the merry quail, while Beethoven takes the poem far more seriously and from the perspective of the human being who listens to these worshipful injunctions. Ranging farther afield tonally than his younger contemporary, Beethoven’s storms are more tempestuous (the low bass rumble of thunder is a particularly wonderful detail), his acclamations of God’s praise grander, and his pleas for God’s aid more plangent.

Beethoven met Christoph August Tiedge, the poet whose Lied An die Hoffnung had inspired Op 32, in the summer of 1811. In October of that year, the composer wrote to Tiedge with a request for a new copy of Urania because he could not locate one; Tiedge obliged with a new edition from 1808, printed three years after the 1805 song, and Beethoven found in it five additional lines with which to begin his second, thoroughly reconceived setting of 'An die Hoffnung' published as Op 94 in April 1816. This introduction puts Hope in a different context from the earlier version because eschatological, beginning with one of the Enlightenment’s foremost questions: 'Is there a God?' Tiedge’s persona gives Religion’s stock reply, 'Mankind must hope! Do not ask!', but Beethoven clearly took the quest for answers to such grave existential matters seriously indeed. The introduction has a key signature but is so thoroughly shot through with chromaticism and enharmony that we do not know where we are tonally (or metaphysically)—until the end, when the certainty of Hope brings us to a lighter, sweeter place. In this extended setting, the invocation of midnight and Fate is accompanied by Beethoven’s 'cosmic', full-textured, throbbing chords in the piano, while the hope for 'an angel above who acknowledges our tears' elicits a grand, glorious melodic vault into the empyrean, repeated numerous times. The aria-like song ends with a final soft acclamation to Hope, and the fact that there is no piano postlude reminds us of the touching conclusion of 'Andenken'.

Beethoven originally subtitled An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98, completed in April 1816, 'six songs', but changed the designation to 'Liederkreis', or song cycle, for publication. For the second edition, the words 'set to music with accompaniment by pianoforte' on the title page were altered to read 'for voice and piano', suggesting the unusual degree of parity between the two musical forces that one finds here. The composition of this work followed both in the wake of multiple crises and in their midst: the loss of the 'immortal beloved' in 1812, depression that might have produced a suicide attempt in 1813, a family quarrel over his brother Nikolaus Johann’s affair with a housekeeper, the failure of a series of public concerts of his works, the death or departure of almost all of his most loyal patrons, the beginning in 1815 of the controversies about his nephew Karl, and a compositional crisis about what path to take after the bombastic pastiches of his 'heroic style' in works such as 'Wellington’s Victory'. An die ferne Geliebte—a genuine cycle whose circular shape is emblematic of the eternal—led him out of his musical dilemma and subsequently exerted an enormous influence on later nineteenth-century composers; one need only think of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, which also comes full circle but to different effect. An amateur poet Alois Jeitteles (1794-1858) with no other claim to fame would seem a mismatch for one of Western music’s greatest composers, but the 20-year-old medical student who sent his poems to Beethoven had struck gold with twin themes that mattered hugely to his older contemporary: the sublimation of erotic desire into art and the power of art to dissolve time and space so that reunion with the beloved might be possible. When she hears his song and sings it back to him, she overcomes all that separates them.

When Beethoven begins the first song, Auf dem Hügel sitz’ ich spähend, with only a single chord before the singer enters, he already signals the suddenness with which the persona’s thoughts in this first 'psychological song cycle' give way to others. The first song seems to end after five statements of its perfectly constructed melody, the piano figuration varied each time, but that 'ending' then metamorphoses into another key—this is one of the 'magic moments' in this cycle—to initiate the second song, Wo die Berge so blau. Thereafter, each song culminates in a corridor-like passage for the piano leading directly into the next segment of this six-part song; the only truly final cadence is the last one. In another influential compositional decision, Beethoven signals the inwardness of these reflections by having the singer chant the second stanza of song No 2 on a single pitch while the piano, enveloping the vocal line on either side, takes over the melody established in the first verse. Lest we miss the focus on emotional life rather than narration, Beethoven repeats the words “inner pain” in the third stanza to accents and dissonances that spell out just how bitter such pain is. For the third song, Leichte Segler in den Höhen, the composer wittily converts birds flying amidst puffs of cloud into separated syllables of vocal melody-light and airy indeed. When the birds descend to the bare autumnal bushes and the persona bids them bear his lamentation to the beloved, Beethoven turns to parallel minor and stays there for the remainder of the song, the separated syllables turning into stylized gasps of pain. Whenever sorrow intrudes, however, the protagonist resolutely converts it into celebrations of Nature, love, shared joy, vitality, and song in No 4, Diese Wolken in den Höhen, and No 5, Es kehret der Mai. He even bursts into trilled birdsong in the corridor between those two songs; both Nature and the persona are artificers of song. With its lilting open intervals in the left-hand part, Es kehret der Mai is the essence of all things pastoral in the German folk-like art-song … until the end, when tears reappear. But this is sorrow’s last foray: in the sublime sixth song, Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder, the protagonist is finally able to conquer his pain by bidding the distant beloved sing these very songs. The pulsating chords—Beethoven’s wonderfully stock gesture for cosmic aspects of Nature—that tell of the last rays of sunset glowing on the surface of the lake and behind the mountains and the erotic tenderness with which the persona dwells on the words 'und du singst' (and you willsing) are purest desire transformed by an act of ultimate metamorphosis into poetry and song. Now he can come full circle and return to the first song, expanded and made joyous. Art’s power not only to overcome pain but to exhilarate, to triumph over all in its path, resounds here.

Susan Youens © 2009

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