, 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.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2009