Monday, December 29, 2014

Beethoven - Adelaide, Opus 46

Germany has a long tradition of Lieder (songs) that began as early as the 12th century with the sung poems of the troubadors as well as church music and folk song.  Late in the 18th century the Romantic Movement began in Europe, and flowered in Germanic countries somewhat later than other areas. Writers, poets and playwrights such as Goethe, Heine, Herder and many others attempted to create a synthesis of philosophy, art and science.  As the movement grew, so did the use of highly dramatic, emotional and psychological prose. But not all Germanic Romantic literature was serious. There was room for humor as well as tension, simple words that reflected the wonder of nature as well as author's soul-searching seriousness.

Lieder for solo voice and bass continuo that were written in the Baroque era gave way to songs written for voice with keyboard accompaniment. C.P.E. Bach was an early composer of this kind of lied which moved away from the complexity of polyphony and figured bass to a simpler style. Haydn, Mozart and other composers of the Classical era continued to develop the form, but lied was considered a lesser form in the late 18th century.

Before Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792 he had already written lieder in Bonn.  Beethoven had become a voracious reader, perhaps to try and make up for a poor general education. He came to know the early Romantic writers and set many poems to music.  With over 60 lieder, Beethoven showed at least a passing interest in the form. He carried on a young tradition of voice and piano compositions that led the way to the first true master of German Lieder, Franz Schubert.

One of Beethoven's most popular songs  is set to a poem by Friedrich von Matthisson, a poet of the Romantic movement.  The song was written after Beethoven settled in Vienna. It was published in 1797 and was dedicated to the poet. In 1800 Beethoven sent a copy of the song to Matthisson along with a letter:
Friedrich von Matthisson
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,- You will receive with this one of my compositions published some years since, and yet, to my shame, you probably have never heard of it. I cannot attempt to excuse myself, or to explain why I dedicated a work to you which came direct from my heart, but never acquainted you with its existence, unless indeed in this way, that at first I did not know where you lived, and partly also from diffidence, which led me to think I might have been premature in dedicating a work to you before ascertaining that you approved of it. Indeed, even now I send you "Adelaide" with a feeling of timidity. You know yourself what changes the lapse of some years brings forth in an artist who continues to make progress; the greater the advances we make in art, the less are we satisfied with our works of an earlier date. My most ardent wish will be fulfilled if you are not dissatisfied with the manner in which I have set your heavenly "Adelaide" to music, and are incited by it soon to compose a similar poem; and if you do not consider my request too indiscreet, I would ask you to send it to me forthwith, that I may exert all my energies to approach your lovely poetry in merit. Pray regard the dedication as a token of the pleasure which your "Adelaide" conferred on me, as well as of the appreciation and intense delight your poetry always has inspired, and always will inspire in me. When playing "Adelaide," sometimes recall 
Your sincere admirer, 

Beethoven's worrying about whether Matthison liked the song turned out to be for nothing. A collection of Matthison's poems was published in 1825 and in the introduction Matthison wrote:
Several composers have animated this little lyrical fantasy through music; I am firmly convinced however that none of them so threw the text into the shade with their melody as did the genius Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna.
Adelaide was very popular in Beethoven's day and it went through many editions. As written, the song couild be sung by soprano or tenor voice, but it has been transposed to make it more suitable for other voices:

Alone does your friend wander in the Spring garden,
Mildly encircled by magic light
That quivers through swaying, blossoming boughs,

 In the mirroring stream, in the snow of the Alps,
In the dying day's golden clouds,
In the fields of stars, your image shines,

Evening breezes whisper in the tender leaves,
Silvery lilies-of-the-valley rustle in the grass,
Waves murmur and nightingales pipe:

One day, o wonder! upon my grave will bloom
A flower from the ashes of my heart;
And clearly on every purple leaf will gleam:

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