Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) was a German
composer and pianist. Beethoven remains one of the most
admired composers in the history of Western music; his
works rank amongst the most performed of the classical
music repertoire. His works span the transition from
the classical period to the romantic era in classical
His first major orchestral work, the First Symphony,
appeared in 1800, and his first set of string quartets
was published in 1801. During this period, his hearing
began to deteriorate, but he continued to conduct,
premiering his Third and Fifth Symphonies in 1804 and
1808, respectively. His Violin Concerto appeared in
1806. His last piano concerto (No. 5, Op. 73, known as
the 'Emperor'), dedicated to his frequent patron
Archduke Rudolf of Austria, was premiered in 1810, but
not with Beethoven as soloist. He was almost completely
deaf by 1814, and he then gave up performing and
appearing in public. He described his problems with
health and his unfulfilled personal life in two
letters, his "Heiligenstadt Testament" (1802) to his
brothers and his unsent love letter to an unknown
"Immortal Beloved" (1812).
In the years from 1810, increasingly less socially
involved, Beethoven composed many of his most admired
works including his later symphonies and his mature
chamber music and piano sonatas. His only opera,
Fidelio, which had been first performed in 1805, was
revised to its final version in 1814. He composed his
Missa Solemnis in the years 1819–1823, and his final,
Ninth, Symphony, one of the first examples of a choral
symphony, in 1822–1824. Written in his last years, his
late string quartets of 1825–26 are amongst his final
achievements. After some months of bedridden illness,
he died in 1827. Beethoven's works remain mainstays of
the classical music repertoire.
Like the Eight Songs Op. 52, those of Op. 75 were
neither composed at the same time nor intended to form
a set. Unlike the earlier publication, the songs of op.
75 are clearly the works of a more mature Beethoven.
Dedicated to Princess Caroline Kinsky, the six songs
were published simultaneously in Leipzig and London in
October 1810 by Breitkopf und Härtel.
Beethoven once told Bettina Brentano, "Goethe's poems
have great power over me, I am turned up and stimulated
to composition by his language...." Not surprisingly,
the most intriguing songs of op. 75 are settings of
texts by Goethe. "Mignon" ("Kennst du das Land?") is
from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre of 1795.
Beethoven's music parallels Goethe's description of
Mignon's performance. At the fourth line of each
strophe, where Goethe indicates that Mignon sings in a
"more somber" manner, Beethoven moves to a minor
harmony. Also, Beethoven changes tempo and meter when
Mignon cries, "Dahin, dahin!" ("Over there, over
there!"), expressing greater urgency.
The second song of the set, Goethe's "Neue Liebe, Neues
Leben," had been sketched in 1792, completed in 1799,
and printed by Simrock in 1808 as WoO 127. Beethoven
revised it for publication as part of op. 75, and in so
doing created one of his most advanced through-composed
art songs. After the second strophe, a linking passage
leads to a return of both text and music of the first
two strophes, but this time with a different
modulation. Another link introduces the third strophe,
with new text and music.
Also a revision of an earlier setting, "Aus Goethe's
Faust" (Mephisto's Flea-song) is a Gesellschaftslied
("community song"), with a chorus entering at the
close, singing "Wir knicken und ersticken / Doch gleich
wenn einer sticht." (We snap it and smother it / As
soon as one bites.) The chorus melody appears three
times earlier in the solo part, at the close of every
other strophe, thus acting as a refrain, but with
changing text. The piano introduction conjures an image
of hopping fleas, while the relatively low register of
the voice part (written for tenor) alludes to the
diabolical nature of the narrator. Rapidly repeated
piano chords during the chorus's final word resemble
laughter, as do the ensuing slurred notes. Furthermore,
Beethoven marked that the slurred notes in the right
hand are to be played with the thumb only, the
resultant sliding motion evoking the image of someone
squashing a flea.
Composed in 1795, "Gretels Warning," with text by
Gerhard Anton von Halem, is the oldest of the set. "An
den fernen Geliebten" and "Der Zufriedene" (nos. 5 and
6) are among Beethoven's briefest songs-ten and fifteen
measures long, respectively-and were composed in 1809.
The poems are by Viennese poet Christian Ludwig
Reissig, a personal acquaintance of Beethoven..
Although originally composed for Voice & Piano, I
created this Interpretation of the Ballade de "Mignon"
from 6 Gesänge (Op. 75 No. 1) for String Quartet (2
Violins, Viola & Cello).