Opferlied, first version, Hess 145 (mp3)
Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
This first version dates from as early as 1796. Almost 30 years later Beethoven would finish this song, and publish it as opus 121b (1824) (cf. Hess 91 for the final version, also available on this site).
At first glance the first version looks very different from the final version, but appearances deceive. Beethoven has simply halved the note values in the later version (and prescribed a slower tempo to compensate for that change); the melody is in fact almost identical.
All this (the long time elapsed before the completion of the final version, and the similarity between the two versions) may be of some relevance to a question related to a well known piece by Beethoven: the Ode to Joy. We know that once there existed a first setting of the "Ode an die Freude", which is now lost, but which was nevertheless assigned a number: Hess 143. How we all would love to hear that setting!
In both cases (Opferlied and Ode an die Freude) Beethoven was haunted by the texts for several decades, in both cases he wrote a first version around 1796, in both cases he only managed to find the final form in the early 1820's. Given the similarity of the melody in the two versions of the Opferlied, it may not be too far fetched to assume that the famous tune of the finale of the Ninth Symphony was already used in one form or another in the now lost first setting of the Ode to Joy.