Liebe, Hess 137 world premiere performance by Dominic Armstrong and George Lepauw (mp3, 7 MB)

Liebe, Hess 137 world premiere performance by Dominic Armstrong and George Lepauw (mp3, 7 MB)
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Performer: Dominic Armstrong, George Lepauw
Length: 7:23
Liebe, Hess 137, synthesized version as completed by Willem (mp3)
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Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Length: 4:28
Ich wiege dich in meinem Arm (Liebe), Hess 137 (1797)

We are pleased to present here one of the most notable discoveries of The Unheard Beethoven to date: identification and reconstruction of the lost song, "Ich wiege dich in meinem Arm" Hess 137. Known for years only from a price list scrawled by Beethoven in 1822, this was one of several songs Beethoven considered offering to publisher C.F. Peters. However, Peters rejected the songs Beethoven did offer, and as a result nothing further was done with the song, which languished in Beethoven's sketches. It did not help matters that scholars were looking for the comic title "Ich schwinge dich in meinem Dom" (I Swing You in My Cathedral) for many years, thanks to a mistranscription of Beethoven's notoriously sloppy handwriting.

However, we were at last able to identify the text of the song, which Beethoven only indicated by the first line, as belonging to the poem "Liebe" by Friedrich Wilhelm August Schmidt. Schmidt was born on 25 March 1764 in the village of Fahrland, today a district of Potsdam. Schmidt was a Protestant clergyman and the author of minor rural-naive poems, of some limited local notoriety. He did, however, manage to draw the criticism and ridicule of several well-known writers of the time, including Goethe, who mercilessly parodied Schmidt's style.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Schmidt (1764-1838)

Schmidt was one in a long succession of Protestant pastors. Friedrich's father died when the son was but nine years old, and his mother moved with her five children to nearby Doberitz. At the age of ten years, Schmidt came to the orphanage in Berlin. From 1781 to 1783 he attended the Berlin High School of the Grauen Kloster (Grey Abbey) on a scholarship, studied theology from 1783 to 1786 in Halle, and then got a poorly-paid job as a military chaplain at the Berlin Invalides, a nursing and care facility for Prussian veterans.

In 1790 Schmidt married his fiancee Henriette Brendel, the object and dedicatee of many of his poems. He was appointed to a pastorate in Werneuchen, a small town 30 kilometers east of Berlin, in 1795, a change that Schmidt greatly welcomed. Henriette died in 1809, aged only 39. Schmidt's verses are primarily praises of the beauty of country life, and he made clear his discomfort with life in cities. His work thus would have been of appeal to the pastorally-inclined Beethoven. The principal subjects of his verse are simple everyday objects and observations.

The poem "Liebe" was first published by Johann Christian Dietrich in Goettingen in the 1790 Musenalmanach, a popular series of tiny volumes containing poems, essays and often music; Beethoven first published his setting of Der Bardengeist in another volume of Musenalmanach in 1814. Another Musenalmanach for 1790, one published by Voss, was probably Beethoven's source for Adelaide, op.46, so these were books with which he was very familiar.

An Henriette B.

Ich wiege dich in meinem Arm.
Wovon ist dir dein Haendchen warm?
Ach! ist so warm von Liebe!

Wovon, mein liebes Maedchen, o!
Wovon brennt dir die Wange so?
Ach! brennt dir so von Liebe!

Wovon mein liebes Maedchen, o!
Wovon schlaegt dir dein Herzchen so?
Ach! schlaegt dir so von Liebe!

Wovon, o Maedchen schmeichelt so
Dein blaues Auge mild und froh?
Ach! schmeichelt so von Liebe!

Wovon, ach! ist dein Kuss so suess,
Wie Pisang war im Paradies?
Ach! ist so suess von Liebe!

Und deiner Engelstimme Ton,
O! floetet ja so suess! wovon?
Ach! floetet so von Liebe!

Ich wieg' in meinem Arme dich;
Sieh her! mit Thraenen freu' ich mich,
O Maedchen, deiner Liebe!

F.W.A. Schmidt

In English translation by Mark S. Zimmer:

To Henriette B.

I cradle you in my arms.
What makes your hands so warm?
Oh, it is the warmth of love!

What, my dear girl, oh!
What makes your cheek burn so?
Oh, you burn so with love!

What, my dear girl, oh!
What makes your heart beat thus?
Oh, it beats so from love!

What, o girl, so flatters
Your blue eyes mild and happy?
Oh, so flattered by love!

What, oh! makes your kiss so sweet,
As a banana was in Paradise?
Oh, it is so sweet from love!

And the sound of your angelic voice,
Oh, it warbles so, so sweet! What?
Oh, it warbles of love!

I cradle you in my arms;
Behold! I become tearful with delight,
O girl, in your love!

Armed with the lyrics, we began examining the sketches for something that might fit. Then Willem had a revelation: he recalled seeing the strange phrase "Pisang war im Paradies" before. "Pisang" is a Malayan word for banana, and since Indonesia was a Dutch colony, it entered into Dutch, and apparently also into German at some time during the 18th century. Following his instincts, Willem found the spot in the Kafka Miscellany, held by the British Library, where he had seen that.

Not only had Beethoven set that odd phrase twice, but there was also a continuity draft for the entire song and a revised version of the last two verses written by Beethoven. The snippets of text Beethoven wrote down made the identification conclusive: the sketch includes the words or phrases "wovon," "Und deiner Engel," and "Sieh her! mit thraenen freu' ich mich," all of which appear in Pastor Schmidt's poem.

The continuity draft is a complete vocal line, with some verses set in more than one way. Beethoven also includes a piano introduction as well as several ritornelli for between the verses. Although Schmidt's poem seems to call for a strophic setting, Beethoven has through-composed the entire thing, with no two verses quite the same.

A careful reading of Beethoven's sketches makes one thing clear: in his pre-Freudian time Beethoven nevertheless saw the hilarity in the phrase "Pisang war im Paradies," setting it three different ways. The next verse contains an arpeggio sinuously working its way upward; the picture is fairly obvious that Beethoven saw the author as lusting after poor Henriette, and slipping his hand up beneath her skirts. In the last verse, Beethoven's setting becomes increasingly insistent and frenetic, as the lover urges over and over "Sieh her! mit thraenen," culminating on a high held note that then descends back to the tonic in post-coital bliss. And does one detect echoes of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus in the coda? In effect, this entire song is a musical dirty joke.

Based on the clues in the handwriting, and the use of a certain kind of paper, we can with some confidence date this song to 1797 (possibly late 1796), so it is roughly contemporary with the op.5 cello sonatas and the op. 10 piano sonatas, as well as the song Adelaide, with which it shares some characteristics.

We provide herewith an mp3 of Willem's realization of the song, and also an mp3 of the world premiere performance of the song by tenor Dominic Armstrong and pianist George Lepauw, from September 8, 2013 at the Chicago Beethoven Festival.

Hess: 137

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