Eight Variations for Piano on "Ich hab' ein kleines Huettchen nur," Anh. 10 (mp3)
Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Author: Mark S. Zimmer
In 1830, a few years after Beethoven's death, a set of 8 variations, said to have been composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, on a song called 'Ich hab' ein kleines Huettchen nur' ('I've got only a little hut'), was first published.
According to Max Friedlaender in his book 'Das Deutsche Lied im 18. Jahrhundert,' the melody was very popular in the 2nd half of the 18th century, but it was being sung on the text 'Gestern Abend war Vetter Michael da' ('Yesterday evening cousin Michael was there'). Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719-1803) made new verses in 1775 to the well-known tune: 'Ich hab' ein kleines Huettchen nur'. Although the text is a bit flimsy (and frankly a little creepy to a modern reader), we should point out that Gleim was one of the most popular German poets before Goethe; there is an 1816 letter by Beethoven to the publisher Steiner, in which he asks for the latest editions of poems by Klopstock and Gleim (Anderson, vol.2, letter 708). Gleim also was the poet of "Selbstgespräch," set by Beethoven as WoO 114 in about 1793.
Once we start to actually listen to the music, we note that these variations are in fact pretty good. They are capable of holding our attention till the end, and, although no real character variations, they offer plenty of contrast. In the first three variations the music becomes gradually more and more brilliant. The fourth, in the minor key, is a little lament. At the return to the major key, at the start of the fifth variation, three chromatic notes in the bass give a hint of danger. The sixth variation shows that the composer had quite some mastery over counterpoint. Funny chromatic runs through all the registers of the piano in the seventh variation do sound very characteristic of Beethoven. The last variation has an appropriate liveliness, while the short coda employs the same harmonic device with which Beethoven's variations on a Russian Dance, WoO 71, also end.
Musically, there is nothing in the variations WoO Anh. 10 to suggest that Beethoven could not have been the composer. It can be compared with established sets of variations by Beethoven like the ones over an original theme in G, WoO 77, or over "Nel cor piu non mi sento", WoO 70. If one compares it to the other variations on Diabelli's Waltz composed by the leading composers of the day, it's clear that Beethoven was in a class of his own for composing such variations, and the vast majority of the composers of the day were capable of only leaden and pedantic variations quite unlike this set. Having said that, there were a few other composers who might also have written this set of variations. We are forced to agree with Hess that there is no conclusive evidence one way or another. But at least you are now given the opportunity to hear the variations and judge for yourself.
One of the arguments that Kinsky-Halm made against the authenticity of these variations was that Gleim's poem was never set to this music, while Beethoven would have been familiar with the "cousin Michael" version. However, Dorfmueller, in his updating of Kinsky-Halm, notes that Beethoven could in fact have been familiar with Gleim's poem being set to this melody: it appeared as Lied nr. 3 in "Sammlung neuer Lieder Zum Singen beim Clavier" (Collection of New Songs to be Sung by the Clavier) by J.F. Sterkel, published in 1787. So, "possible, but not proven" is the conclusion we have to come to. No sketches for it in Beethoven's sketchbooks are known to survive, though again the record is incomplete. It is worth noting that the editors of Breitkopf & Haertel's Gesamtausgabe were willing to include it as a Beethoven work, while a great many other spurious and doubtful works did not make the cut.
Ich hab' ein kleines Hüttchen nur, Steht vest auf einer Wiesenflur, Die Wiesenflur, ist groß, ist schoen! Willst mit in's Hüttchen gehn? Am Hüttchen klein, steht groß ein Baum, Vor welchem siehst das Huettchen kaum, Schützt gegen Sonne, Kält' und Wind, All' die darinnen sind! Sitzt auf dem Baum' ein Nachtigall Singt auf dem Baum so süßen Schall, Daß jeder, der vorüber geht Ihm horcht, und stille steht! Fließt unterm Baume hell ein Bach Schwatzt alles süß dem Vogel nach, In diesem Hüttchen bin allein, Mag's länger nicht mehr seyn! O du, mein Leibstes auf der Welt! Das Hüttchen dir gewiß gefällt; Bist zärtlich! Rauhe Winde wehn, Willst mit in's Hüttchen gehn? ---Johann Ludwig Gleim
English translation by Mark S. Zimmer:
I've got only a little hut, Which stands on a grassy meadow, The meadow is large, it's lovely! Do you want to go in my hut? At my little hut stands a tall tree, That prevents you from seeing my little hut, It protects from the sun, cold and wind, All who are in it! A nightingale sits in the tree, Sings in the tree so sweet a sound That everyone who passes by Stays still, and listens! A stream flows under the tall tree, Babbles sweet along with the bird, In this hut I am alone, I wish that would no longer be! O my dearest in the world! The hut you certainly will like. You're sensitive! The harsh winds blow, Do you want to go in my hut?