Tuesday, June 7, 2011

6/7 The Elegiac Song (3 Versions)

Beethoven's Elegischer Gesang Op. 118 has the unusual instrumentation of chorus and string quartet.  Though it's more commonly performed with a a string orchestra these days, it was originally scored with a quartet in mind and the video below features just that.

The Elegiac Song was composed during the summer of 1814 in memory of Eleanore von Pasqualati, the wife of Baron Johann (Beethoven's frequent and favorite landlord beginning in 1804), who had died in childbirth three years earlier. Her music-loving husband, the Empress Maria Theresia's physician, not only tolerated Beethoven's obsessive-compulsive changes of residence but made him feel a member of the family. We don't know who wrote the words, originally assigned to four singers and string quartet and later reworked for small chorus and string orchestra without double-basses. The music, which raises its voice only on the words "himmlischen Geistes," is indubitably the heartfelt product of its composer; its brevity alone is the reason we hear it so seldom in concert. 

(Actually Allmusic's info may be a bit out of date since I've read from other sources that Op.118 was still in sketch phase in 1814 and that modern scholars actually think the vocal group was originally for chorus, not 4 soloists.  The text was possibly written by Ignaz Franz von Castelli.)

Sanft, wie du lebtest, 
hast du vollendet, 
zu heilig für den Schmerz!
Kein Auge wein' ob 
des himmlischen Geistes Heimkehr.
Gently, as you lived,
have you died,
too holy for sorrow!
Let no eye shed tears
for the spirit's heavenly homecoming.

Elegischer Gesang Op. 118
Emory Mastersingers , Jonathan Arnold, conductor
VEGA String Quartet, 3/27/2011


In keeping with the idea that no one is exactly sure what the instrumentation is supposed to be for this work I took the liberty of sequencing a version for guitar and winds (HERE), as well as a version for piano and winds (HERE).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for linking to the video! This piece was the first one I programmed in the recital. I love it!