Ludwig van Beethoven - Adelaide, op.46 (Elizabeth Parcells)
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"Adelaide", Op.46, is a song for solo voice and piano composed in about 1795 by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The text is a poem in German by Friedrich von Matthisson (1761–1831).
The poem clearly struck a chord with Beethoven, whose personal life often centered on his yearnings for idealized and unattainable women.
The letter of thanks that Beethoven later wrote to the Matthisson testifies to his deep emotional engagement with this poem.
"Adelaide" is in the key of B-flat major; the vocal range is appropriate for a tenor or soprano voice (it is also performed in transposed versions by other voices). A performance lasts about six minutes. The song is through-composed, meaning that every stanza is set to different music.
Beethoven treated the text in two parts. The first, covering the first three stanzas, is set larghetto and marked dolce. There is a triplet accompaniment in the piano, with many modulations through the flat keys, creating a dreamy atmosphere. As Cooper remarks, "the lover sees his beloved wherever he wanders, and the music correspondingly wanders through a great range of keys and rhythms."
The second part of Beethoven's song sets the extravagant death fantasy of the final stanza, in which flowers sprout from poet's grave to express his undying love. Strikingly, Beethoven sets this stanza in tones not of despair but of ecstasy; the tempo marking is allegro molto. In an essay on this song, Carla Ramsey offers an almost lurid account of the final section:
"A culmination of the yearnings expressed in the earlier part of the song, the Allegro molto might be viewed as a kind of triumphal march in which the young lover exults in a death and a transfiguration whereby he is symbolically united with his beloved... The march crescendos and culminates on F above middle C with an impassioned outcry of the beloved's name. The final eleven measures, marked calando, musically portray an almost post-coital relaxation of the exhausted lover into his lover's arms with a dying, prayer-like exhalation: "Adelaide."
Beethoven was quite late in presenting Matthisson with a copy of his song, fearing the poet would not like it. In fact, Matthisson appreciated the song greatly; he later wrote (in an 1825 introduction to an edition of his collected poems):
"Several composers have animated this little lyrical fantasy through music; I am firmly convinced however that none of them so threw the text into the shade with their melody as did the genius Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna."
Of Beethoven's songs (a minor genre for this composer), "Adelaide" is one of the most popular, and it is included in most recorded anthologies.
The work was especially popular in Beethoven's day, and went through many editions. Various composers, including Sigismond Thalberg and Franz Liszt (who wrote three versions, S.466) prepared arrangements of the song for solo piano. Later in the nineteenth century, the critic Eduard Hanslick called "Adelaide" "the only song by Beethoven the loss of which would leave a gap in the emotional life of our nation."
The song is less well-known today; the New Grove calls it "once-popular".