Ludwig van Beethoven, Sehnsucht; Die Stille Nacht Undunkelt
Another beautiful, haunting lied, of which a poem was set to music by Beethoven.
Sung by one of my favourite Beethoven lieder singers, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
A sense of yearning (Ger.: “Sehnsucht”) seems to have been at the core of Beethoven’s psyche; of his songs for solo voice, six bear the title “Sehnsucht,” and a number of others — most notably his seminal song cycle An die ferne Geliebte — deal with themes of longing and desire. The last of the composer’s “yearning” songs is a setting of a poem by Christian Ludwig Reissig — a Viennese acquaintance of the composer — completed between the end of 1815 and the beginning of 1816.
Beethoven’s sketchbooks were disproportionately devoted to the working out of text setting for songs and other vocal works. The composer strove for originality while trying to be faithful to the proper declamation of the text. We know from surviving sketches (now housed at Princeton University) that Beethoven spent a good deal of time working out the shape of the melodic line of the present Sehnsucht. The song was published in 1816 by Artaria in Vienna.
Reissig’s verses tell of a man yearning for the presence of the woman he loves. To him the world is shrouded in the darkness of night, and birds are silent. He cannot sleep, and wishes the “Gott der Ruh” (god of rest) would come to him and bring a dream of his sweetheart to give him hope.
Beethoven’s varied strophic setting maintains the same melody for each verse with decorative changes in the accompaniment. Thus, the piano part, not the voice, reflects the meaning of the text. Sehnsucht begins with a piano introduction based on what become the first two measures of the voice part. After the voice enters, the piano accompaniment becomes less active, reflecting the stillness of the night described in the first verse. As the narrator tells of his sleepless nights in the second verse, the accompaniment features fleeting, disconnected figures in the right hand, conveying a sense of restlessness. During the third verse, in which the lonesome lover acquires renewed hope, the piano part shifts to an animated, constant, sixteenth-note triplet rhythm. ~ Rovi