Adelaïde (German pronunciation: [aːdəlaːˈiːdə]) is a song for solo voice and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was written in 1795-1796, when the composer was about 25 years old, and published as his Opus 46.
The work is in B-flat major and is written for a tenor or soprano voice, though it is also performed in transposed versions by other voices. A performance of the song lasts about six minutes.
The text of "'Adelaïde'" is an early Romantic poem written in German by Friedrich von Matthisson (1761-1831). The poem expresses an outpouring of yearning for an idealized and apparently unattainable woman.
- Einsam wandelt dein Freund im Frühlingsgarten,
- Mild vom lieblichen Zauberlicht um flossen,
- Das durch wankende Blüthenzweige zittert,
- In der spiegelnden Fluth, im Schnee der Alpen,
- In des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölken,
- In Gefilde der Sterne strahlt dein Bildniss,
- Abendlüftchen im zarten Laube flüstern,
- Silberglöckchen des Mais im Grase säuseln,
- Wellen rauschen und Nachtigallen flöten,
- Einst, o Wunder! entblüht auf meinem Grabe,
- Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens
- Deutlich schimmert auf jedem Purpurblättchen:
- Your friend wanders alone in the garden of spring,
- Gently bathed in lovely magical light,
- Which shimmers through the swaying branches of flowers:
- In the reflection of the river, in the snows of the Alps,
- In the golden clouds of sinking day,
- In the fields of stars thy face beams forth,
- Evening breezes whisper through the tender leaves
- The silver bells at Maytime rustle in the grass,
- Waves roar and nightingales sing,
- Some day, o miracle! a flower will blossom,
- Upon my grave from the ashes of my heart;
- And clearly on every violet petal will shine:
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 wrote to the poet (see link below) testifies to his deep emotional engagement with this poem.
The song is through-composed (Ger. durchkomponiert), meaning that every stanza is assigned its own notes.
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 Barry 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: "Adelaïde."
Publication and reception
"Adelaïde" was published by Artaria in Vienna, with a dedication to Matthisson. Beethoven was quite late in presenting Matthisson with a copy, fearing the poet would not like it, but in fact Matthisson felt it was the finest of all the settings made of his poem.
Of Beethoven's songs (a minor genre for this composer), "Adelaïde" is one of the most popular, and it is included in most recorded anthologies.
The work was popular in Beethoven's day, and went through many editions; see this link for a partial listing. Various composers, including Henri Cramer, Sigismond Thalberg and Franz Liszt (who actually wrote 3 versions, S.466) prepared arrangements of the song for solo piano.
In the nineteenth century, the critic Eduard Hanslick called "Adelaïde" "the only song by Beethoven the loss of which would leave a gap in the emotional life of our nation."
^ Barry Cooper's remark is taken from his commentary on the recording by tenor Peter Schreier and pianist András Schiff, Decca 444-817-2.
^ Carla Ramsay's essay quoted above appears on the Web site of the Jussi Bjoerling Society; follow this link.
Rosen, Charles (1997) The Classical Style. Norton.