Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. Bonn, 1770; d. Vienna, 1827)

An die ferne Geliebte ("To the distant beloved"), song cycle for voice and piano, op. 98 (1815-16),
on a cycle of poems by Alois Jeitteles (1794-1858) - Arranged for voice and orchestra by Felix Weingartner


An die ferne Geliebte, Beethoven's song cycle of 1816, is an anomaly in his oeuvre. Not only is it his only song cycle, it stands at the head of its genre as the forebear of all later cycles by Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf. Yet no other cycle is like it for its carefully gradated key scheme, its subtly calibrated piano interludes, its cleverly concealed motivic relations, and the extraordinarily personal, almost confessional tone of its musical imagery. It stands at the onset of his "late" period, yet none of his later works remotely resemble it. Clearly it had great personal significance for the composer, but what, exactly, did it signify?
Here we can turn to the unique vantage point of a young woman who knew Beethoven at close quarters at the time that he was composing An die ferne Geliebte: Franziska ("Fanny") Giannattasio del Rio (1790-1873), a daughter of the headmaster of an elite Viennese boarding school. In January 1816 Beethoven approached the family seeking a school for his nephew Karl, over whom he had just received court custody. Fanny recalled the event in her memoirs:
"It was in January of 1816 that [Beethoven] came to our house for the first time to enroll his beloved Karl in the institute my father had built up since 1798. This was an especially delightful occasion for the daughters, and I can still see the way Beethoven turned energetically to and fro and the way we ignored his interpreter-companion Herr Bernhard [...] and spoke directly into his ear: for even at that time one had to be quite close to him in order to make oneself understood."
Karl was duly enrolled at Giannattasio del Rio's school, and Beethoven visited the family often while keeping tabs on his development. Fanny's feelings soon took a dangerous turn. On 17 November 1816 she confided to her diary:
"Beethoven dropped by today.[...] It has been a long time since I found him so interesting. Everything he says is worthwhile. [...] As foolish as it is to write this, I must do so for the sake of my feelings [...] He took no more notice of me. But what do I want, foolish girl! I must be satisfied that he is still as fond of me as he obviously is."
Probably in the early months of their acquaintance Beethoven arrived to show the family the freshly-composed song cycle, which was finished in April and published in mid-1816. The effect was immediate and overwhelming:
"One day he came with An die entfernte Geliebte [the original title in the MS] to words by Jeitteles, and father wanted me to accompany my sister on the pianoforte. [Beethoven] watched me suffer in my fright, then with the words 'Go away' he sat down at the pianoforte and played the accompaniment himself. [...] When my sister asked whether she had done anything wrong he merely answered: 'No, it was fine, but here' - pointing to a place where no slur was indicated - 'here you have to carry the note over'. That was the sort of shortcoming he noticed."
Beethoven's own shortcomings were also overlooked: "He always presented a full picture of the piece he was performing; at least that was so with his piano accompaniment to An die ferne Geliebte, for he sat there full of emotion."
But what was the object of his emotions? The ever-curious Fanny wished to know this as well. One day while visiting him she noticed a slip of paper on which she read: "My heart fills to overflowing with the sights of lovely nature - but without her!" - exactly the subject matter of his new song cycle! Beethoven, she rightly concluded, was unhappy in love. She persisted in her questions, and received an answer as open as any that has come down to us from the great composer:
"Five years ago he had met a woman and would have considered a union with her the greatest happiness of his life. It was not to be countenanced [...] nevertheless 'it is now as on the first day'.[...] But it had never come to a confession, and he could not get it out of his mind."
Five years ago! That would have been in 1812, at the time of his famous letter to the "Immortal Beloved," an outpouring of confused emotions that, perhaps, may never have been posted at all. An entry in Beethoven's own diary, probably dating from mid-summer of 1816, reveals that his thoughts still hovered around this event: "Nothing has changed with regard to T. except to swear to God never to go where injustice may be committed out of weakness."
But who or what was "T"? Scholars are now generally agreed that this was Antonia Brentano (1780-1869), nicknamed "Toni," whom Beethoven indeed knew in 1812, and who evidently reciprocated his feelings. But she was then a married woman soon to depart with her husband to Frankfurt. Beethoven did nothing to hinder her departure, but his feelings required much more time to work themselves out. An die ferne Geliebte - "To the distant beloved" - with its intimations of lost domestic happiness and its heartfelt renunciation of love for art, was one step in that direction. Fanny, with a female intuition borne of young love, sensed the connection at once:
"The new song An die entfernte Geliebte drew tears from my eyes. This music can only have been written from the heart! How interesting this woman must be! But perhaps his fantasy lent her all this interest! No, no, he said that he had never again found such harmony! And anyone who understands him and is fully in accord with him in his entire essence can only be very much like him, and thus a superior being!"
The "superior being," Antonia Brentano, lived to the ripe age of nearly 90 and never forgot her feelings for Beethoven. Nor did Fanny, who lived, unwed, to an almost equally ripe old age. Singing An die ferne Geliebte to herself in 1816, she was among the first to grasp the ambivalent mood of sorrow and comfort that has affected later listeners of Beethoven's only song cycle ever since:
"After Beethoven departed, I owe it entirely to the mood he left behind that I did not become sorrowful as I sang his heavenly song An die ferne Geliebte. I cannot help it if my entire life is filled with him [...] Even in the companionship of the Rohmanns, where there was nothing to remind me of him, his sweet spirit hovered over me and touched my soul in gentle wistfulness."

Our edition presents the celebrated song cycle in a masterly orchestration by Felix Weingartner (1863-1942). It falls into a great tradition of romantic orchestrations that include Felix Mottl's version of Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder (1910) and Weingartner's own orchestral version of the Hammerklavier Sonata (1926). His arrangement of An die ferne Geliebte, for medium voice and orchestra, was produced in 1915 and is available on loan from Universal Edition, Vienna. Our study score marks the first time it has appeared in print.

Bradford Robinson, 2005
Performance material: Universal Edition, Vienna