Analysis of Beethoven's song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte" by Geert Woltjer

Analysis of song 1

The first poem describes with the help of natural metaphors the pain of a love that can not be reached. And the I-figure wants to sing songs that hopefully will reach the heart of his love.

Despite the dreaming atmosphere the tonality is Es major, already presented during the first chord that consists of the natural tones above the bass Es. During the first 9 measures the first and only theme of the song is presented, but with it the main material of the whole song cycle is presented in four motives of which this theme consists. The four motives are on the words

  1. "Auf dem Hügel sitz ich spähend"
  2. in dat blaue Nebelland
  3. nach den fernen Triften sehend
  4. wo ich dich Geliebte fand.

The first motive is the basis of the second song, the second motive of the third song, the third motive of the fourth song and the fourth motive of the fifth song. The last song focuses on the first and third motive. So, the whole cycle has a coherent structure.

Let's look now at the first song. The rough structure of the song is A-A-A-A-A, with the main variations in the piano. When the first motive is presented in the voice (m. 1-3) the piano already has the main part of the motive in a slower countermovement. The motive reappears in a variation in the bass line of m. 6-7 (perhaps including m. 5?).

The second motive (m. 3-5) has a lot of elements in common with the first motive. It starts in a countermovement of the main element of the first motive and then has a rising part in thirds, and as with the first motive, it jumps downwards at the end, in this case a fifth instead of a sixth. The rhythmic pattern is more or less mirrored compared with the first motive. The right hand piano follows the voice, where the bass has a little bit chromatic rising pattern, with a little bit of good will a compressed version of the first motive.

The third motive (m. 5-7) introduces starts with the same rhythmic pattern as also used in the first motive (3/8-1/8), and uses chromatic steps. The fourth motive is downwards moving, almost following the Es scale. The harmony of the first theme (m. 1-9) is straightforward (I-VI-II-II7-V7-VI-V7-I-IV-I-V7-I), although on "fernen" in m. 6 the G is lowered and in the second beat a diminished chord arises. This seems to be consistent with the emotion that the far away beloved gives. The (new) piano motive in m. 9-10 may be derived from the start of the third motive.

The second exposition of the theme is accompanied by a rhythmic pattern derived from the 3/8-1/8 rhythm of the first and third themes. In the third exposition the piano has simple broken chords in a 1/16 tempo, and an after-beat bass. This is consistent with the increase in emotion in the text. In m. 26 the word "Seufzer" is clearly heard in the piano in the second half of m. 26 and 27. Recognize also the variation in the voice on "glühend", m. 24, where the inserted B is included in a diminished chord. The fourth exposition has two variations in the voice. The added B in "Bote" (m. 34) and on "Lieder" (m. 36), suggesting the singing. The piano follows the rhythm of the voice, sometimes delayed (m. 30), accentuating the 3/8-1/8 rhythm during during the first half, accompanying in 1/4 notes during the "Lieder" and with 1/8 notes during "klagen meine Pein".

The fifth variation is introduces with a much smoother and dynamic piano interlude (m. 39-41) than the interludes before, with its rising and falling triplets. The voice is accompanied  by a pattern comparable with that in the third variation (m. 22-29), but with broken octaves in the bass and 1/16th after-beat chords, creating more dynamics than in all the other variations, where the pressure of love in the text is even reinforced by an accelerando towards an Allegro postlude. This allegro postlude is  a variation of all the piano interludes, and ends suddenly in a chord with only Es and G, that is repeated in the allegro tempo after a fermata,  in order to transform into G major chord as the start of the second song.

The description above may show that I see clear relationships between the choice of variations in piano and the text, this in contrast with for example Nolthenius(1956).