INTRODUCTION to Aloys Jeitteles "An die ferne Geliebte", by Peter Dean
The six poems Aloys Jeitteles wrote under the title 'An die ferne Geliebte' were set to music
by .Beethoven .and formed .his .only .true .song-cycle. . He clearly had not chosen them at
random. .Of the sixty-odd poems (by various other authors) he set, .well over a third are on
the same subject .or . one .closely . akin to it - .'Sehnsucht' (Yearning). .Another six indeed
include either 'fern' or 'Geliebte' or both in their titles. We can be left in no uncertainty that
this was a theme .with which . he .profoundly . identified. . The word 'Herz' is significantly
common to the poems. .Who the 'ferne Geliebte' .in both cases . was .remains a subject of
speculation, .but informed opinion has it .that it was for more than conventional reasons she
had to remain so .in Beethoven's case. The situation thus . produced tragic irreconcilabilities
within him. It's possible to trace such oppositions beyond the songs in which they're overtly
treated into the wider work. Then there was the matter of his increasing deafness ...

Beethoven must have fallen on the Jeitteles' poems, contemporary as they were, with a sort
of gratitude. .He had set earlier poems on similar subjects, . including a few by Goethe,. but the linked half-dozen by Jeitteles came like manna, .and he rose to the occasion. .The song-cycle arguably represents his best writing for single voice. .Jeitteles' poems .though only six in number offered him the range of mood .-. fervour, .wistfulness, . heart-ache, .resolution - and variety of idiom .he could use as a framework for his own deep feelings. .The strongest of these clearly is longing .('Sehnsucht'), but it's a word Jeitteles doesn't allow himself .until the . penultimate .stanza . of the last poem. .Neverthless . the emotion comes full circle: .the nostalgic reminiscing .of the first poem, .with .its . linguistically .inventive 'Liebe Bote' .and assertive . 'Liedesklang' .as he tries . to look .on the bright side, .finds an echo . in the more affirmative .last .where .its .final .couplet is repeated to round off the whole sequence. . 'Ein liebend Herz erreichet' .resumes the note of hope which, .at this stage, Beethoven still clung to .('Hoffnung' had .been. another favoured subject .among the poems he set,. but it did not figure hereafter). It was as if . the song-cycle marked a personal turning-point for him. . His fortuitous discovery of the poems . undoubtedly .preserved them .- and their author .- from later obscurity.

Copyright © Peter Dean 2005


next
index
translator's next