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Gesang der Mönche, WoO 104 (Ludwig van Beethoven)

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Music files

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  • CPDL #25846:  Icon_pdf.gif Icon_snd.gif Icon_ly.gif
Editor: Jon Arnold (submitted 2012-04-03).   Score information: A4, 1 page, 63 kB   Copyright: CPDL
Edition notes: Transcribed from tenor C clefs to modern tenor (treble_8) clefs.

General Information

Title: Gesang der Mönche
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

Number of voices: 3vv   Voicing: TTB
Genre: SecularPartsong

Language: German
Instruments: A cappella

Published: 1839

Description: This a cappella song is short and calls for the same vocal combination of two tenors and a bass as the composer's humorous Abschiedsgesang, WoO. 102, from 1814. The earlier effort was written on the departure of a friend from Vienna, and this song was inspired by the departure of a friend, as well. But any further similarity ends here: this "Song of the Monks," from Schiller's William Tell, is a serious composition written in memory of Beethoven's friend, Wenzel Krumpholz (b. 1750), a violinist who died suddenly on May 3, 1817.

Not surprisingly, the mood of this song is solemn and funereal. After each line is sung there is a brief pause, which contributes effectively to the somber atmosphere. The Schiller text comes from the end of Act IV, when the villainous Gessler is dying from an arrow wound with the knowledge that his slayer, Tell, has gotten away. Monks approach the dying Gessler, singing their morbid song. Beethoven converts this death scene most touchingly into a funeral song for his friend. The last line is powerful and musically compelling, "Before his judge he must learn his lot," words that seem more appropriate for the singing monks standing over the malevolent Gessler, than for Beethoven's farewell to his friend. Yet, they perhaps divulge much about the composer's apparently fatalistic view of death and afterlife. At the time he wrote this song (Spring 1817), Beethoven was suffering from a lingering illness, first contracted in October, 1816. Thus, his muse may have fixed temporarily on the more morbid aspects of life.

The song is only twelve measures in length but musically quite satisfying. It was first published in 1839, twelve years after Beethoven's death.
~ Robert Cummings, Rovi

External websites:

Original text and translations

German.png German text

Gesang der Mönche

Rasch tritt der Tod den Menschen an,
Es ist ihm keine Frist gegeben;
Es stürzt ihn mitten in der Bahn,
Es reißt ihn fort vom vollen Leben.
Bereitet oder nicht zu gehen!
Er muß vor seinem Richter stehen!

English.png English translation

Monks' Song

Quickly comes Man's death,
He is given no reprieve.
It strikes him mid-course,
It rips him from the prime of life.
Whether ready to go or not!
He must stand before his judge!

--translation by John Sigerson via Schiller Institute