About this work
Adelaide, the most famous of Beethoven's lieder, was composed in 1794 or 1795. Indeed, the song was apparently one of his own favorites; he identified it as such in a letter to the poet Friedrich von Matthisson, and he himself played the accompaniment in an 1815 concert in celebration of the Empress of Russia's birthday.
The song is structured like a sonata in miniature, with a middle passage that goes through several keys. While at first consideration the text seems to call for a strophic setting, Beethoven's through-composed treatment imbues the words and descriptions in the poem with an extra measure of color and expressivity. The first verse of the setting, for example, in which the poet describes wandering in a garden during a spring night, is tranquil; in the second, when he describes seeing the face of his beloved in the grandeur of nature, the music is far more stately; in the third, the piano vividly depicts both rushing waves and the song of the nightingales. Throughout, however, the overall tone, one of ecstatic contemplation, is the same. One of the song's most important unifying elements is the tender repetition of the name "Adelaide."