"Der Kuss" was the last of Beethoven's songs to be published. However, although the autograph manuscript is dated December, 1822, the song was sketched in nearly its published form in 1798--well before many of his other songs were written. Sketches for the slight alterations were made while Beethoven was at work on the overture Weihe des Hauses and the Ninth Symphony. In early 1823 he offered the completed "Der Kuss" to the publisher Peters, but Peters returned it because he found it too brief. The song was finally published in 1825 by Schott and Cappi in Mainz, and was given the opus number 121--changed to Op. 128 in 1828.
Christian Felix Weisse's poem is a humorous tale of man's pursuit of female "companionship." After the fact, an unnamed man relates his experience with a woman named Chloe: The man is alone with Chloe, and wishes to kiss her. She tells him that if he does, she will scream. He kisses her anyway, "despite her resistance." The man then asks, "And did she not scream?" He answers, "Yes, she screamed, but not until much later" ("Ja, sie schrie, / doch lange hinterher").
Beethoven's setting cleverly evokes the man's story as it unfolds. As he overcomes Chloe's resistance, the music moves to the dominant, increasing tension. When the protagonist asks the listener, "And did she not scream?" Beethoven reduces the formerly lively tempo to an Adagio, and repeats the tune of the question in the piano part, setting up the punch line. At "Yes, she screamed," the original tempo resumes, and at "but not until much later," the singer is instructed to smile.