Beethoven's concurrent admiration and hatred of Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the great contradictions of the composers' life. Another is his ambivalence toward Vienna and the members of its aristocracy, whose emphasis on status and office offended him despite their frequent subsidy of his artistic endeavors. In light of these things, the patriotic song, "Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger" (Farewell Song to the Citizens of Vienna), WoO 121, is an interesting case for study since it casts Beethoven in the role of faithful public servant, exhorting his countrymen to take up arms against the approaching French.
Published by Artaria & Co. in Vienna (1796), and dedicated to Obrist Wachtmeister von Kövesdy, the "Abschiedsgesang" is a setting of poetry by Josef von Friedelberg. Freidelberg composed the poem for the Vienna volunteer corps, formed in response to Napoleon's victories just south of the Austrian Empire's border. The song is a Gesellschaftslied (communal song), meant to be sung with audience participation. The text assures those who will be going off to war that Vienna will welcome them back, not as "immoral murderers," but as "better people, better citizens."
Each strophe of the poem contains seven lines, and Beethoven's setting divides them into contrasting sections of four and three lines each. This is a reflection of both the content and structure of the poem: the last three lines of each strophe present a self-contained thought separate from (but still related to) the first four lines, and Friedelberg adopts a new metric pattern in the last three lines. Beethoven emphasizes these contrasts by repeating the last three lines of each strophe.