"An Laura" ("To Laura") has an unusual publication history: The music first appeared in a piano arrangement, published in Vienna in 1826 as Bagatelle, op 119, No. 12. Beethoven scholar Georg Kinsky printed the voice and piano version in Musikhistorisches Museum von Wilhelm Heyer in Cöln: Katalog, in 1916.
Friedrich von Matthisson's (1761-1831) poetry was very much in fashion at the end of the eighteenth century and continued to interest composers into the nineteenth century. Beethoven set several of Matthisson's texts, including "Adelaide," op. 46, and "Opferlied," WoO 126, while Schubert composed over thirty setting of Matthisson's poems. "An Laura" was published while Beethoven lived in Bonn, and the young composer may have completed his song before he moved to Vienna.
With a sentimental tone typical of Matthisson, the narrator of "An Laura" wishes someone (Laura, presumably) joy that is more beautiful than innocence, and peace of mind until they meet again. He envisions the seraphim descending and transporting her soul heavenward, and the last of her days being "ein Sonnenuntergang in Mai" ("a sunset in May").
Beethoven's partially strophic setting is equally sentimental. The first two strophes are set to the same music, and feature arching, major-mode melodies, introduced and closed by the piano. An abrupt change occurs at the beginning of the final verse, with a shift to the minor and a recitative-like voice part singing of the harmonious sound of heaven's judgement, for Laura evidently led a perfect life. For the last two lines, Beethoven returns, if not to the exact music of the first two strophes, then certainly the atmosphere, as a friend at Laura's graveside tells Laura how lucky she is to have died during a sunset in May.