Ludwig van Beethoven

Gesang der Mönche ("Rasch tritt der Tod") for 2 tenors and bass, WoO 104

    Description by Robert Cummings

    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.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2010 CPO 777595
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453794
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453700
    1996 Berlin Classics 0091322
    Brilliant 93525/79
    Cascade Records 2270