Beethoven's Opferlied, WoO 126, was published Bonn in 1808 by Simrock as part of the III Deutsche Lieder, which included the first version of "Neue Liebe, neues Leben," WoO 127 and "Der freie Mann," WoO 117. The Friedrich von Matthison (1761-1831) poem first appeared in 1790, so Beethoven might have encountered the text while he lived in Bonn. Beethoven's sketches for the Opferlied evince his concern with the accent, emphasis and rhythm of poetry. At one point, Beethoven wrote out the complete melody six times, altering details to match the prosody of the poem.
Matthison's text depicts a young man in a oak grove offering a sacrifice to Zeus. The man asks Zeus to be the protector of liberty, and to give him, both now and in his old age, beautiful things, because he is good. Beethoven was preoccupied with Matthison's poem throughout his life, and he occasionally scribbled its last line, "Das Schöne zu dem Guten!" ("The beautiful to the good"), in his late manuscripts.
Beethoven set the text four times; the first version exists only in manuscript, while the third and fourth are for solo voice (or voices), chorus and orchestra, and date from the 1820s. What is most striking about Beethoven's Opferlied is its nearly totally diatonic idiom. Set in E major, the song features only one chromatic alteration, occurring at the middle of the strophe as part of a cadence on the dominant. The slow tempo and simple, chordal accompaniment lend the song a hymn-like atmosphere befitting its subject.