The Eight Songs, Op. 52, are best thought of as an "anthology" of early works. Although published on 16 June 1805 in Vienna by Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir, the songs were all written at least a decade earlier; most while Beethoven lived in Bonn. The probable dates of composition are as follows: "Urians Reise um die Welt" (before 1790?), "Feuerfarb'" (1792, rev. 1793-94), "Das Liedchen von der Ruhe" (1793), "Maigesang" before 1796), "Mollys Abschied" (before 1793), "Die Liebe" (before 1793), "Marmotte" (1790), and "Das Blümchen Wunderhold" (?). Beethoven may have assembled the old compositions because he had published fewer pieces than usual during the preceding year. Work on Fidelio and a protracted relationship with Josephine von Brunsvik had contributed to a drop in Beethoven's production of new works.
Originally, the set published as op. 52 contained nine songs, one of which was a setting of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" dating from Beethoven's youth in Bonn. The composer withdrew the Schiller setting before publication, and no manuscript exists.
A contemporary review of the op. 52 songs in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung describes the set as "commonplace, poor, weak, in part ridiculous stuff." This is certainly the reaction of a critic who was familiar with the post-1800 works of Beethoven. None of the songs of op. 52 is especially innovative or aesthetically challenging; rather, the set provides good examples of Beethoven's early mastery of late-eighteenth-century German song composition. All eight of the op. 52 songs are strophic-each verse, or strophe, is set to the same music-except "Maigesang," which departs from the pattern in the last strophe. Each strophe, and thus each song, closes with the piano alone, with the exception of the twelve-measure "Urians Reise," a Ge sellschaftslied ("community song"), in which a chorus, or the audience, joins in at the end of each of the song's fourteen verses. The diminutive "Marmotte" is only twenty measures long, and the piano part's octave leaps in the last few measures illustrate the hopping about of a marmot.