These twenty-six songs were produced under an agreement between Beethoven and the Edinburgh-based publisher George Thomson. Beginning around 1809 the composer began setting folk songs, mainly from the British Isles, for Thomson who published them and paid substantial fees. It should be mentioned that at least one account has it that Thomson's remuneration was not as generous as many had previously thought. Whatever the amounts were, they were apparently sufficient to interest Beethoven to write around one hundred-fifty arrangements for Thomson, including these twenty-six. Thomson did not publish all of Beethoven's efforts in the genre, issuing a total of one hundred twenty-five. The composer also probably wrote some arrangements (there were one hundred seventy-nine in all) on his own initiative, most likely those of Continental origin.
Beethoven wrote twenty-three of these twenty-six Welsh songs for soprano soloist. Two of the remainder, "Sion, Son of Evan" (No. 1) and "The Monks of Bangor's March" (No. 2) are duets for soprano and alto, and "The Dream" (No. 14) for two sopranos. Many of the songs texts are by well-known writers: Scott in Nos. 2 and 12 ("Waken Lords and Ladies"), and Burns in Nos. 13 ("Helpless Woman") and 22 ("Constancy"). Twenty-three of the twenty-six here were composed in 1810, with No. 15 ("When Mortals all to Rest Retire") and No. 20 ("To the Blackbird") both coming in 1813, and No. 25 ("The Parting Kiss") in 1815.
Beethoven's arrangements are all deftly imagined here and will surely offer rewards to those with an interest in folk music from the British Isles of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. They will have limited appeal to others, however, despite their fine craftsmanship. Thomson published these twenty-six arrangements in 1817 in a collection that also included four song settings of Haydn.