Opus 65: "Ah! Perfido", сцена и ария для сопрано и оркестра

Концертная ария: `О, изменник!` на слова Пьетро Метастазио,
Время создания: первые месяцы 1796 года.

Sheryl Studer, сопрано
Berliner Philharmoniker, дир. К. Аббадо

In February 1796, Beethoven, then a successful pianist, went on his one and only concert journey (these days a tour). His first destination was Prague where he stayed until April and wrote the scene and aria "Ah perfido" for soprano and orchestra, op. 65, although he had already completed some drafts before his departure.

Which soprano singer did Beethoven have in mind when he composed the song? The Prague nobility often invited him and appreciated him very much. On one of its two title pages the only preserved source of op. 65 bears a dedication to "Signora Comtessa di Clari". The composer had already composed two pieces for Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringenon (later Clam-Gallas): The works for mandolin WoO 43 and 44a. Thus, it would not be surprising if he gave the Countess a copy with a dedication. Still, he probably did not write the aria explicitely for her as a singer, as she is not mentioned in the first edition published in 1805 in Leipzig.

Singer Josepha Duschek is thought a second possible candidate Beethoven had in mind. On November 21st, 1796 she sang the scene and aria in Leipzig. The concert announcement mentioned an Italian scene composed for Ms. Duschek by Beethoven. This must not neccesarily be true as even back then advertising was a known principle but the composition had not been published yet. Therefore, Ms. Duschek must have owned a copy of op. 65.

It cannot be said for sure which singer Beethoven wrote the aria for. The piece's volume and structure suggest it was not intended for a professional soprano singer like Josepha Duschek. Beethoven performed op. 65 for the first time at one of his concerts in Vienna on December 22nd, 1808 together with the fourth piano concert, the Fifth and Sixth Symphony, the choir fantasy and parts taken from the mass in C major, op. 86. Initially, singer Anna Milder (Beethoven's first Leonore) was supposed to partake in the concert. But when Beethoven got in a dispute with her husband, jeweller Peter Hauptmann, she declined. Josephine Killitschky, Ignaz Schuppanzigh's sister-in-law, then accepted the part, unfortunately with minor success.


Ah, perfido! is an early Beethoven work, immersed in eighteenth century operatic tradition. The reason it bears an opus number high in relation to its date of composition is that, though it was written in 1796, it was not published until 1805. The piece was probably written for its first performer, the then-celebrated soprano Josepha Duschek. Composed in Prague and modeled on Mozart's Bella mia fiamma, which was also written for Duschek, this has generally been one of the composer's more popular vocal pieces down through the years. A decade or so after composing the work, Beethoven reflected that it was suited more to a theater setting than to the concert hall. He was unusually emphatic in stipulating that it needed "a curtain," or similar environs, to achieve its proper effect. The work is a setting of verses by Pietro Trapassi, a Roman who was court poet in Vienna (1729-1782) and who wrote under the name of Metastasio.

The text deals with a young woman betrayed by her lover, expressing the rage she experiences. At first, she pleads with the gods to punish him, but then asks for mercy for him. Then she offers to die for him, instead. After bewailing her fate, she asks for mercy. The music begins dramatically with the soprano intoning the words, "Ah, perfido! spergiuro, barbaro traditor, tu parti?" (Ah, unfaithful liar! vile deceiver, you leave me?). The music then slows, and the young woman's emotions for a time seem contained, but tension quickly develops. Still, for all the rage she expresses, she does not erupt with a potent outburst to vent her feelings, but instead maintains an intensity that seems to border on just such an outburst. When the aria, "Per pieta, non dirmi addio" ("For pity's sake, do not leave me") is reached, the spirit of Mozart appears. (The character of the theme in the third movement of Mozart's "Gran Partita" Serenade No. 10, K. 361, is not unlike that of the attractive melody here.) The aria music, marked Adagio, is most moving and effective in its heartrending beauty. Even if it is strongly reminiscent of Mozart, it is it charming enough not to seem derivative. The tempo returns to Allegro as the soprano lashes out at her cruel treatment at the hands of fate. There is a brief return to an Adagio tempo before the Allegro conclusion.

The orchestral writing is effective throughout, even if it, too, owes something to Mozart. While some may feel the music sounds less agitated in places than the text might seem to call for, Beethoven captures the spirit of Metastasio's verses. The range of emotions that he depicts in the music, together with the ebb and flow of tension, are remarkably well balanced. The work, known for its immense vocal difficulty, was premiered on November 21, 1796, in Leipzig. A typical performance of it lasts about from about 12 to 15 minutes.

(All Music Guide)