This song was written probably around the time Beethoven wrote his two big cantatas from 1790, Auf den Tod Kaiser Josephs II (On the death of Emperor Joseph II), WoO. 87, and Auf die Erhebung Leopold des Zweiten zur Kaiserwürde (On the Ascension of Leopold II to Emperor), WoO. 88. This was a time when Beethoven was beginning to demonstrate not only an interest in vocal music but a burgeoning skill in its composition altogether. He would later study vocal writing with Salieri and profit greatly from the endeavor. Beethoven used texts for this song by the poet Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty (1748-1776).
In setting Klage ("The Moan"), Beethoven divulged a growing understanding of vocal music. While the piano accompaniment is not distinctive, the vocal half of the score shows some depth of expression. The music is brooding and dark, the tempo slow, almost static. The words to the first four lines set the tone for the song:
Your silver shone
through green oaks,
bestowing a coolness
down on me.
There is an emotional coolness here, as the text goes on to express a morbid fate for the young man, the central figure in the poem's story. Beethoven effectively captures the mood of the text, even if the song's thematic appeal is not strong.
This work was not published in Beethoven's lifetime, which probably indicates the composer's ultimate dissatisfaction with it. He suppressed a number of compositions throughout his career, returning to some of them in his later years for revisions and subsequent publication. This one apparently did not warrant reworking.
(Robert Cummings, Rovi)