Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was an important philosopher, poet and man of letters who exerted a great influence on Goethe, among others. His assertion that music was one of the wellsprings of all culture and education found support among musicians. Beethoven's "Der Gesang der Nachtigall" ("The Song of the Nightingale") was not printed until 1888, as part of a supplement to the first complete edition of the composer's works. It is one of the few compositions by Beethoven of 1813, a year during which he composed nothing of lasting significance.
"Der Gesang der Nachtigall" begins as a celebration of the return of spring, heralded by the nightingale's song, but quickly reveals a dark message. While we walk among the almond blossoms in verdant meadows, Herder warns us that we whether or not we will live through the season. We should be happy now, for spring (and life) is slipping away.
Beethoven's strophic setting of "Der Gesang der Nachtigall," while developing a superficial air of blithe pastoral life, does not probe the subtleties of Herder's poem. The piano opens the song, its repeated notes and trills invoking the song of the nightingale. A constant pulse in the piano part supports a major melody that is consistent through both the passages about the beauty of the season and those concerning the inevitable passing of the spring and life itself.
(John Palmer, Rovi)