Beethoven set more of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poems than those of any other poet. In a letter to Goethe dated 28 May 1810, but possibly written in July, Bettina Brentano quotes Beethoven: "Goethe's poems have great power over me, I am turned up and stimulated to composition by his language...." Beethoven admired Goethe work, but detested the poet's habit of moving comfortably within aristocratic circles. "Der edle Mensch" was first printed in Berlin by G. Lange in his Musikgesc hichtliches of 1900. A facsimile had been published in 1843 in the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung. The song had been composed for Baroness Cäcilie von Eskeles, wife of the Viennese banker, Baron Bernard von Eskeles, who advised Beethoven on investments. Beethoven inscribed the song in the Baronesses album on 20 January 1823. Beethoven set only two lines from the last strophe of Goethe's poem, "Das Göttliche." The composer rearranged the words to create: "Der edle Mensch / Sei hülfreich und gut!" ("May the noble person / Be helpful and good!"). In May of 1823 Beethoven composed a canon for six voices setting the same text, but with the words in their proper order: "Edel sei der Mensch / hülfreich und gut!" (Noble is the person / [who is] helpful and good!"). This piece was published in 1823 and is now referred to as WoO 185. "Der edle Mensch" is a melodic morsel in which the two lines of text occur twice, each time set to the same music. In a bright, major key, the voice and accompaniment are independent, with the piano part clearly subsidiary. The repetition of "hülfreich und gut" after each "verse" reinforces what Beethoven thought may have been a lesson for his Baroness friend.
(John Palmer, Rovi)