Friday, December 18, 2020

Beethoven Takes the Stage

No. 349 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


For this second December montage feeding Beethoven @ 250, we carry on with the theme begun with yesterday’s daily podcast featuring the incidental music to King Stephan.

Though he was unfavourably reviewed by critics – many of whom saw his work as immoral – German dramatist and writer August von Kotzebue was one of the most popular writers of his time. IHe was politically conservative and cosmopolitan in outlook and spoke out against the antisemitism of student nationalists.

He was approached in 1812 by Beethoven, who suggested that Kotzebue write the libretto for an opera about Attila, which was never written. Beethoven did, however, produce incidental music for two of Kotzebue's plays, The Ruins of Athens (Beethoven's opus 113) and King Stephen (opus 117).

Beethoven write few works for the stage; in addition to his only opera (Fidelio) and the incidental music to the aforementioned incidental music to Kotzebue’s two plays, he left us his overture to Heinrich Joseph von Collin's tragedy Coriolan, his ballet music The Creatures of Prometheus and the incidental music to Goethe’s tragedy Egmont.

Today’s montage features the music from Egmont and the Ruins of Athens, both featuring sung numbers, as well as displaying some of Beethoven’s flair for pace and drama.

Beethoven wrote the incidental music for Egmont between October 1809 and June 1810. Composed during the Napoleonic Wars when the First French Empire had extended its domination over vast swathes of Europe, Beethoven had famously expressed his great outrage over Napoleon Bonaparte's decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804, furiously scratching out his name in the dedication of the Eroica Symphony. In the music for Egmont, Beethoven expressed his own political concerns through the exaltation of the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression. The overture to Egmont is well known, and so are som of the sung passages, Die Trommel gerühret and Freudvoll und leidvoll.

The Ruins of Athens was a play commissioned to August von Kotzebue for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest. Perhaps the best-known music from The Ruins of Athens is the Turkish March, a theme that has claimed a place in popular culture. The overture and the Turkish March are often performed separately, and the other pieces of this set are not often heard.

In 1822 the play was revived for the reopening of Vienna's Theater in der Josefstadt with a revised libretto by Carl Meisl, for which Beethoven wrote a new overture, now known as The Consecration of the House, Op. 124, and added a chorus "Wo sich die Pulse" (WoO 98).

The music for The Ruins of Athens was reworked in 1924 by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal in 1926.

I think you will love this music too!


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