January 19 – Friday at 7:00 p.m.
FRIDAYS@7: BEETHOVEN’S EROICA
Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
At a Glance
Beethoven completed his music for Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (“The Creatures of Prometheus”), an original dance scenario by Salvatore Viganò, in 1801. The ballet was premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on March 28, 1801.
This overture runs about 5 minutes in performance. Beethoven scored it for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
About the Music
Beethoven wrote two ballets, a decade apart, during his early time in Vienna. For the first, in 1791, his patron Count Leopold Waldstein paid the young Beethoven to write some music that Waldstein could pass off as his own. Ten years later, Beethoven had taken his rightful place at the center of Viennese musical life, and the ballet master at the Imperial Court, Salvatore Viganò, asked him for something new. Viganò had been appointed two years earlier, and was setting out to add new works to the repertoire by commissioning music for an original dance work each season.
For the ballet, Viganò chose a storyline drawn upon the ancient myth of Prometheus, who advanced human evolution, civilization, and understanding. There are several storylines to the Prometheus myth: in one he literally breathes life into inanimate forms, while in another he steals fire from the gods and bestows this powerful gift to humanity, sparking the advancements in civilization that fire brings (cooking, manufacturing, heating, science, etc.)
The ballet’s storyline was directly related to Beethoven’s lifelong belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity — and the need both to “fight for good” and for heroes to lead us forward by example and sacrifice. It is, in fact, a philosophical outlook — of a hero fighting for right — that Franz Welser-Möst believes was central to Beethoven’s outlook on life and is embedded in much of his music. Music isn’t just something to be pretty, or interesting, or amusing, or relaxing. Music can be a call to arms — intellectually, spiritually, and even physically. (Franz closes the 2017-18 Season at Severance Hall with a two-week festival of Beethoven’s music titled “The Prometheus Project,” featuring all nine symphonies and a selection of telling overtures.)
Often excerpted in concert on its own, the Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus shows Beethoven’s early dramatic leanings and ability — and helped propel him into further writing for the stage, including his only opera, Fidelio. Here, in Prometheus, the music is stirring and startling, with palpable strength and emotional struggle its musical outlines. —Eric Sellen © 2018