February 13 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
February 14 – Friday at 7:00 p.m.*
February 15 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
February 16 – Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Overture to Egmont, Opus 84
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
At a Glance
Beethoven composed his Overture to Goethe’s play Egmont in 1809-10 on a commission from the German National Theater in Vienna to write incidental music for the play. The score was premiered with a new production of the play on June 15, 1810.
This overture runs not quite 10 minutes in performance. Beethoven scored it for 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
About the Music
Across his lifetime, Beethoven wrote a series of nearly a dozen overtures, some as concert works, others for his only opera (Fidelio) or attached to incidental music for several dramatic stageworks. All of them are serious in subject matter. Most of them are related to Beethoven’s lifelong belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity — alongside the need both to “fight for Good” and for heroes to lead us forward by example or sacrifice.
Beethoven created his overture and incidental music to Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Egmont at the invitation of the German National Theater in Vienna in 1809-10. (Beethoven’s own First Symphony had been premiered at this same theater in 1800.) Goethe had completed the play in 1788, telling the story of a 16th-century Dutch hero, Count Egmont, who rallied the population and fought against Spanish subjugation of the Netherlands. Beethoven readily agreed to write incidental music for the play’s revival, with the subject matter so completely attuned to his own political beliefs in freedom and justice.
The Overture, often played by itself in the concert hall, is quintessential Beethoven. Grand chords begin a slow introduction filled with ominous portent. The chords are repeated along with slow melodic themes, before a sudden outburst of energy carries us rapidly forward in expectation and anticipation. The musical fight continues, in strong jabs and tuneful stirrings, building and developing not unlike one of Beethoven’s great symphonic movements. Eventually, a climactic and heroic tune calls forth in the brass, carrying the overture to a shining, triumphant finish.
—Eric Sellen © 2020