Beethoven’s mighty Egmont
How did a story about a 16th century nobleman become the music which inspired a 20th century Revolution? Find out more…
Goethe declared that it was the work of ‘a remarkable genius’,E.T.A. Hoffmann prised the music for its poetry, and as the soundtrack for a Hungarian film Overture it won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or.
We are talking about Beethoven’s epic Egmont Op.84. Premiered on 15 June 1810, this sequence of ten incidental pieces was composed for full symphony orchestra, soprano soloists and male narrator.
The story begins with an account of thelife and heroism of 16th-century nobleman Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Prince of Gavere.
In 1787 it became a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which exalted the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression.
Egmont was a general and statesman in the Spanish Netherlands just before the start of the Eighty Years’ War. His execution helped spark the national uprising that eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands.
At the time of the composition the Napoleonic Wars were in full flow as the First French Empire had extended its domination over vast swathes of Europe. Although formerly an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven was outraged over his 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.
Turn the clock forward to 1956 and the Hungarian Uprising, and it is Beethoven’s stirring music to Egmont which inspired a nationwide revolt against the Marxist-Leninist government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies.
A decade later and János Vadász film Overture won the 1965 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Palme d’Or, uses the complete Egmont Overture as the soundtrack for what is often considered one of the most influential short films in film history and described as ‘among the most ingenious pairings of music and image in the history of the festival.’
The Overture is one of Beethoven’s most powerful and expressive works and the culmination of his middle period as a composer, and it is this very Overture which will open Firebird’s 2018-2019 season on 9 October.
Egmont in October
Tuesday 9 October 2018
St George’s Hanover Square
Beethoven: Egmont Op.34
Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 Op.26
Dvorak: Song to the Moon
Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88, B.163
George Jackson conductor
Leonard Schreiber violin
Verity Wingate soprano