Work: Egmont Overture
About This Work
When a commission to provide a music score for Goethe's Egmont was offered, Beethoven eagerly snatched up the opportunity. The subject matter of Egmont appealed to him: the struggle for freedom. This general theme had already been explored, albeit in
a quite different story and venue, in the opera Fidelio. Goethe's play depicts the Spanish persecution of the people of the Netherlands in 1567-1568 via an inquisition. Count Egmont, a Catholic loyal to the Spanish, pleads for tolerance from the Spanish King, who instead dispatches the malevolent Duke of Alva to command the forces to maintain order. Egmont is eventually arrested by Alva and sentenced to death. His love, Clara (a fictional character; the real Egmont was married and the father of 11 children), plots his escape but fails. She poisons herself, and Egmont is executed, but with the knowledge that the rebellion is in progress and the people will be free.
Egmont opens with its justly famous overture, for years a staple in the concert hall. It begins in a somber, serious mood, marked Sostenuto ma non troppo. The music seems to portray oppression and darkness, the opening motif revealed to represent the tyrant, but when the tempo picks up with a vigorous Allegro, the mood shifts to one of heroic defiance with a theme that seems descending into the depths to do battle. The tyrant's motif evolves throughout the overture and near the end becomes rhythmic and dark and brings on Egmont's execution. The mood of the piece then turns triumphant and celebratory, providing a glorious close.
-- Robert Cummings, All Music Guide (From the description of Beethoven's complete incidental music to Egmont.)
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