Between 1809 and 1810, Beethoven wrote a set of incidental music pieces to the 1787 play titled Egmont by Wolfgang Goethe. The first performance was given on June 15th, 1810 in Vienna.
The subject takes after the life of 16th-century nobleman Lamoraal, Count of Egmont from the Low Countries also known as Habsburg Netherlands. The heroism of the character perfectly fitted Beethoven’s political views, as much as another character of a previous overture, Coriolan.
Beethoven had notoriously expressed his great outrage over Napoleon’s decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804, furiously scratching out his name in the dedication of his 3rd symphony, the Eroica. Egmont is yet another expression of his political concerns, giving Beethoven a good excuse to exalt the sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having stood up against oppression. Incidentally, the Overture became an unofficial anthem of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
Joseph Karl Stieler: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at age 79
While the incidental music written by Beethoven sums up to 10 numbers, the overture remains the most popular one to this day.
It’s written in sonata form: a form typical of the classicism comprising an exposition with two contrasting themes, a development section where the musical material gets reworked in various ways, and a recapitulation; everything is often framed by a slow introduction and a coda.
Sostenuto, ma non troppo
Should you need a score you can find one here.
Look at the opening, expressing all the drama of the character and the situation: one note, F, spread across the orchestra. No other pitches are played; it’s long, dramatic, in a forte dynamic.
The diminuendo goes into a second bar which is not less intense. Beethoven writes marcato underneath the strings, the only ones playing now. They are, again, very dramatic, in the low register, really heavy
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