Beethoven and the Overture to Egmont
German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven ( December 16, 1770-March 26, 1827) was a pivotal figure during the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western music. Best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, his great mass the Missa Solemnis, and the opera Fidelio.
Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age. He was initially taught by his father Johann, a man with a volatile temperament who liked to drink, and by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. Beethoven did not immediately set out to establish himself as a composer. Moving to Vienna at age 21, he studied counterpoint with Joseph Haydn and gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist.
When Haydn departed for England in 1794, Beethoven chose to remain. A group of Viennese noblemen offered him an annual salary of 1,400 florins to keep him in the city.
The composer began to lose his hearing during his early years in Vienna, an affliction that worsened with age. His Overture to Egmont, Op. 84 introduces a sequence of nine pieces for soprano, male narrator and full symphony orchestra, to accompany the play of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The opus premiered on June 15, 1810.
Its protagonist is a sixteenth-century Flemish nobleman, Count of Egmont. When Spain occupied the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, the Count led the resistance to the persecution of Protestants. He was subsequently arrested and executed.
Egmont was composed during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Beethoven had expressed his outrage over Napoleon Bonaparte's decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804. The composer articulated his political concerns through the sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a stand against oppression.
Beethoven died at the age of 56, during a thunderstorm. His funeral was attended by an estimated 20,000 Viennese citizens.