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Length: c. 8 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 3, 1922, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
In 1809, when the director of the Court Theater asked Beethoven to write incidental music for a Vienna production of Goethe’s Egmont, the play had been around for 20 years. Clearly, the French occupation stimulated interest in the story of a Flemish nobleman executed in 1567 for opposition to the military regime that Spain had imposed on the Low Countries. But it was also the occupation which made it possible even to consider producing Egmont, since the French ended the strict censorship of Austria’s Habsburg regime, which would scarcely have approved a play in which the villain was the Habsburg Spanish monarchy.
Goethe had written a few musical cues into the play, including a couple of songs and a “Victory Symphony” at the very end to signify, even as Egmont goes to die, that his martyrdom will inspire the Netherlands to rise against the Spaniards. Egmont opened in Vienna on May 14, 1810, but Beethoven’s music was not ready until the June 15 performance. Some numbers are coordinated with dialogue, or have no real endings, instead leading into the next scene. For this reason, the music does not work well in concert and is rarely heard. The exception is the Overture, most of which is a driving, tightly-knit sonata structure in F minor. It trails off, seemingly in the middle of things, then plunges into the “victory symphony,” composed for the play’s final scene, lifted in its entirety to form a triumphant coda in F major.
Howard Posner plays lute and Baroque guitar and practices appellate law in Los Angeles, though he rarely does those things at the same time. He writes a column in California Lawyer magazine in which he explains how lawyers can write like human beings.