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Length: 13 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: September 11, 1973, James DePreist conducting
This general-purpose overture is one of those Beethoven pieces that evolved slowly, beginning with ideas sketched in 1809. Beethoven toyed with those ideas again in 1811-12 as he was thinking about setting Schiller's "Ode to Joy," which ultimately ended up in the finale of the Ninth Symphony. Beethoven turned to this gestating overture again in 1814, as a tribute piece to the Austrian Emperor Franz to be played before a performance of Fidelio on the Emperor's name day, October 4.
Although that occasion gave the work its enduring nickname (Beethoven detested the French nickname "La chasse," bestowed because of the buoyant 6/8 "hunting" meter of the main part of the overture), it was not performed as scheduled, perhaps because Beethoven was still tinkering with it. It finally had its premiere on Christmas Day in 1815 on a hospital benefit concert given at the Redoutensaal in Vienna, and was dedicated to Prince Anton Heinrich Radziwill, an amateur composer who met Beethoven while attending the Congress of Vienna.
In November 1815 Beethoven's brother had died, leaving the composer with a contentious custody battle with his sister-in-law over the raising of his nine-year-old nephew Karl. The piece Beethoven was able to contribute to the hospital benefit in those vexing circumstances is an uncomplicated bit of musical festivity, surprisingly bucolic in feeling. It opens with a slow introduction, with prominent horn parts that suggest the hunting images to come in the main body. The generic nature of the celebration is apparent in the words Beethoven put on his manuscript (but not the published version): "Overture for any occasion - or for concert use."
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications.