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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Overtures, Vol. 1 (Slovak Philharmonic, Gunzenhauser)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Egmont, Opus 84
Coriolanus, Opus 62
Leonora No.3, Opus 72a
Fidelio, Opus 72
Creatures of Prometheus, Opus 43
Ruins of Athens, Opus 113
Consecration of the House, Opus 124
It was the theatre, as much as anything
else, that held the cultural interests of the Viennese in the eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries. There was a demand for opera of all kinds, in which
the principal composers were involved. Mozart's dissatisfaction with his native
Salzburg resulted in part from a lack of opera there and a consequent lack of
opportunity, a matter remedied when he moved to. Vienna in 1781 to join
composers of the stature of Salieri.
Beethoven settled in Vienna in 1792,
making a name for himself as a pianist and as a composer of marked originality.
He lacked the education of Mozart and of Gluck and was without their literacy,
but read widely, if without discrimination, and shared something of the general
interest in drama increasingly dominated by France.
As it turned out, Beethoven wrote only
one opera, Fidelio, its final title the name assumed by the heroine Leonora,
who disguises herself as a boy in order to rescue her husband Florestan from
the dungeon into which his political enemies have cast him. The libretto was
drawn from a French original, an example of the rescue opera that had become
topical and popular in Paris in the aftermath of the Revolution, and in
choosing such a subject Beethoven seems to attempt to emulate Cherubini, a
composer who dominated Paris and had won great popularity in Vienna.
a Singspiel, a German opera, with some spoken dialogue, is not necessarily
convincing on the stage, in spite of the greatness of conception of the music.
It was first performed at the Theater-an-der-Wien in November, 1805, preceded
by an alternative overture, Leonora No.2, which replaced Beethoven's
first thoughts, embodied in Leonora No.1 and rejected after a private
The occasion of the first performance was
unfortunate. The armies of Napoleon had occupied Vienna, and there were many
French officers in the audience, while the second and third performances
attracted very little attention. The piece was withdrawn and underwent
considerable revision, to be staged again the following year, with the overture
now known as Leonora No.3, which itself pre-empts the climax of the
opera and is, in any case, rather too long for its purpose. Neither Cherubini
nor Salieri, arbiters of operatic taste, approved of the work.
There was to be yet further revision for
a revival in 1814, with an intended new overture. In the event this was not
finished in time, thanks to the procrastination of the composer, who worked
through the night before the opening to finish it, but failed to have it ready
in time for rehearsal and performance. On the first night of the revival
another overture was played, either Prometheus or The Ruins of Athens,
to Beethoven's embarrassment. The new overture, however, was eventually
finished for the numerous later performances of the opera that year. It bears
the name of the opera itself, Fidelio.
If opera was important in Vienna, its
popularity had long been shared by ballet. The eighteenth century had brought
to the city the most distinguished choreographers and dancers, Noverre,
Hilverding, Angiolini and others, and had employed composers of the stature of
Gluck. Beethoven's first stage music in Vienna had been for Vigano's The
Creatures of Prometheus, staged at the Burgtheater in March, 1801, its overture
an effective example of the eighteenth century dramatic form.
In 1807 Beethoven wrote an overture to
the play Coriolan, the work of the dramatist Heinrich von Collin, brother of
the philosopher employed as tutor to Napoleon's son, the Duke of Reichstadt.
Collin's verse plays on historical subjects enjoyed considerable popularity in
Vienna, where their topical patriotism found a ready response. In Coriolan he
treated the story of the Roman general Coriolanus, victorious in war, but
contemptuous of the common people. Failing to win election to the consulship,
he is dissuaded from attacking and destroying-his own country by the pleading
of his wife and his mother. The treatment of the same subject by Shakespeare is
, of course, much better known than Heinrich von Collin's play, a work that
achieved only ephemeral success.
The first performances of Coriolan in
Vienna had been given in 1801, with music arranged by the Abbe Stadler from
Mozart's Idomeneo. Beethoven's overture does not seem to have been used
for the only recorded performance of the play in Vienna in 1807, but was
certainly played in that year. Its first theme suggests Coriolanus himself, its
second the pleading of his wife.
For Goethe's play Egmont Beethoven wrote
an overture and incidental music, intended for performances in Vienna in May,
1810. The music was not ready for the opening, but was used the following
month. Once again the subject of the play, the heroic rebellion of Count Egmont
against Spanish domination in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, has a
certain topical, political attraction, although Goethe's work had been written
thirty years before. Egmont trusts blindly in his own judgement, urged on by a
passion that transcends reason in his conflict with a state that he has
hitherto served loyally. His love for the bourgeoise Klaerchen, who poisons
herself when she cannot persuade the people to rise in Egmont's defence, is
associated with notions of political freedom.
The overture to Egmont is programmatic,
and some have suggested a reference to the Duke of Alva, the Spanish Governor
of the province, in the opening sarabande rhythm and allusion to the rebel
cause in the first subject of the following Allegro. The closing section brings
the death of Egmont and his consequent moral victory.
The overture and incidental music to
August von Kotzebue's play The Ruins of Athens was written in 1811 for
the opening of a new theatre in Pesth. The occasion was a patriotic one and
Kotzebue's piece d'occasion showed the goddess Minerva regretting the ruins of Athens,
from which art had departed, but cheered at seeing
its revival in Pesth under the enlightened rule of1he Hapsburg emperor.
The Overture, The Consecration of the
House, was commissioned for the opening of the Josefstadt Theater in 1822,
under the management of Beethoven's
On this occasion Beethoven himself,
though now completely deaf, and eccentric in his isolation from society,
conducted from the keyboard, assisted by the Josefstadt Kapellmeister on one
side of him and his pupil and friend Schindler on the other. The event, the composer's
last association with the theatre, was not a musical success, although
Beethoven was greeted with great enthusiasm by a public that had begun to
recognise something of his achievement.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra,
established as a professional orchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in
1949, has won itself a considerable reputation during its relatively short
Slovakia, which, with Bohemia and
Moravia, became the Republic of Czecho-slovakia in 1918, was the source of a
great deal of music during the years of the Habsburg Empire. This musically
fertile region had been influenced by Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian music
and it is these influences that have given the Slovak Philharmonic one of Europe's
finest orchestras, its unique character .On its many international tours, and
at festivals throughout Europe, the orchestra has been praised for its great
musicality and it has been compared by enthusiastic. critics with such
world-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic.
The orchestra benefited considerably from
the work of its distinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talish (1949 -
1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek was
appointed resident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor is
the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and
distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most
successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorak.
During the years of its professional
existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the
most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm
Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra has undertaken many tours
abroad, for example to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of
recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in
recent years, for the Marco Polo label.
These recordings have brought the
orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of
leading international publications.
The American conductor Stephen
Gunzenhauser was educated in New York, continuing his studies at Oberlin, at
the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the New England Conservatory and at Cologne State
Conservatory. His period in Cologne was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship,
followed by an award from the West German Government and a first prize in the
conducting competition held in Santiago, in Spain.
Gunzenhauser has, during the last two
decades, enjoyed a varied and distinguished career, winning popularity in
particular for his work with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. His other
engagements have included appearances with orchestras in Europe and America,
from the RIAS Orchestra of Berlin and Dublin Radio Orchestra to Victoria, B.C.,
Spokane and Knoxville.
Stephen Gunzenhauser is also Executive
Director of the Wilmington Music School and Music Director of the Wilmington
For the Marco Polo Label he has recorded
works by Liadov, Gliere and Rubinstein and for Naxos, Tchaikovsky's Symphony
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