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Kyle Vanderburg September 5, 2011 MUSC5970-Beethoven & Schubert Heroism and Beethovens Overture to Egmont Beethovens Overture to Egmont

is considered by many to be a heroic work, written during his heroic middle period and greatly involved with the ideas of heroism and struggle. Lewis Lockwood, in setting qualifications of the heroic phase of Beethoven, mentions the overtures of both Egmont and Coriolanus as these overtures overtly portray heroes.1 This is partly due to the external subject matter of the work, as both Egmont and Coriolanus are connected to dramatic works of the same name that involve heroism. One must wonder, if the play is about heroism, does this translate into the idea that Beethovens incidental music is about heroism as well? Johann Wolfgang von Goethes Egmont is the story of a hero, facing foreign occupation and eventually the loss of his mistress, Klrchen.2 Goethes work is not only dramatic, but also politically charged, as Napoleonic forces were occupying Vienna at the time Beethovens work was commissioned.3 Considering Beethovens mindset during his middle period, when the majority of his heroic works were composed, claiming that Beethovens incidental music for a play centered on a hero is therefore heroic does not require a significant leap of faith. Beethovens writings of the time talk often of fate and struggle, so the idea that he would choose to accept a commission to write incidental music to a play whose subject matter interested him is unsurprising. However, Matthew Heads article Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont takes this idea one step further. According to Heads interpretation of both Goethes and Beethovens Egmont, the play (and by extension, the music) is about feminine heroism rather than masculine heroism. He states that the character

Daniel K. L. Chua, Beethoven's Other Humanism, Journal of the American Musicological Society 62, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 574. Matthew Head, Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont, 19th-Century Music 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 110. 3 Ibid.
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Egmonts heroism is an historic event, as in the play he does very little to further that idea. Rather than being an active hero through the course of the play, he instead stands as a symbol for heroism.4 Head maintains that Beethovens music is tied to Klrchen rather than to Egmont. By Heads count, Egmont includes two stage songs for Klrchen (acts I and III); music signifying her death in act V; a musical pantomime during Egmonts sleep; and a Victory Symphony that ends the play, an unusual musical culmination but one consistent with the conception of the final scene.5 Klrchen can be seen to be a musical focus, having three songs to Egmonts one. Additionally, Head interprets the music after Klrchens death to be a return of Klrchen in musical form, a powerful statement considering Beethovens affinity for struggle and fate. In the end, it is Liberty, taking on the features of Klrchen, who predicts the Netherlands liberation.6 Indications to the Overture to Egmonts heroism can also be heard in the music itself. Measure 25 marks changes in tempo, time signature, and volume, which combine to form a more antagonistic texture than the previous measures. The first instance of musical struggle doesnt occur until measure 43, with the string motive in eights and quarters contrasting with quarters in the winds. A similar point of musical struggle occurs in measure 81, where the strings and winds are once again pitted against each other. Although the music becomes calmer and more homogenous, the pattern is repeated 100 measures later in measure 181. The pattern emerges again prior to the fermata in measure 278. This pattern, which alternates between staccato and legato motives, could be interpreted as the struggle between good and evil in Egmont (or between man and Fate, as seen in the fifth symphony). This pairing of opposing material also occurs on a larger level: The overture appears to have entire sections that contrast with other sections. Measures one through 24 are different in structure than measures 25 through 80. This trend continues through the work until measure 287, where we see the introduction of new material that makes up the most bombastic portion of the work.7

Matthew Head, Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont, 19th-Century Music 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 111. 5 Ibid., 112. 6 Ibid., 111. 7 In addition to these observations about the works texture, James Hepokoski brings up several interesting points about the works formal structure. For more information, see James Hepokoski, Back and Forth from Egmont: Beethoven, Mozart, and the Nonresolving Recapitulation, 19th-Century Music 25, no. 2-3 (Fall/Spring 2001-02), 127-154.
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Between the subject matter of the original play, Beethovens mindset during his middle period, and his interest in heroism and struggle, the Overture to Egmont does appear to be heroic in nature.

Bibliography Chua, Daniel K. L. Beethoven's Other Humanism. Journal of the American Musicological Society 62, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 571-645. Head, Matthew. Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont. 19th-Century Music 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 97-132. Hepokoski, James. Back and Forth from Egmont: Beethoven, Mozart, and the Nonresolving Recapitulation. 19th-Century Music 25, no. 2-3 (Fall/Spring 2001-02), 127-154.