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3rd Symphony Violin Concerto Triple Concerto Chorale Fantasy Missa Solemnis String Quartet 14 Overture Egmont
Overtures Leonore and Fidelio Fidelio: the complete text of the 2 acts Piano sonata 28 Piano sonatas 30 and 32 Eroica variations Diabelli Variations Tarpeja Triumphal March


Counts Egmont and Hornes are the honour of Brussels.

This bronze statue, made by Charles August Fraikin (1817- ?), was erected in 1864 on the Grand-Place, before being transferred to the Petit-Sablon.

Both were decapitated in 1568 by the Duke of Alba, because of their resistance to Spanish occupation.

TitleThe Overture to Egmont, opus 84, of Beethoven

In his drama Egmont, Goethe (1787) relates the fight of Count Egmont (1522-1568) against the despotic Duke of Albe. Egmont is a famous Flemish warrior, and the duc of Albe represents the Spanish invader. Though under threat of arrest, Egmont refuses to run away and give up his ideal of liberty. Imprisoned and abandoned because of the cowardliness of his people, despite the desperate efforts of his mistress Klärchen, he is sentenced to death.

Thus, faced with her failure and despair, Klärchen puts an end to her life. The play ends on the hero's last call to fight for independence. His death as a martyr appears as a victory against oppression.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Egmont is a political manifesto in which Egmont's craving for justice and national liberty is opposed to the despotic authority of the duc of Albe. It is also a drama of destiny in which the Flemish nobleman, with fatalism, accepts the dire consequences of his straightness and honesty.

When, in 1809, the Burgtheater of Vienna asked Beethoven, a great admirer of Goethe, to compose incidental music for a revival of the play, he accepted with enthusiasm. It recalled themes close to his own political preoccupations, already expressed in his opera Leonore (renamed Fidelio, in the definitive 1814 version) and in his overture Coriolan (in 1807). Besides the egmont overture, he wrote nine pieces of incidental music, of great quality but a little disconnected, culminating with beautiful Klärchen's Death.

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TitleSlow Introduction

3/2 sostenueto ma non troppo (The Prison)

Beethoven exposes here, in a very dense form, the themes that he will use in his overture. He sets straight away a tragic atmosphere with the dark tonality of F minor, used also for the Appassionata sonata.

After a chord in unison played by the whole orchestra, a first phrase opposes the rough accents of the strings' forte (0'08) to the imploring pianos of the woodwind instruments (0'30). The phrase is repeated from 0'53 on, and the accents of the strings are emphasized by the rest of the orchestra. Then, the lengthy melody of the woodwind section (1'13) ends slowly in two phrases of six notes (1'30), very lyrical, supported by the insistent rhythm of the low strings and the timpani in remembrance of the first theme.

This phrase, repeated ten times, lowers by stages before staying suspended (2'07). Only the obsessive rhythm of the bass can be heard, taken up by the violin II and the French horn. The phrase reappears with the cellos, first of all alone (2'13), then doubled by the violin I (in a slow rhythm in it's long version).

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3⁄4 allegro (The Fight)

Fierce energy runs through the central part of the beethoven egmont overture, thus illustrating the fight of the principal character.

The strings speed up in a whirl (2'24), ending up at the first phrase of the first theme (Aa). It is the extension of the previous one (cellos at 2'27). At 2'37, a short motif of four notes repeated three times draws attention. But the real theme rises with the cellos and violas before bursting out at 2'41 (Ab).

We can easily see how Beethoven ensures the organic bonding between the phrases. Each leads on from the previous one.

This Ab phrase has the same rhythmic structure as the famous 5th Symphony's theme. It is structured as a large crescendo leading to the grandiose and tragic restatement of the two previous phrases, this time fortissimo, by the whole orchestra (2'58).

A transitional modulation in the minor calms the tension at 3'13 and ends at the first phrase of the B theme (Ba: 3'21). This B theme repeats the first theme of the introduction in the major and in a fast tempo.

We find the opposition again between the harshness of the string rhythm and the softness of the woodwinds.

At 3'32, the phrase of the woodwinds broaden in a crescendo (Bb), giving a new short melody of the strings (Bc: 3'38). It is then followed by a short coda (3'43), seething with the rising scales of the violins, leading to a new crescendo that introduces the development.

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At 3'57, the Aa theme is repeated in the major and in an increasingly tense atmosphere. At 4'24, the two parts of A are repeated in minor, but superimposed and without the expected crescendo (Aa by the cellos and bass, and Ab by the violin II, then I).

The theme seems to be hesitating, going around in circles (4'31), giving the same feeling of expectation as in the introduction.

At 4'35, a change in key infers the expectation of the key of the beginning. It is the sign of the recapitulation.

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The phrases follow each other in a whirl, like at the beginning of the exposition (4'38). Re-entry of Aa (4'40), of Ab more developed (4'54), then of the two superimposed phrases (5'09). At 5'23, a change in key signs a bend of the classical rules in which all the themes must be re-exposed in the same key. The return of the transition (5'33), of B (5'41) and finally of the coda (6'03), is made in a different key. Beethoven preferred sparing suspense before returning to the initial tone. An addition to the coda (6'15) takes up with the atmosphere of the exposition again, by opposing the abrupt fortissimo rhythm of four horns and a bassoon to the imploring phrase of the strings. At 6'31, this rhythm is repeated by all of the orchestra, echoed by two harrowing notes of the violins (6'34).

Then, all stops (6'36). A ppp woodwind chord (6'39), a rare indication with Beethoven overtures, thickens slowly and creates a threatening, expecting atmosphere.

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allegro con brio 4/4 (The Victory)

From this silence comes out a new whirl of strings (6'54), sustained by the pulsating rhythm of the bass and a rumbling of the timpani.

First pianissimo, it swells up in a bar and becomes a triumphant fanfare (7'05) ("Victory Symphony"), that takes place at the end of the piece, when Egmont goes out to face his torturers.

A new theme following the previous one appears with the violas and cellos (7'20). It leads to a crescendo of the violins (7'23), which ends with a ringing of the trumpets (7'36). Finally, a more solemn fanfare bursts out (7'50), concluding the piece of music with conquering chords and announcing the final triumph of the hero's ideals.

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TitleBy way of conclusion…

Beethoven gives here a musical equivalence to the themes developed by Goethe. But, he also fully respected the musical requirements of sonata form, with outstanding mastery of the art of suspense and transition.

In any event, this beethoven egmont overture summarises the play. Some people indeed hear the theme of Klärchen where others see the theme of liberty! The composer manages to go beyond the enigma of the plot to express his own aspirations through the music. It is up to each of us then to let our imagination wander!

The timings are given from the very beautiful version by Herbert von Karajan (collected overtures with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsche Grammaphon "Galleria" 427 256-2) and will of course be different depending on the performers.

Goethe: Egmont

Goethe: Egmont

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Many thanks to Rebecca ROSSIGNOL for her translation of this page from French into English
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