A Manifest of Heroism
Ludwig van Beethoven
Egmont (Op. 84) is a collection of incidental music pieces that Beethoven composed between 1809 and 1810 for the performance of the play of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written in 1788. The Burgtheater of Vienna commissioned this work from the composer in 1809, who gladly accepted his new task of working with the text of one of his favorite playwrights. Not only did Beethoven admire Goethe's aesthetic, but he also shared with him such ethical and political concerns as tyranny, freedom and heroism. The result of his work was nine pieces plus the overture, the last piece being the most independently performed.
Goethe's work is based on the Count of Egmont, a real historical figure. The drama, set in 16th century Brussels, tells the story of the heroic count's deeds against the tyrannical Spanish government that occupied the Flemish lands. His death, far from stifling the revolts of his people, encourages resistance and symbolizes victory over oppression. In the Egmont Overture, Beethoven presents in a dense and synthetic way the themes that are treated in the rest of the pieces, with a tragic sense that advances the argument of the work to the public. The atmosphere of the introduction has a dramatic character similar to that of the Sonata "Appasionata".
In the middle of the creative process, in 1810, Beethoven meets one of the most important women in his life: Bettina Brentano. She was, in turn, a friend of Goethe, to whom she wrote on multiple occasions praising Beethoven's artistic ability, even quoting her with a phrase as profound as true: "Music, in truth, is the mediator between the life of the mind and the senses". The friendship between Beethoven and Brentano was extended in numerous pieces of correspondence.
The Egmont Overture, like other works by Beethoven, became a symbol of resistance in multiple struggles throughout history (no less than the fall of the Berlin Wall). The work, a synthesis of two brilliant minds from history, is a frank manifest about human freedom and heroism, which in the voice of the hero is condensed into one sentence: "Go on! Brave people, you are guided by the goddess of victory! And just as the sea breaks your dikes, break, destroy the walls of tyranny and drag it, wrapped in your waves, away from the land it has usurped".
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