New Beethoven CD is out!

Helsinki Baroque Orchestra’s traditional New Year’s concert has just been released as a live recording by Ondine. This album with HeBO playing on period instruments under the direction of Aapo Häkkinen includes Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) complete incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont. This complete music includes parts sung by soprano Elisabeth Breuer as well as spoken texts narrated by Robert Hunger-Bühler.

Beethoven started to write the incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont in the autumn of 1809. The recent experience of Napoleon’s siege of Vienna, the Spanish uprising against the French, and the ubiquitous awareness of the hand of the oppressor inspired him to write music in which the drama develops into the musical vision of the Wars of Liberation. It was a commission from the management of the Imperial Court Theatre in Vienna, which in October 1809, oppressed by Napoleon on all sides, had turned again to Egmont, with a view to putting on a new production. Beethoven was tasked with providing the essential and indispensable music, which was however played only from the fourth performance of the new production in June 1810. Beethoven had recently become an ardent reader and admirer of Goethe. He had set Mignon’s song Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt four times in 1808 alone, and this had started an intense preoccupation with songs to Goethe texts. In a letter to Bettina von Arnim in February 1811 Beethoven writes: “My most sincere admiration … for Goethe … I am about to write to him myself about Egmont, for which I have written the music, which I did out of sheer love for his poetry …”. What distinguishes Beethoven’s Egmont are great dramatic emotion of style, tightly unified musical ideas, and an absolute determination to create a sense of the triumph of freedom as the Utopian dream of the whole of mankind. The overture, the only one of the ten numbers to be heard regularly today in the concert-hall, draws all these intentions together in concentrated form. Its meaning is revealed only in context, together with the interludes and the final musical episodes.

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