Beethoven – Egmont Overture, Op. 84

by Max Derrickson

Ludwig van Beethoven   (born, 1770, Bonn, Germany; died 1827 Vienna, Austria)

Egmont Overture, Op. 84

Beethoven’s Egmont Overture correlates to a story, and one, no less, by the great German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  In 1787 Goethe penned a magnificent play about the Dutch hero Count Egmont.  Egmont was a popular military leader and an empathizer with his countrymen in the (then) Spanish Netherlandsin the 16th Century.  When protests for autonomy and religious freedom began to crop up, the ruling Spanish Hapsburgs decided to stop the unrest in any way possible.  As an example to all, Count Egmont’s severed head was placed on a pike in the marketplace in 1568.  But this grizzly image, aside from plunging the oppressed Dutch into a brief despair, soon became an emblem of “the struggle.”  Egmont and his bravery became the symbol of heroism against oppression, and many bloody years later, the Dutch indeed finally won their independence.  Goethe’s play captured those elements of despair, struggle, resolve and triumph masterfully.  When, in 1810, a new production of his play was being staged inVienna, Beethoven was asked to provide the incidental music – a commission he eagerly accepted.


Beethoven considered Goethe one of the “great spirits of the age.”  Heroes and struggle, as well, were not foreign concepts for Beethoven, who had recently finished his mighty Fifth Symphony, and his opera Leonore (Fidelio).  [. . .]