Tone Poem Tuesday (Beethoven at 250)

This year has all manner of potential to be…well, roughly on par with its several immediate predecessors, but let’s try not to focus on that entirely, OK? Let us instead focus occasionally, for the remainder of the year, on the fact that 2020 will see the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of one of the towering figures in all human art, Ludwig van Beethoven.

I’m planning on going down quite the Beethoven rabbit hole this year. I won’t feature him every week in this space; sometimes he’ll appear on Something for Thursday, sometimes he’ll have a post of his own, and sometimes he might not even appear on this blog for a week or two at a time. But I plan to make old Ludwig quite the presence here for the remainder of the year, leading up to his actual birthdate on December 16.

For today, we will lead off Ten Months of Beethoven with the overture to his one and only opera, Fidelio. This opera springs from Beethoven’s eternal concerns about human freedom and liberty, as well as the devotion of love to those causes. In the opera, a woman named Leonore decides to free her husband from his unjust imprisonment, and in so doing, she adopts the costume and identity of a young man named Fidelio. Beethoven’s process in composing this opera was typically strained and tortured; he labored over versions of the opera for years and he eventually produced not one but four overtures for the piece, finally settling on this final version, which is shot through with lyrical excitement and light.

Aaron Copland wrote of Beethoven:

Beethoven brought three startling innovations to music: first, he altered out very conception of the art by emphasizing the psychological element implicit in the language of sounds. Secondly, his own stormy and explosive temperament was, in part, responsible for a dramatization of the whole art of music…Both of these elements–the psychological orientation and the instinct for drama–are inextricably linked in my mind with his third and possibly most original achievement: the creation of musical forms dynamically conceived on a scale never before attempted and of an inevitability that is irresistible.”

Here is the Fidelio overture by Ludwig van Beethoven.

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