Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Egmont

Welcome to my music month post! I have decided for this month to write about Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Egmont and will discuss the history behind the music.

Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture-

Beethoven’s Coriolan was written in 1807 for a tragedy by Heinrich Joseph von Collins called Coriolan. The music focuses different themes and characters in the play. The two scales that Beethoven is famous for using in this piece C minor and an E-flat major. For those who do not read music… do not panic if none of that makes sense! The different scales of major and minor are used in order to emphasise different atmospheres within a performance.

The main character of the tragedy is about the Roman leader Coriolanus. Coriolanus supposedly lived during the 5 Century BCE. He was most famous for leading a siege to the Volscian city of Corioli, just south of Rome, which was where he’s name derived from. However due to his bad temper he was banished from Rome. As a result of this banishment he led troops to the city of Rome in order to seize it. Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture exemplifies Coriolanus’ temper and longing for war when played in C minor as C minor conjures a powerful sound to a dramatic backdrop, in the case of  Coriolanus. In addition Beethoven used another scale to show the other side of Coriolanus’ personality. He used E-flat major when his mother insisted that he should not go to Rome with an army and as a result from his mother’s pleas he accepted and showed his softer side before killing himself.

Did Coriolanus’ story exist?-

This is very important to mention as it has been debated over time. Since Ancient times it had mostly been agreed that Coriolanus was a real figure in history and this was documented by historians at the time. These historians included Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Livy. However, in spite of this, there have been modern scepticism about the way Coriolanus has been portrayed. As early as the 3rd Century BC Coriolanus has been documented, yet records in those times were sparse, particularly before the sack of Rome.

How was Coriolanus portrayed in Heinrich Joseph von Collins’ tragedy?-

When Von Collins wrote Coriolan in the nineteenth century, it was written at a time when Romanticism became prominent in Germany. This was a movement that encouraged beauty, seriousness, wit and humour within Philosophy and the arts. Von Collins portrayed Coriolanus as a tragic hero, whereby he was considered to be great but was destined to suffer. So it can be seen that Romantic ideals of “seriousness” can be witnessed within this play.

Beethoven’s Egmont-

Beethoven’s Egmont was written in-between the years of 1809 and 1810. The piece consisted of four separate parts of which included; an overture, soprano, male narrator and a full symphony orchestra. Similarly, as with Coriolan’s overture Egmont was written for a powerful Dutch nobleman by the name of the Count of Edmont. However, I will be writing about how this tune became the “unofficial” anthem of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

What was the Hungarian uprising?-

Hungary was a country within the Eastern bloc that was a part of the Soviet Union. The Hungarian uprising sprang up because the people disagreed with Soviet policies that were implemented in Hungary. It began as a result of a student demonstration marching towards central Budapest to the Parliament building and later marched into a radio building in order to voice their opinions and pleas for reform. After a student was shot dead by a state security policeman, this sparked the revolution. Masses of people entered the streets across all of Hungary in order to stand up to Soviet authority in their country.

Why I think Beethoven’s Egmont was used for the Hungarian uprising?

Harrowing sounds. A fight for democracy. This sums up my thoughts on Beethoven’s Egmont as the “unofficial” anthem of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. When Egmont is played the opening is strong and alludes to the destruction of Hungary. Hungry had suffered much under the control of the Soviet Union and I feel the introduction to the song implies the hardships of the Hungarians; little food, political repression and economic decline. At the softer stages of the song I believe it offered hope to the Hungarians and in a sense commemorated all those that sacrificed their lives in order to take a stand against oppression by the Soviet rule. When the music becomes more intense it is almost impossible to not visualise a large Soviet force penetrating the streets of Budapest, the Hungarian capital. This occurred on the 4 November 1956.

Many lives were lost as a result of this uprising and it lasted for a month. The song is still popular today as it is a reminder to those who were affected by the violence.


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