Beethoven and the traitors: new boy band in town

When it comes to Musical History, it is undeniable that Ludwig van Beethoven is one of its greatest icons. Ill-tempered, rough, deaf (it all could be linked, of course) we know just that side of his personality which was, surely, richer. Yet we all (maybe not all: while writing this, I have VH1 running on my tv; it seems quite clear there are a lot more people than I imagined who never heard about him) know his music: epic, dramatic, sensual, full of life…But we also know that he was, almost as an exception, not particularly fond of opera. He composed just one. So, now we are producing our usual Music and History November, where are we going to find a historical piece which shows Beethoven links with History?

Not in Fidelio, his only opera, which is more political than historical. Not in his better known works, which are non-programmatic and, to some extent, quite abstract and avant-garde for his time. Maybe we could have got hold of the over-repeated anecdote of Ludwig furiously erasing the dedication to Napoleon he had written in the master copy of his third symphony (somehow fittingly called Eroica) after his hero had become the villainous conqueror of the best part of Europe…

We will have to find another source for our work. One that, nowadays, is not as fashionable as it was in the XIX, at least at theatres: incidental music. That is the kind of music one expects today in video games and the like. A couple of hundred years ago it was usual to find it when a play was played, going with the scenes or, just as in the opera, introducing the action through an overture. And that is precisely what we were looking for, a couple of overtures signed by the genius and based on historical figures. Not coincidentally, one could guess, the main characters would be tragic figures, military heroes dubbed traitors, beloved men executed as bitter enemies. In one case, we can’t be even sure about his actual existence…So, here we go. Today we are introducing Count Lamoral Egmont and General Coriolanus. A big applause for them, please!


First things first so, as Coriolanus was senior to Egmont by…well, some centuries, we will discuss him, and the piece on him, sooner. The Coriolan Overture was written by Beethoven in 1807 for a tragedy by Austrian dramatist Heinrich Joseph von Collin which depicted the life and famous death of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a Roman general from the 5th century BC. You may be more familiar with the play by Shakespeare, Coriolanus, which, curiously enough, has a different ending. Well, not so different in the end, as he is going to die the same. But let’s not hurry.

We don’t even know if Gaius Marcius did exist at all. First accounts come from no sooner than the third century BC and  they are not really authoritative. Modern scholars tend to believe that he is a legendary figure, representing the early struggles of Rome for its survival against local enemies and the inner fight between plebeians and patricians, or at least that his life was not exactly as recorded. In any case, the story is so powerful as to move both William Shakespeare and Ludwig van Beethoven, possibly the best in their disciplines, to work on it.


The story is sad, yet it has a familiar ring: Gaius Marcius is an officer of the Roman army during the siege of Coriolis; while on watch duty he discovers a weak point in the Volscian defenses and takes advantage of a sally from the defenders to charge through the doors with a small unit and set fire to the town, hence forcing the Volscian army to withdraw and surrender the town. Here, Gaius Marcius gains the name of “Coriolanus”.

We meet him again some years later amidst political upheaval in Rome. There’s famine, grain has to be imported, but Coriolanus advocates for putting an end on pro-plebeian political reform if they want the grain distributed. As a member of a patrician family, it seems the now general wants to reinforce his party at the price of plebeians deaths, if needed. He is trialed and convinced, then exiled. Obviously (old followers will remember our paper on Alcibiades some years ago), he goes to the enemy.

Commanding a victorious Volscian army, Coriolanus wins battle after battle, takes town after town and finally lays siege to Rome itself. Allegedly, Coriolanus would pursue his political whims even now, directing the looting and plundering to plebeian properties instead of the patrician ones.

In the end, the desperate Senate sends a final embassy, a forlorn hope, to parley with the invaders. The all women team is led by Coriolanus own mother, and his wife. Looks like a cheap trick, right? Well, it is going to succeed where politicians and priests couldn’t, adding weight to the mythical character, if not of the man, at least of the story. Coriolanus heed the pleading and puts an end to the siege (See? That is Alcibiades all over again), thus betraying the Volscians.

They are not pleased, obviously, so the fate of merciful Coriolanus is quite clear: death, either by his own hand, as Collin puts it, dishonored and ruined; or murdered by the vindictive Volscians, as Shakespeare likes it, it is all the same. Here lies Coriolanus, son, soldier, hero, traitor…


Beethoven could possibly relate, to some extent, to the story. As a Vienna inhabitant, he suffered the invasion of the French army, commanded by his once admired, later despised Napoleon, in the run to Austerlitz in 1805, a couple of years before the Overture premiered. Later on, in 1809, Vienna was sieged and bombarded to the point that Ludwig had to seek refuge in his brother Caspar’s house. After the battles of Aspern and Wagram, Napoleon ruled his ever-increasing territories from Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, and the need to accommodate the occupant French army put an overwhelming burden on the people of Vienna, including Beethoven: food was scarce, bread was made of barley. In 1811, the government declared bankruptcy, reducing the value of the florin to one-fifth. Beethoven, always worried with financial security, took a big blow as his main income, an annuity ingenuously agreed with important patrons such as the Archbishop Rudolph and Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, fell from 4000 to 800 florins. So he was suffering from the actions of the once a hero, now a traitor (if not to his country, evidently to some of the ideals Beethoven had thought they shared).

He could had also felt Coriolanus as someone similar to himself: harsh, with a tendency to speak out his mind maybe a tad to freely, passionate yet sometimes aloof. Ludwig had success in exile, too, albeit in very different circumstances as he went to Vienna from Bonn searching for a successful career in music and of his own accord, not pushed off by angry mobs. To some degree, he too was waging war: on critics, on deafness, on solitude. They were two of a kind.


Yet he was not probably thinking on that while composing the Overture. The piece was written to pair with the play which had been quite popular from its premiere, back in 1802, for a special performance in Beethoven’s own patron Prince Lobkowitz’s palace. Remember: Lobkowitz was paying a beautiful amount of money to Beethoven for his music. Ludwig himself conducted the orchestra. The Overture, today little known (and even less performed), was somehow detached and strangely disconnected from the play. The usual thing with overtures is that they should summarize and introduce what it is going to happen along the play. But in Coriolanus, Beethoven just took two main themes who fight each other: one is believed to represent Coriolanus himself, with the other giving voice to the supplicant women. The C (for Coriolanus?) minor tonality, quite usual in Beethoven works, sounds powerful and turbulent. The opposing tune, in E flat major, is grieving yet tender. Both interwoven up and down without necessarily follow the development of the play. The final pizzicato is open to interpretation: I like to think those are the strings that hold the life of our hero being clipped as he dies, but we don’t really know. It could well be a minor form of the well-known theme that opens the fifth symphony, which was being composed around the same time: fate knocks on the door.


Fate was also knocking on Ludwig’s life. Some of his better-known works such as the Emperor Concert, the sixth and ninth symphonies, and some of his more avant-garde piano sonatas were still to come, but his health, never very good, was deteriorating ever faster. His last years were a long painful ordeal. His dreamed of financial security was now left aside in order to procure for his nephew Karl, son to Ludwig’s brother Kaspar, whose ward he had been bitterly disputing from his sister-in-law; however, uncle and nephew were frequently at loggerheads,  yet he always treated Karl as his son and spent time and, as we said before, money in him.  As Coriolanus, he couldn’t help it: blood is thicker than water.


Tous les matins du monde le Roi danse. Music in the Sun king’s era through French films.

Now, we have this man. And the man is a king, mind you. A great king. One who, allegedly, dared to say that He was the State. And, by the way, there is this tale of this man not really being the king, but a twin, or a lookalike, the real king being imprisoned behind an iron mask…well, that is literature after all. We, here, discuss History, it seems. And History is all about facts, isn’t it?

Well…facts are good for your health and all that. But sometimes you need to fantasize, adorn or simply fill the gaps between fact and fact. That is what dangerous people such as writers, playwrights and filmmakers do when historical fact is not what they need (or just not enough) to tell a story. And sometimes we can take advantage of such mischief to try to understand the facts.

So… we have this king. The king had a Kingdom he was supposed to rule, yet he also liked to dance. That, the way in which dancing can help ruling a kingdom, is part of the story that Gérard Corbiau, the French director, brought to life back in 2000 through his film “Le Roi danse”. Almost a decade before, another Frenchman, Alain Corneau, had tried to show us the meaning of music in the same age in the Cesar Award winning film “Tous les matins du monde” which spoke not about the king himself, or politics, but about music outside his court’s gilded cage, and the ambitions of those who wanted to be inside that cage.

Corbiau’s film, probably the lesser from the strictly artistic point of view, offers more to the connoisseur in the field of History (or, at least, historical based fiction). It is not about the Sun King himself, but about the musician who dominated great part of his reign, Jean Baptiste Lully, and his relations with both the king and other XVII century rock star, playwright Moliére. And in it we can find one powerful statement (apocryphal, unfortunately)from the king which could help us understand both his way of practicing politics and the importance of music and, significantly, dance during his lasting reign. Arguing with Lully, his Chief Musician, about the former role in his court (and Lully’s sexual preferences…but that is another story) the Sun King says that music has a part in the new order he is trying to instate, because it is the incarnation of universal harmony. “It is useful to me” says the king. “It is useful to the State” (which was more or less the same)…”and to God” (hence the argument about Lully’s tastes that were giving trouble to the king with the religious party in the Court). The aim is that France, who Louis XIV envisioned as the supreme power in Europe, had to have the best music in the continent…and obviously the most respectable. And Lully was very good at complying with the first, then not really as good with the second.

“Le Roi danse” depicts a dancing king, always keen on getting into the stage and show his prowess to the Court while, at the same time, sending powerful political messages through the choreography, music and wording. Even the wardrobe was designed to fulfill a purpose, usually to show the king’s magnificence. Louis was an absolutist ruler and so his ruling must be exerted in absolutely every possible way, music inclusive. During his reign, French music rose to the height of the European stage, fighting the Italian influence with purely (or so perceived) French traits: the prominence of dance and ballet, and above all, a rival for the Italian opera. First, in a joint.venture between the two artistic geniuses available, Lully and Moliére who together created the new genre: “la comédie ballet”, this being a development from the classic “ballet de court”, the cornerstone of French music up to that moment. Lully’s compositions were impaired to Moliére’s words, always humoristic and quite often satirical, in which some of the political views of the king were interspersed in a sometimes not-so-subtle way. Later on, Lully would eventually follow with his own evolution to Opera, the “tragédie lyrique” based upon the works of some of the best playwrights in France, next to Moliére himself, as Racine and Corneille.

Interestingly enough, given the known facts, the film suggests a break up between the partners prior to Lully’s success with the new tragédies. He is depicted at this point in his life as a paranoid who wants the king’s attention just for his music alone, and distrusts Moliére. Also despising his deteriorating health, Lully plots with the king to get rid of his friend accusing the playwright of being sick…which in fact, Moliére was. He coughed, he spat…not the powerful man he once was, not the image France wanted at the time. And, yes, Moliére was put aside by the king.

Probably my favorite scene in the film is that in which Moliére dies on the stage during a performance of  his counterattack on Lully: “Le Malade imaginaire”; he played an hypochondriac but, unlucky man, he was really sick. He had a bout of hemoptysis on stage during the fourth night of his last play, dying a little later, at home. That’s a fact…yet the way it is shown in the film gives the distorted fact a new strength. The forceful performance by Tcheky Karyo gives the whole scene an unforgettable scent of pathos.

So exits the scene Moliére, so the success will go finally, and entirely, to Lully. Master of the Court’s music, his Tragédies were all the rage, and he kept on composing music for his Master, the Sun King, trying to provide an ever-increasing brilliance to his reign. He died, and so begins the film, almost absurdly: he injured his own foot with his conducting staff, then refused to have the leg amputated on the grounds that a dancer’s leg couldn’t be amputated. Gangrene took its toll, finally, at a time when his star was in decline and the religious party was, again, on the rise at Court. Just a year before, Louis have made a point of not inviting his old crony to perform at Versailles; yet Lully’s injury came while he was conducting a Te Deum on the occasion of celebrating the king’s recovery from surgery: the loyal courtier to the bitter end.

In fact he was so loyal not only to the king but to the State (in case the latter was not in fact the former…or vice versa) that he fought his own kind all along his life: being an Italian (Giovanni Battista Lulli was his real name) he behave like a French, pushing forward his adoptive nation’s political goals by his own means and helping to create a truly French music, different and almost opposite to the Italian dominant trend, especially in the Opera field, where his innovations in text composition, massive ballets and combination of arias and recitatives, giving less importance to singing and more to acting and dancing, departed far away from the until then successful tendencies.

As good as “Le Roi danse” depicts music at Court, “Tous les matins du monde” does the same with the music outside it. But, surprisingly, and somewhat fittingly, it begins with the same approach: and old courtier and favoured musician is getting to the end of his life, and he remembers his past life in a long flashback which comprises almost the entire length of the film. The exact same technique (perhaps not coincidentally) in both films. But in this case, the musician was a local kid, the viola da gamba virtuoso Marin Marais.

What surprised me most of “Tous les matins…” was the silence. In a film almost two hours long, dialogues are few, short and often brisk (even brusque, especially on the part of Monsieur de Sainte Colombe), with music and silence filling the void. Even Marin Marais proposes a couple of times to his Master that the essence of music could be silence, to the amusement (or disgust, it is difficult to tell from the restraint interpretation given by Jean-Pierre Marielle) of the latter.

Story make short, a great musician (Sainte Colombe) embittered by his wife’s death secluded himself in his country house where he plays and composes in solitude. In time, he teaches the Viola da gamba to his two daughters and have some gigs, thus attracting the Court’s attention. Summoned by the King (so interested in music as we’ve seen) he refuses to attend the Court but a young virtuoso is instead sent from there to learn from him. This ends in disaster, because Sainte Colombe is not a patient teacher and Marais a tad too much haughty to be a good pupil.

Love (or lust) interferes when Marais and Sainte Colombe’s oldest daughter begin a relation. She helps him secretly spying on his father while he is playing but, more at ease at the Court, Marais soon grows tired of her, and leaves. She will get ill while her father, relentlessly, pursues his music (and, by the way, his wife’s ghost whom he could see sometimes when playing) and Marais becomes an applauded and rich Court musician. After her dead, Marais finally gets in touch, on cold night, with his old Master, and learns what has to be learned…

Quite apart from “Le roi danse”, no Court life in here. No fight for power. The story is told by Marais, now and old man and teacher himself, as an example for his pupils. Is all about music and what lies in it, and nothing about Court’s music and what lies inside Versailles, yet it tells us interesting things about music in that age… and is relations with Power. Marais is all Court: haughty mannered, ambitious, cold-hearted. He is a viola da gamba virtuoso and yet Sainte Colombe will not teach him because he cannot feel music in his pupil, just technique without feeling. At Court, technique was far more important, as claiming to be a virtuoso could put you in the King’s (and he being the Sun king, being the focus could be as dangerous as rewarding), and ambition and refined manners and a high self-regard were paramount to get to the top: we’ve already seen how Lully betrayed Moliére. Top of the list there was very limited space. He will get whatever he can from Sainte Colombe (daughter inclusive) just because it is an instrument to his ascension in the Royal favour.

On the contrary, Sainte Colombe represents a musician who is no friend of the crowned paraphernalia. He lives for his music and his memories, and doesn’t want to be part of Louis power politics. He is solicited by the king because he is a virtuoso; furthermore, he is also an innovator who has added an extra string to his instruments to reach the whole spectrum of Human voice and whose compositions were highly regarded. This, obviously, fitted perfectly in Louis intentions on putting French music at the head of European arts, as part of his pretension to political hegemony. But when the harsh player rejects all summons, the King just let him go, with grace. He couldn’t afford to lose an argument with a subject, but probably also thought that paying that much attention to a commoner could be, in fact, a sign of weakness on his part. So allegedly amused by Sainte Colombe’s resistance he drops his summons…only to, this is just a suggestion, plot with his courtiers to get Marais taught. He was, after all, a young and very promising musician himself, the son of a humble cobbler, who surely will abide to his King’s will in his own benefit.

If ever was a plot, it worked. Sainte Colombe’s music wasn’t lost and Marais became, on time, ordinaire de la chambre du roi pour la viole, position he will kept for forty-six years, learning also from Lully and attempting even some operas, although he is best known for his viola da gamba works. Meanwhile, Monsieur de Sainte Colombe fought his ghosts far from the Court’s glitter, trying to find a sense in a life that was meaningless for him after his loss but for what he could get off the music. Not interested in power, money or position he just played. HIs work, nonetheless, became a piece in Louis schemes both by his lasting impression in Marais’ own works, and the innovations he brought, both technical and in composition, to his field of expertise; the glory of his music was, after all, the glory of France and its Sun king.

The title of the film (which is based upon a novel written by Pascal Quignard, who also wrote the adaptation for the screen) “Tous les matins du monde”, “all the mornings in the world”, comes from something Quignard makes Marais to say both in the novel and the film. Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour: all the mornings in the world never return. At the end, Marin Marais came to understand this, as he finishes his story and sees his old teacher’s ghost, proud at last, asking him to play the song he wrote for Madeleine, daughter and lover respectively. When everything is gone, music still remains. Thus happens to Louis XIV in the long run, today well-known as Versailles builder, even though that honour should bestowed on Le Vau, and d’Orbay as architects, Le Brun as designer and Le Nôtre as landscape designer. HIs political work faded as France went to turmoil and the absolute power he built, with the help of Lully, Moliére, Sainte Colombe, Marais and the like, turned into liberté, egalité, fraternité amidst much bloodshed. The music his musicians made for him, to make shine his France and himself, is still there, moving, alive, inspiring. The morning of French glory is never to returned, as it happens to all the rest. Its music, however, never fully went away, and it is always around us, waiting for someone to hear and get in touch, just as Sainte Colombe’s wife.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Couperin & Marais: French Musical Enhancement in the Court of the Sun King

Today I bring you a topic that we have explored very superficially elsewhere and that has been resurfaced due to some feedback and encouragement received via Facebook. You may see a couple of related updates too. These will all revolve around the topic of music in the court of the Sun King. And for this occasion, I present you two men who were influential in the court of Versailles and that are perhaps not all that well-known. I am talking about François Couperin and Marin Marais.

They were both composers who were incredibly talented in their own specialties. Couperin was a master keyboard player. The Couperin family had a high-profile as organists: both Couperin’s father and brother were renown for playing the organ at the Church of Saint-Gervais (Paris). François would continue this legacy years later, alongside his duties at the court of the king. One of his most famous pieces of work, Pieces de Clavecin, was produced under royal patronage. The enterprise begun in 1713, allowing him to produce 4 volumes on harpsichord music. This was followed by a manual on how to play the instrument:  L’art de toucher le clavecin (1716), which apparently he wrote to ensure his previous work was understood and interpreted properly. Although his musical activities diminished after the king’s death in 1715, he was nevertheless appointed “ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin” in 1717, which was one of the greatest titles and honours a court musician could ever receive.

Marin Marais on the other hand, was famous for his work with the viola de gamba. He studied with the great Lully, and in fact conducted many of his operas. Not much is known about Marais personal life, and it seems most of what we know about him comes from his musical success. He was appointed as court musician in 1676, acquiring the title of “ordinaire de la chambre du roy pour la viole” in 1679 – equivalent to that of Couperin in his own field of work. His most famous piece was the 5 volume Pieces de Viole (1686 to 1725). Like Couperin’s work, this became the model of study for viola de gamba players in France ever since. From the personal point of view we also know that both composers got married and had children who also pursued a career in music. Couperin’s daughter, Marguerite-Antoinette, succeeded her father as harpsichordist for the court until 1741. Marais son, Roland, following his father’s footsteps became also a viola de gamba player and composer. However, the rest of the information available on each of them is entirely concerning their musical career. For the little that is recorded about both composers on a personal level – and more importantly on a musical level – we need to turn to the work of Titon du Tillet called Le Parnasse françois (Paris, 1732). This was a compilation of all the great musicians and poets working at the French court during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Couperin was considered an individualist. He took upon himself to import a great deal of Italian sonatas and cantatas from the 1690s into the French musical sphere. These influenced his work greatly, which is particularly noticeable in his Les goûts réunis, a piece that combined the French style and his Italian influences from Corelli. Another aspect that differentiated Couperin from his contemporaries was the fact that he liked to group his pieces into ordres rather than suites, as well as creating character pieces instead of music based on dance movements, which was the norm. On the other hand, the fact that Marais was a viola de gamba expert already set him apart from his peers. But what is truly outstanding about Marais is the sheer volume of work he left behind. He did not only write the benchmark for future musicians in his field, he also published the work himself. The 5 volumes amount to a total of over 550 compositions for different musical formations viola de gamba players. In fact, his contribution is in volume bigger to any other composer in history. His work stands alone as the key literature written for the instrument.

We obviously need to keep in mind that it was not these individuals effort that made the musical arts great in the France of Louis XIV, but their personal contributions increased the national profile and set standards for those among them and many to follow. I hope this allows you to have a little think about this fascinating period of French history from a different perspective and to investigate many others that like Couperin and Marais enhanced the arts beyond national excellence.

To hear some of Couperin’s work just have a look at this YouTube video:

For Marais, the BBC Music website has an excellent list of his work and recordings you can explore:


Ghost from war past: The Portrait by Aaron Copland

A man with a strong personality is that one who, commissioned in a time of war to make a musical portrait of a fellow countryman decides that he wants to depict Wal Whitman, a famous peacemaker. That the man ended up working on a portrait of Abraham Lincoln reflects not only the seriousness of times but also the awareness and tactfulness of the same man, being able to let down his own pet idea for what was considered a better option for that particular moment in time, an inspiring piece of art in time of need. The fact that the piece itself is a black swan in classical music, and a moving mix of folklore, History, voice and music, a true avant-la-lettre multimedia artwork speaks of the genius that man was. The name of the man was Aaron Copland.

Now, you probably do not know the name. Never heard of it, don’t you? That is the problem with classical music: take a good central-European name and everyone would think “yes, I kind of know that one”. But US nationals are far more related in the public’s imagination with rock (and pop) than classical when it comes to music. Nevertheless, Aaron Copland is considered one of the (if not “the”) best US composers, and was even called “the Dean of American composers”, and his works, specially those of the 1930’s and 40’s, are fundamental in defining a true “American” style of composition, distinctive in its openness and accessibility. The use of popular tunes is another trademark, as in A Lincoln portrait and, as is the case with the use of spoken recitations of the depicted’s own words, while it was not original, Copland took it to new heights.

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Boris Godunov:A Tsar and a musician walk into a bar…

So, what about an opera about a Tsar, written by a serf’s grandson and which was rejected by the Maryinsky Theatre just because (allegedly) it lacked a leading female character, then turning into a massive success (but not with the Imperial family) only to be adapted, shortened, reconstructed and who knows what else after its alcoholic composer died in the exact day of his 42nd birthday? That could be worth a little more reading…

Modest Mussorgsky’s father was the son of a serf. He, eventually, was recognised as a noble and owned a vast estate which contained eighteen villages at Karevo not that far from nowadays Russian frontier with Belarus and a rough 250 miles from Saint Petersburg, then the capital. Granny was still alive when Modest was a small boy and we can only imagine the strange thing that a noble man son to a serf woman was at the time. Yet they were not part of the very affluent. Serfs and nobles would be important in the future of Modest; but before that, see him learning to play piano, taking lessons from Mum, listening to the folk tunes his nurse would sing. Then at the age of thirteen, he was sent to Saint Petersburg’s cadet school, joining in the event the Preobrazhensky Guards. Not exactly the same than at home.

There he spent the next years, getting in contact with some of the leading members of Russian musical society, as Balakirev or Borodin. But in 1861, the serfs would force him back home at the age of 21. Well, to be honest, it was the Tsar, not the serfs, who forced him back. Being not a really brilliant nor decisive leader, Alexander II was somewhat convinced, possibly because of the pressure enacted by his resourceful aunt Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, that serfs needed some sort of emancipation. That, in a huge autocracy where education and alphabetization levels were appalling and, as we have seen, lesser nobles owned almost twenty villages and all in them, people inclusive.

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Viking Raiding in Iron Maiden’s ‘Invaders’!

For music month I decided to go with a song about Vikings, which isn’t very surprising. This is another one from Iron maiden after Ellie’s look at ‘Aces High’, which you should also check out here!:

‘Invaders’ is the opening track on Iron Maiden’s third studio album ‘The Number of the Beast’, released in March 1982. The reception of this song was fairly mixed, as many reviewers thought that this was one of the weaker tracks on the otherwise excellent album, and it was a poor decision to use as the opener. On the other hand, others have felt that this song has been overly criticized, saying that Invaders kicks things off to a great start with a fast pace and its collection of riffs. Some also think that while the pace and mood of the song are not to their liking, or they perhaps consider it dull, the epic tone of the lyrics about Norse warfare was approved of. Whatever the fans and reviews might say, Steve Harris himself, the writer of the song and the band’s bassist, has stated that the track was not good enough, commenting that it “could have been replaced with something a bit better, only we didn’t have anything else to replace it with at the time. We had just enough time to do what we did, and that was it.”

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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.

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Mazeppa: Cossack, Hero and Betrayer

Does the name Mazepa mean anything to you? Perhaps if you are from Ukraine or Poland, but maybe not. Hopefully Pyotr Ilvich Tchaikovsky would be a name that you would be more familiar with. Well, it is of an opera of his, and a symphonic poem by Liszt that we are going to talk about today and the deeds and story of a Cossack Hetman: Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa. But first let’s set the scenery for you…

Poland,  (or the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, depending on how picky you want to be) 17th century, a young man is born into a decent family, the month is March and the year 1639. His mother’s side of the family had strong connections to the Cossacks for generations. After being educated by the Jesuits in Warsaw the young man is sent to serve to the court of John II Casimir, and was put in charge of dealing with the business of the Polish court in Ukraine, as an emissary or a diplomat if you like. And at this stage of his career, according to Franz Liszt, Mr. Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa gets involved in a love affair with a polish lady called Madam Falbowska, and this romance is the reason why the gentleman mentioned above was tie naked to a horse and sent back to Ukraine…Where then he joins the Cossacks and become a renown officer. His work was first premiered in 1854 and was focused in Mazepa’s glory days which, as we will see later, is a clear example of Romantic interpretations and stories of the 19th Century.

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The hard way to Heavens: Dialogues des Carmelites, Poulenc achieves immortality.

Now, you think about opera and something epic comes to mind. You think about French composers and something beautiful but somehow light is expected. You think about nuns and silence and boredom are words that could come to mind. Not that nuns are usually welcome as great historical characters. You think about Francois Poulenc and you may think: Francois who?, the man being not so well-known as some other composers. You think about classical music and it seems it all ended with Mahler and Strauss in the first half of the 20th Century. Maybe you should think less, and listen to some music instead.

Dialogues of the Carmelites is a quite unusual opera, we have to concede that. It is based on a play which in turn is based upon a short piece, which is based upon an almost forgotten episode of the French Revolution period. It was composed by a composer appreciated for his high-spirited music but not really regarded as a master of serious composition. It was also intended to be a ballet, first, and not even based on that particular story but, some may say, fate was dictated from above to get the terrible story of these people to the stage.

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Iron Maiden in World War Two with ‘Aces High’

It is for a love of a song that I am currently blogging outside of my happy place of all things Medieval. For music month I want to discuss the historical meaning behind one of Iron Maiden’s most well-known songs ‘Aces High’. Here is the link to the music video to play before, after or during reading:

Written by their bassist Steve Harris in 1984, this songs tells of the exploits of British RAF fighters against the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. As one of their most popular songs from the album Powerslave it has been extensively covered and remains a staple of the Heavy Metal genre today. The Battle of Britain (BOB) occurred one year into the Second World War where Germany attempted to gain access to the skies over England, and maintain excessive bombings across the British Isles. Instead of defining one battle on a single day like most Medieval and Early Modern skirmishes, the BOB lasted for several months over late summer and early autumn of 1940.

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