Laurence Equilbey © Jean-Baptiste Millot



What is to be done when a work with music is to be staged and the play — in this case Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Egmont — provides no incidental music of its own? The theatre director either falls back on existing music, or he commissions a composition. The latter is what the theatre impresario Joseph Hartl von Luchsenstein decided to do in 1809, and he commissioned Beethoven with the composition of incidental music for a new production of Egmont at the Burgtheater. As a great admirer of Goethe and inspired by the topos of liberation from religious and political oppression, Beethoven is rumoured to have charged no fee for the work. Besides Klärchen’s two songs, Goethe’s dramatic concept requires three instrumental moods: for Klärchen’s death, during Egmont’s vision in a dream and a piece that is played during the final curtain and ends with a symphony of victory. To these central pieces that serve to further the narrative, Beethoven adds four entracte pieces. He also precedes the complete collection of incidental music with an overture. The latter is firmly established in the repertoire of virtually every concert hall.