April 6, 2013 7:30 PM
Vernon Cook Theater
Clinton High School
Coriolan Overture, Op 62
Without doubt, the best known drama by Heinrich Joseph von Collin is Coriolan - less because of the tragedy itself than because of the overture Ludwig van Beethoven wrote for the work in 1807. Although the two artists worked together on several expansive projects, this overture is the only one which came to fruitition. Collin wrote, for example, two opera libretti for Beethoven which for whatever reasons were never completed. One libretto was based on William Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the other, Bradamante, was taken from a portion of the epic poem Orlando furioso by Italian Ludovico Ariosto. While they had differences in the treatment of the subjects, the major point of contention between the two men came down to the musical treatment of the texts. Beethoven had a preference for the mixed form of spoken word and arias of the singspiel as he had employed in his heroic opera Fidelio, while Collin favored the more progressive, continuous flow of music represented by the recitative and aria. That neither work progressed beyond a few preliminary sketches by Beethoven is indicative of the distance in artistic view that separated them.
Beethoven and Collin did see eye to eye, however, on the overture Beethoven was engaged to compose for a new production of Collin's drama Coriolan. The overture was first presented in concert at the residence of Beethoven and Collin patron Prince Joseph Lobkowitz in March 1807. Coriolan, Collin's version of the Shakespeare original Coriolanus, had premiered in Vienna in 1802 and had enjoyed a successful run until March 1805. Lobkowitz, along with two other princes, had assumed directorship of the Burgtheather in Vienna and arranged for a repeat performance of the overture and the drama there in April 1807. Whether this was done in an effort to revive the drama is unknown, but the work was withdrawn following the April public performance.
The drama concerns one Caius Martius Coriolanus, a Roman general who has successfully protected the city from invasion by the Volscians. Coriolanus, however, holds the Roman citizenry in contempt, considering them to be corrupt, greedy and changeable at the least provocation. Elected by public acclamation to the Roman senate, he still refuses to bow to the public, and for this he is exiled. He then offers his military skills to the Volscians and leads them to the gates of Rome where they lay siege to the city. Fearing for their lives and for the city, the Roman senate sends Coriolanus' wife and mother to reason with him. Coriolanus relents under their pleas and calls off the siege. In Shakespeare's drama, Coriolanus is surrounded by the betrayed Volscian soldiers and is slain; in Collin's version, Coriolanus takes his own life.
The Coriolan Overture, Op 62 is programmatic in that it follows the course of the drama in concentrated musical form. The opening main theme represents the noble rage of Coriolanus while the milder, lyrical second theme speaks to the softer pleadings of his wife and mother to spare the city. As the music unfolds, the two themes are juxtaposed and transformed to illustrate the sincerity of the wife and mother and the wavering resolve of Coriolanus, until the music dies away as surely as Coriolanus ceases to exist.