Lamoral, count of Egmont, was a leading Dutch nobleman and politician in the sixteenth century. His resistance to Spanish encroachment led to his arrest and execution in 1568, and was one of the factors that led to the Eighty Years’ War, during which Holland became independent of Spain.
Egmont’s life and example were widely publicized throughout Europe. This led Goethe to write a play named for him, which he completed in 1788. It portrays “the downfall of a man who trusts in the goodness of those around him”. In due course, Beethoven was asked to write incidental music for the play. His Egmont Suite was completed in 1810, during the latter part of the Napoleonic Era.
Most of the Egmont Suite is seldom performed these days, although there is one complete recording on YouTube. The most famous part of the Suite is the Overture, which is widely performed as part of the standard classical music repertoire. It’s one of my favorite short works.
I was reminded of it yesterday when I had the opportunity to make a pun on its name in a comment about a friend’s blog post (greeted with a groan and a facepalm, of course). I thought those of my readers who don’t know it might enjoy it, so here it is. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig is conducted by the estimable Kurt Masur.
(If the embedded video below won’t play, click here to go to its home page on YouTube.)
This is one of my favorite recordings of the piece. I think the conductor and orchestra got the tempo just about dead right, unlike many other recordings that I think tend to take it too quickly. After all, its subject (and Goethe’s treatment of him) is imposing, exemplary, but ultimately tragic, so I think a certain gravitas is appropriate.