Thursday, April 30, 2020

Beethoven 250: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1993)

Heinrich Füger (1751–1818): Prometheus bringt der Menschheit das Feuer / Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind. Painting, oil on canvas, ca 1817. Palais Liechtenstein, Wien. Gemeinfrei. From: Wikipedia.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

CD 14 / 80

Opus 43: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus – Ballettmusik (Ouvertüre in C-Dur) (1801).
The Creatures of Prometheus, ballet in 2 acts after the libretto by Salvatore Viganò.
    Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1993
    18 tracks, 69 min

Beethoven's only full length ballet is a ballo serio in the allegorical and mythological spheres familiar from Hesiod's Theogony. Characters include, besides Prometheus, Bacchus, Terpsichore, Melpomene, Pan and Thalia, as well as Apollo, muses, graces, Bacchus and Pan with entourage, Orpheus, Amphion and Arion, plus Phoebus and Euterpe.

The original choreography and the libretto have not survived, but many detailed reviews give an idea of the contents of the ballet. The original cast included:

    Prometheus: Filippo Cesari
    The creatures: Maria Cassentini and Salvatore Viganò
    Bacchus: Ferdinando Gioja
    Pan: Franz Kilian Aichinger
    Terpsichore: Fräulein Brendi
    Thalia: Amalie Cesari geb. Muzzarelli
    Melpomene: Theresia Reuth geb. Decamp.

The art director was Josef Platzer.

Beethoven wrote in his choreographical notes: "The two s[tatues] move slowly across the stage from the background. - P[rometheus] gradually regains consciousness, look towards the field, and is pleased when he sees his plan is such a success; he is inexpressibly delighted, stands up and beckons to the children to stop - They turn slowly towards him in an emotionless manner. - P continues to address them, expresses his divine and fatherly love for them, and commands them (gives them a sign) to approach him. - They look at him in an emotionless manner - turn to a tree, the great size of wich they contemplate. - P begins once more to be disheartened, is fearful, and is saddened. He goes towards them, takes their hands and leads them to the front of the stage; he explains to them that they are his work, that they belong to him, that they must be thankful to him, kisses and caresses them. - However, still in an emotionless manner, they sometimes merely shake their heads, are completely  indifferent, and stand there, groping in all directions."

Separated from the original ballet performance the composition does not provide a fully satisfactory experience, but it offers many glorious passages. A thunderous overture opens the ballet score which proceeds in the Mozart / Haydn mode. The music is festive, stately and dignified. In the finale we recognize music that later formed the basis of the fourth movement of the Eroica symphony.

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