Coriolan Overture, op. 62

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        Beethoven wrote almost a dozen overtures, the most famous, of course, being the four that are connected with his only opera, Fidelio. Some are awful, like Wellington’s Victory, and others are of the stellar quality that the composer’s name evokes. Coriolanus was a play about the tragic Roman general, who was torn between his plan to revolt and the entreaties of his mother and wife to abandon his scheme. Beethoven was familiar with the story through both the works of Shakespeare and Plutarch, but Beethoven’s overture was written for the play of a minor literary contemporary, Heinrich von Collin. Completed in 1807, after having written and revised the overtures to Fidelio, Beethoven obviously approached the composition of this overture immersed in the themes of moral conflict and their resolution that inform the opera. It is easy to hear this conflict from the beginning in the dynamic and incisive themes that vie for superiority in the structure of the composition. It is typical of Beethoven in that--although the overall form is the usual sonata allegro form, with its characteristic recapitulation at the end--he does not simply resolve conflict with traditional musical “consensus.” Rather, he transforms and alters one of the themes in a way that parallels the movement of Coriolanus’ change in personal character--reaching a new plateau of psychological identity. In a nutshell, then, we see one of Beethoven’s characteristic concerns in his approach to drama in music.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan