Monday, March 28
Beethoven in Vienna
On today's date in the year 1801, the world, or at least that portion of it seated in the Imperial Court Theater in Vienna, heard for the very first time the music for a new ballet. The real draw that evening was the prima ballerina of the company, a certain Fraulein Cassentini, because the performance was being staged as a benefit in her honor.
music was by a young composer not yet very famous, having written only one symphony and a couple of piano concertos, and nothing at all for the stage, let alone a ballet. His name was Ludwig van Beethoven, and his ballet was called "The Creatures of Prometheus." The "creatures" referred to in the title are two stone statues that are brought to life by Prometheus, the legendary Greek figure who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind.
Beethoven's commission came from an Italian dancer named Salvatore Vigano, who had been working in Vienna since 1793, and was -like Beethoven-seeking the attention and possible patronage of the culture-loving Austrian Empress Maria Theresa.
Although Beethoven's ballet was given 14 times the first season, and nine more the next, it was never published in his lifetime, and even today remains one of his least-known orchestral works. Nevertheless, Haydn himself is said to have praised it, and Beethoven was evidently please with at least ONE of its themes, a tune he recycled twice: first in the finale of his mammoth "Eroica" and again in a set of 15 Variations for Solo Piano.