Coriolanus in Beethoven’s ouverture

Coriolanus’s ouverture was composed by Beethoven during the first months of 1807.

It was conceived as an interlude to Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s homonymous tragedy, but in fact it became a separate piece and not a composition that had to be sung at the beginning of the play.

At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century Beethoven started to voice all those feelings that, later, would be performend in all his works: grief, resignation, fight and rebellion against one’s fate, confidence about a faint difficult but wonderful triumph of good.

The uneasiness that permeates his works doesn’t prevent the audience’s admiration. 

In 1807 he decided to accept the annual pension of 4000 fiorins offered to him by archduke Rudolph and princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, thus rejecting the king of Westphalia’s invitation to his court as Musikdirektor.

And it is in this context that, in march 1807, he performed “Coriolanus”’s ouverture for the first time, during a private concert at prince Lobkowitz’s residence.

The ouverture fully grasps the Roman leader Gaius Marcius Coriolanus’s mood and thoughts, before when he is at the head of the Roman troops against the Volsci, then when he is indicated as a traitor by his own people, because of his political opponents’ intervention.

That’s how Coriolanus allies with the Volsci against Rome.

Just his boundless love and his deep respect towards his mother, in front of whom the great brave leader becomes completely docile, dissuade him from this enterprise.

Among the conflicting historical sources on the reality of the events, the Ouverture follows the one according to which the leader kills himself because he can’t come back to Rome owing to his exile.

Once again it’s love, this time towards his native country, to determine Gaius Marcius Coriolanus’s life.

Beethoven accompanies the main theme with C minor stressing Coriolanus’s combative outburst, who is ready and determined to invade Rome; then the composer passes to a soft E flat to express his mother’s sweetness and pleas but also her authority.

It isn’t a very famous ouverture, but it is rich in pathos and able to accompany anyone who is listening to it to a journey into the brave leader’s and his stately but loving mother’s heart and, maybe, into Beethoven’s heart too.