Goethe’s play Egmont depicts the subjugation of the Netherlands by tyrannical Spanish rulers, and Beethoven approached his commission to write the music for it with zeal, out of both his unmitigated respect for the author and his humanist’s belief in the freedom and dignity of man. The overture commences with an ominous melody, a storm gathers but soon clears before the threatening mood returns to carry the music through its triumphant ending.
Schumann poetically captured Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony’s relationship to its neighbours when he called it “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants”. It is certainly lighter in tone, but it is far from lightweight. In terms of economy and tightly coiled energy, it is every bit the equal of its counterparts.
The Emperor is the largest in scale of all of Beethoven’s concertos. An epic tour de force, pitching soloist and orchestra in a musical argument of unprecedented breadth and scale, it is written in a virtuosic style that looks forward to the grand pianism of Liszt in its full chordal textures and wide dynamic range. A spirit of heroism infuses the music, whilst the sublime slow movement is one of Beethoven’s most profound.