Beethoven’s unusual cantata Der glorreiche Augenblick (The Glorious Moment), Op. 136, was commissioned by the Vienna City Administration. The work has an undistinguished text suited to the occasion of its first performance, a tribute to the kings and princes of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, words that are at least better than those that Beethoven had earlier contemplated for this occasion. Later editors and performers have proposed various verbal changes and substitutions, seeking to match the supposed views of Beethoven, as suggested elsewhere in his work, not least in his Ninth (Choral) Symphony with its setting of Schiller’s An die Freude. The work is scored for four solo voices, a children’s chorus, a mixed chorus and an orchestra with pairs of flutes and a piccolo, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. The soprano soloist sings the rôle of Vienna, the mezzo-soprano that of a Prophetess, the tenor the Genius and the bass the Leader of the People. —Courtesy Naxos Records
“The work will conquer you, for it is genuine Beethoven in every bar—big, great-hearted, exultant, and exalting. Forget all that nonsense about the clumsy, amateurish text…. What’s important is that this text contained words and thoughts that set Beethoven’s imagination aflame…. I know of no other Beethoven work where he paid tribute to his adopted city. He does so here like a lover greeting his mistress. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that he wrote this cantata merely out of the cynical motive of making a financial killing from the crowned heads of Europe, who had gathered in Vienna for the great Congress that was to change the map of Europe and the course of history (not for the better, perhaps, but Beethoven didn’t know that when he wrote this cantata, so filled with bright hope and sanguine expectation).” —David Johnson, FANFARE [11/1997]
The text of the cantata may be found here, courtesy of Naxos Records.
This essay is part of a series commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven.
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The featured image (detail) is “Reception of the allied monarchs in Vienna on the occasion of the Congress of Vienna, 1814 (1835), Johann Nepomuk Hoechle and Franz Wolf. It is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.