1807: Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, age 37

SATURDAY, November 7, 2020 – 9:06 AM

Coriolan Overture, age 36

Carlos Kleiber

It is a composition written by Beethoven in 1807 for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 tragedy “Coriolan”.


  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in Bb, 2 bassoons
  • 2 French horns in Eb and 2 trumpets in C
  • timpani
  • strings


The overture was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert in the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The Symphony No. 4 in B-flat and the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G were premiered at the same concert.

War and tragedy

The main C minor theme represents Coriolanus’ resolve and war-like tendencies (he is about to invade Rome), while the more tender E-flat major theme represents the pleadings of his mother to desist. Coriolanus eventually gives in to tenderness, but since he cannot turn back having led an army of his former enemies to Rome’s gates, he kills himself. (This differs from the better-known play Coriolanus by William Shakespeare, in which he is murdered. Both Shakespeare’s and Collin’s plays are about the same semi-legendary figure, Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, whose actual fate was not recorded.)

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