Perhaps no aspect of Beethoven's output is as little played as his music for the theater, and that for the play König Stephan, Op. 117, a praisefest for the emperor written to celebrate the opening of a theater in Pest (part of modern-day Budapest), may be the least familiar of all. Incidental music is the ancestor of modern film music, and Beethoven's contribution consists partly of short passages accompanying action or dialogue (the latter are called "melodrama") with little individuality. Yet in the squarish melodies of the instrumental and choral sections, one can hear kernels of larger late Beethoven works. This is even more true of some of the short choral pieces with which conductor Leif Segerstam fills out the program. If there are neglected masterpieces here, they are the two settings of the poem Opferlied, Op. 121b, little choral prayers that have a good deal of the late Beethoven transcendent quality. Segerstam gets this, in performances from the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and a pair of choral groups that make up for in warmth what they may lack in sheen. There are also a few pieces at the Wellington's Victory level, but overall, the music tends to stick in one's head, and this is to Segerstam's credit. A worthwhile entry in a good Beethoven library, and an unusual look into the mystery that is late Beethoven.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|König Stephan, Op. 117 (King Stephen)|
Chorus: Heil unserm Könige (God save our King) - Melodrama: Ich schmücke ehrfurchtsvoll mein Haupt mit dieser Krone (I respectfully adom my head with this crown)
|Leonore Prohaska, WoO 96|
Ihr weisen Gründer glücklicher Staaten (Wise founders of happy states), WoO 95, Chor auf die verbündeten Fürsten (Chorus on the Allied Princes)