Beethoven's concert overture, Namensfeier (Name Day) received its first performance on December 25, 1815, at a charity concert in the Redoutensaal of Vienna's Hofburg. It was not published until April 1825, by Steiner in Vienna, with a dedication to Prince Anton Heinrich Radziwill (1775-1833), an amateur composer who met Beethoven while in Vienna for the Congress in 1814-15. Radziwill also received the dedication of the Twenty-Five Scottish Songs, Op. 108. Having written the Namensfeier overture in honor of the Kaiser's birthday, Beethoven hoped the piece would rekindle his temporaily flagging popularity, but he had no such luck. The piece did not please then, nor at later performances in London, and it is rarely heard today. Patriotic and ceremonial requirements rarely brought out Beethoven's best, for his was a profoundly individualistic soul.
The overture took its title from Beethoven's intention of having it performed on the name-day festival of Emperor Franz of Austria, on October 4, 1814. Beethoven did not get the work together in time, and Fidelio was chosen for the evening's entertainment instead. Beethoven set the overture aside, eventually completing it in March 1815. Many of the ideas in the overture were sketched several years earlier as Beethoven pursued one of his several attempts at setting Schiller's "Ode to Joy."
The fortissimo opening C major chord, for the full orchestra, is clearly meant to seize people's attention. Stately dotted rhythms in a Maestoso tempo, reminiscent of a French overture, lead to quiet melodic passage, first in the horns, later in the violins. With the onset of an Allegro tempo and 6/8 time begins a sonata-form structure. The bassoons play the first theme, the tail end of which quickly spreads throughout the orchestra. While the first theme group and transitional material are generally the property of the woodwinds, the dolce G major secondary theme is entrusted to the first violins and viola and is immediately echoed in the flute. The development section is brief and not overly adventurous, and the recapitulation follows the expected path, although with re-orchestrated passages and slight variations on exposition material. A more rousing close would be difficult to find in the music of Beethoven. Beethoven felt the Overture did "not belong to my best and great works," and it is easy to hear why. Nothing particularly inventive occurs in the piece, which, at moments, verges on the bombastic. Namesnfeier was not composed for the ages, but for the moment, and has not enjoyed success in either category.