Wellington's Victory


Wellington's Victory

"Wellington's Victory", Op. 91 ("Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria") is a minor orchestral work composed by Ludwig van Beethoven to commemorate the Duke of Wellington's victory over Joseph Bonaparte's forces at the Battle of Vitoria in Spain on June 21, 1813. It is also known sometimes as "The Battle Symphony" or "The Battle of Vitoria", and was dedicated to the Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom.

Premiere

The piece was first performed in Vienna on December 8, 1813 on a concert program to benefit Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded at the Battle of Hanau. Beethoven himself conducted the orchestra. Running about 15 minutes in duration, the piece was an immediate crowd-pleaser and met with much enthusiasm from early concertgoers. Also on the program was the world premiere of his masterful and oft-performed Symphony No. 7.

Orchestration

"Wellington's Victory" is something of a musical novelty.

The full orchestration calls for two flutes, a piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon, four horns, six trumpets, three trombones, timpani, a large percussion battery, (including muskets and other artillery sound effects,) and a usual string section of violins I and II, violas, cellos, and double basses. It is interesting to note the greater number of trumpets than horns, and the expansion of brass and percussion forces.

The music simulates approaching opposing military regiments and contains extended passages depicting scenes of battle.

The panharmonicon

The first version of "Wellington's Victory" was not written for an orchestra at all. Johann Mälzel, known today primarily for patenting the metronome, convinced Beethoven to write a short piece commemorating Wellington's victory for his invention the panharmonicon. A kind of mechanical contraption that was able to play many of the military band instruments of the day, the panharmonicon never caught on as anything more than a curiosity. Nonetheless, Mälzel toured around Europe showing off Beethoven's work on the mechanical trumpeter and the enthusiasm for the music convinced Beethoven to turn it into a full-blown "victory overture." The composition work stretched through August and September and was completed in the first week of October 1813.

The composition today

The novelty of the work has worn down over the last two-hundred years; as a result, "Wellington's Victory" is not much heard in concert halls today. Many critics lump it into a category of so-called "battle pieces" along with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and Franz Liszt's "Battle of the Huns.

The composition has had somewhat of a renaissance in recent years as it forms the centre-piece of the Battle Proms Concerts which takes place at a number of stately homes around the UK. This is the only concert series known to play the piece with the full complement of 193 live cannon. Modern technology has allowed this piece to be played in this way using electronic firing devices.

It also appears on the Disney Baby Einstein Baby Beethoven Symphony Of Fun DVD.

External links

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