Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – A Call for Creatures of Prometheus.
Ballet was a very popular entertainment in 18th century Vienna, and Beethoven composed his first ballet, the “Ritterballet” (Dance of the Knights) in 1791, while still in Bonn. Ten years later, he collaborated with the noted dancer and composer Salvatore Viganò on a ballet with mime, called “Creatures of Prometheus”.
A handbill for the first performance in the Burgtheater in Vienna on 28 March 1801 provides the following synopsis: “This allegorical ballet is based on the myth of Prometheus. The Greek philosophers who knew him tell the story in the following manner: they depict Prometheus as a lofty spirit who, finding the human beings of his time in a state of ignorance, refined them through art and knowledge and gave them laws of right conduct. In accordance with this source, the ballet presents two animate statues who, by the power of harmony, are made susceptible to all the passions of human existence. Prometheus takes them to Parnassus to receive instruction from Apollo, god of the arts, who commands Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to teach them music, [and] Melpomene and Thalia [to teach them] tragedy and comedy. Terpsichore aids Pan who introduces them to the Pastoral Dance which he has invented, and from Bacchus they learn his invention – the Heroic Dance.”
In addition to the overture, Beethoven composed 16 numbers. It was well received by the audience, with 21 further performances, but with one critic opining that “his writing here is too learned for a ballet”. Today, only the overture is regularly heard. The following performance is arranged as “a concert suite in four movements with overture”, omitting some of the numbers. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]