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Heinrich von Collin’s play Coriolan, translated into German and adapted from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, ran at the Vienna Imperial Theatre from 1802 to 1805. Coriolanus was a brave but arrogant Roman general who refused to submit to the Senate, exiled himself, then raised a Volscian army to attack the city. His then-estranged family pleaded with him as his army stood at the gates of Rome. He relented, but the Volscians killed him in revenge. The protagonist held Beethoven’s imagination so well that he wrote the overture in 1807. He also had practical reasons: after writing the 3 Leonore and Fidelio overtures, Beethoven needed a new overture to open his concerts. He also wanted to curry favor with von Collin and the Imperial Theatre impresarios. Although no commission resulted from the Coriolan overture, Muzio Clementi purchased the publishing rights. The sonata form suggests the conflict between Coriolanus (primary theme) and his family (secondary theme) and reflects the story’s tragic ending.
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