The Creatures of Prometheus
The Creatures of Prometheus (German: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus), Op. 43, is a ballet composed in 1801 by Ludwig van Beethoven following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò. The ballet premiered on 28 March 1801 at the Burgtheater in Vienna and was given 28 performances. It was premiered in New York at the Park Theatre on 14 June 1808 being one of the first full length works by Beethoven to be performed in the United States. It is the only full length ballet by Beethoven.
Viganò was tasked with presenting a work to the empress Maria Theresia at the Vienna Court Theater, and chose the subject matter of Prometheus in an allegorical sense. While Viganò usually composed his own music for his performances, he felt this performance was far too important and asked Beethoven to compose instead. The ballet was written in two acts, with Beethoven creating an overture, an introduction, fifteen numbers, and a finale.
The ballet is an allegory based on the mythical story of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus in order to create mankind from clay. In the ballet, Prometheus finds mankind in a state of ignorance and decides to introduce the ideas of science and art to them, largely based on Beethoven's own support of the Enlightenment movement. Prometheus introduces the humans to Apollo, the god of the arts, who commands Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to teach music, and Melpomene and Thalia to teach tragedy and comedy. The humans also meet with Terpsichore who, along with Pan, introduces them to the Pastoral Dance, followed by Dionysus introducing his Heroic Dance.
Act I includes the Overture and Introduction, followed by these three numbers:
- No. 1 Poco Adagio
- No. 2 Adagio - allegro con brio
- No. 3 Minuetto
Act II includes another 13 numbers:
- No. 4 Maestoso - Andante
- No. 5 Adagio - Andante quasi allegretto
- No. 6 Un poco Adagio - Allegro
- No. 7 Grave
- No. 8 Allegro con brio - Presto
- No. 9 Adagio - Allegro molto
- No. 10 Pastorale
- No. 11 Andante
- No. 12 Maestoso (also known as "Solo di Gioia" for solo dancer Gaetano Gioia)
- No. 13 Allegro - Comodo
- No. 14 Andante - Adagio (also known as "Solo della Casentini", written for Beethoven's prima ballerina Mademoiselle Casentini)
- No. 15 Andantino - Adagio (also known as "Solo di Viganó")
- No. 16 Finale
According to musicologist Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven’s music for this ballet is "easier and lighter than music for the concert hall…[I]t shows Beethoven exploiting instruments and coloristic orchestral effects that would never appear in his symphonies or serious dramatic overtures." Beethoven later based the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations (piano) on the main theme of the last movement (Finale) of this ballet.
The ballet requires the use of harp and basset-horn among the orchestral instruments, instruments Beethoven rarely scored for.
- "Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 2020-01-25.
- “Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770–1827), The Creatures of Prometheus, Ballet Op. 43, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Michael Halasz”, back cover (1995).
- Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven: The Music and the Life, pp. 149-150 (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005).