Composers Datebook

Frederick the Great's revenge?

Carl Heinrich Graun (1703 – 1759) Montezuma Overture German Chamber Academy;Johannes Gortizki, cond. Capriccio 60032

Composers Datebook for January 6, 2021


January 06, 2021


On today’s date in 1755, “Montezuma,” an opera by the German Baroque composer Carl Heinrich Graun, had its premiere performance at the Berlin Court Opera of Frederick II, King of Prussia. Frederick himself supervised the rehearsals, which isn’t all that surprising, since he had drafted the opera’s libretto.

Despite his well-deserved reputation as a military leader, Frederick the Great was also a talented musician and composer. As a young prince he had tried to run away from home to pursue a musical career. His royal father was not amused. Heads rolled – one of them belonging to Frederick’s favorite music teacher – and thereafter Frederick focused on his military studies until he could ascend the throne. As King, Frederick built an opera house in Berlin and called some of Europe’s finest composers to his court – but also transformed Prussia into the military superpower of Europe.

Some speculate that Frederick’s choice of Montezuma as an opera subject might be psychologically revealing. Perhaps Frederick saw the artistic, peace-loving, passive side of his nature in the tragic Mexican King Montezuma, and his aggressive, military side in the Spanish invader, Cortez.

As Freud might have said a century or so later: “Very interesting…”

Music Played in Today's Program

Carl Heinrich Graun (1703 – 1759) Montezuma Overture German Chamber Academy;Johannes Gortizki, cond. Capriccio 60032

On This Day


  • 1835 - Russian composer César Cui (Gregorian date: Jan. 18);

  • 1838 - German composer Max Bruch, in Cologne;

  • 1850 - German composer and pianist Xaver Scharwenka, in Samter;

  • 1872 - Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, in Moscow (Julian date: Dec. 25, 1871);

  • 1920 - American composer Earl Kim, in Dinuba, Calif.;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 65 ("Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen" performed on the Feast of the Epiphany as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 123 ("Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen") performed on the Feast of Epiphany as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1735 - Bach: Part 6 ("Herr, wenn die stoltzen Feinde schnauben") of the 6-part "Christmas Oratorio," S. 248, on the Feast of the Epiphany in Leipzig;

  • 1755 - Karl Heinrich Graun: opera "Montezuma" (with a French libretto by Frederick the Great) at the Royal Opera House in Berlin;

  • 1863 - Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 3 in f, in Vienna;

  • 1888 - Dvorák: Piano Quintet No, 2 in A, Op. 81, in Prague;

  • 1924 - Ibert: "Escales" (Ports of Call), in Paris;

  • 1950 - Poulenc: Piano Concerto, in Boston, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch with the composer as soloist;

  • 1967 - Elliott Carter: Piano Concerto, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, with Jacob Lateiner the soloist;

  • 1991 - Michael Torke: "Bronze" for piano and orchestra, at Carnegie Hall in New York, by the American Composers Orchestra conducted by David Zinman and the composer as the piano soloist;

  • 1999 - Christopher Rouse: "Kabir Padavali" for soprano and orchestra, in Minneapolis by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by David Zinman, with Dawn Upshaw the soloist;

  • 2000 - Bright Sheng: "Red Silk Dance" for piano and orchestra, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Robert Spano, with Emanuel Ax the soloist;


  • 1733 - This notice appears in the Leipzig newspaper Nachtricht auch Frag u. Anzeiger: "Tonight at 8 o'clock there will be a Bach Concert at the Zimmermann Coffeehouse on Catharine Street"; This presumably featured secular vocal works, chamber music and concertos performed by the Leipzig Collegium, an ensemble directed by J.S. Bach.