On today’s date in 1755, “Montezuma,” a new 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 drafted the opera’s libretto himself.
Despite his well-deserved reputation as a military leader, Frederick the Great would probably have been quite content to have gone down in the history books as a talented amateur composer, flute player, opera librettist, and arts patron. 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 Frederick focused on his military studies until he could ascend the Prussian throne himself. At that point, he built an opera house in Berlin and called to his court some of the best composers and musicians of his time. But, as King, Frederick 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 identified the artistic, peace-loving, passive side of his nature with the tragic Mexican King Montezuma, and his aggressive, military side with 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 OvertureGerman Chamber Academy;Johannes Gortizki, cond.Capriccio 60032