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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Wednesday, January 6

Frederick the Great's revenge?

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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