The creatures of Prometheus

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The Creatures of Prometheus op. 43 is a ballet by Ludwig van Beethoven (music) and Salvatore Viganò ( libretto and choreography ). The premiere took place on March 28, 1801 at the Vienna Hofburgtheater for the benefit of the prima ballerina Maria Cassentini , who also danced the female lead.

Plot and choreography

Both Viganò's choreography and the original libretto are lost, so that both can only be inferred from a few contemporary reports, e.g. a diary note by Count Karl von Zinzendorf , who was among the audience at the premiere:

“Le nouveau ballet: les Hommes de Promethée ; est singular. Le musique de Bethoven ne me plut guère. Tout le Parnasse has some evidence. apollon immobile an haut d'un rocher escarpé. Prom. Fait danser ses hommes, cela n'avance pas, la musique les anime, la Muse de la tragédie excite leur sensibilité en faisant semblant d'avoir tué Promethée. Viennent les evolutions guerrières. Vigano a l'epée et le bouclier a la main. La Casentini lui decoche une flêche. Cela dure jusques vers 10 h .
(The new ballet The Creatures of Prometheus is peculiar. I did not like the music of Beethoven very much. The whole Parnassus is called up. Apollo immobile on the summit of a rugged rock. Prometheus makes his creatures dance, that doesn't move forward, the music inspires she, the muse of tragedy, awakens her sensibility by pretending to have killed Prometheus. There are warlike developments. Vigano has sword and shield in hand. Casentini shoots an arrow at him. That lasts until around 10 o'clock. ) "

In addition, two reviews have survived that contain more detailed information on the plot. The first appeared on May 19, 1801 in the newspaper for the elegant world in an anonymous report from Vienna:

“The performances in our court theater before Easter ended with a new heroic-allegorical ballet, in 2 acts: the creatures of Prometheus, from the invention and execution of Mr. Salvatore Vigano, and set to music by Mr. van Beethoven. The first time it was given to the benefit of the famous dancer, Demoiselle Casentini. The content of it was announced in a very peculiar program, presumably by an Italian who was not very well versed in the German language. Prometheus wrests the people of his time from ignorance, refines them through science and art, and elevates them to morality. This is the subject recently. As much dignity and artistic talent it had, and as masterfully as some of the dancers, especially Mr. Vigano, were, in general, they didn't like it. Our sensual audience found least of all comfort in the fact that the stage remained unchanged from the second appearance of the first act to the very end. The action started with a thunderstorm. The theater presented a grove in which there were two children of Prometheus . Suddenly her father came along with a burning torch. (Where and with what fire he lit them, the viewer could not see). After he put fire in the chest of every child, they immediately began to plop around stiffly and without gesticulation. (This appearance took a long time and was ennuyirte). Prometheus now led her to Apollo. Parnassus, with all its inhabitants, was not the most pleasant sight. The nine muses remained in their assigned places like lifeless statues until it was their turn to dance, and Apollo himself sat on the highest peak of the mountain, always immobile. Perhaps this very sight made too little impression on the artistic spirit of our beloved Casentini, as she, introduced by her father to the god of the Muses, expressed no sympathy at all, and immediately let her gaze wander with striking indifference to other objects. For the fact that she should have put the respect owed to such a public, especially in a ballet that brought her over 4000 guilders in cash, simply out of a bad mood, cannot be argued. But certainly with just a little more effort - although a Casentini can never dance badly - she would have made the ballet far more attractive. Even the music did not quite meet the expectation, regardless of the fact that it does not have common advantages. Whether Mr van Beethoven was able to achieve what an audience like this one demands for the unit - not to say uniformity of the plot - I will leave it undecided. There is no doubt that he wrote too well for a ballet and wrote with too little regard for dance. Everything is too big for a divertissement of what the ballet is supposed to be, and in the absence of suitable situations it had to remain more of a fragment as a whole. This begins with the overture. In every great opera it would be in its place, and not fail to have a significant effect; but here it stands in its wrong place. The warlike dances and the solo of the Demoiselle Casentini may well have been best for the composer. In the dance of the pans one claims to have found some reminiscences from other ballets. But, I think, there is too much happening to Mr van B. in this regard, especially since only those who are envious can deny him a very excellent originality, through which he of course often deprives his audience of the charm of gentle, pleasing harmonies. "

A second review with details of the plot was published in the Journal of Luxury and Fashion in its June 1801 issue:

“On the mimic stage is the allegorical-historical ballet: The Creatures of Prometheus, the most excellent new product. The piece itself is by Salvatore Vigano, the music by Mr. von Beethoven, who has already made himself famous, especially in pieces for the fortepiano. Contemporary music is his first work for the theater, which does him credit, now and then a little too artificial. The ballet itself has many similarities with its subject, the Promethean people; excellent at the beginning, but always worsening in the pursuit. With three chords held by the full orchestra at the beginning of the overture, we are prepared, as it were, for something great and wonderful. The character of the rest of the opening symphony is solemnity and a certain astonishment. A dull drum roll turns it into a violent storm. The curtain rushes up and - how happily the moment is chosen! - Prometheus errs with the flame removed from heaven, pursued by the anger of the gods, apprehensive and unsteady. Lightning is still hissing around him from all sides, and nature, shrouded in night, and the indignant elements threaten him with destruction. Calm statues, without movement or soul, the two people stand at some distance against the background. Prometheus approaches them with the lighted torch, and suddenly a beautiful flame glows up in both chests. Exhausted by the grandeur of his plan, by the overwhelming power of the completely successful, completed work and the almost deadly feeling of the too high delight it aroused in him, he sinks into a short slumber on a stone, while the newly-soulled man immediately disappears from its shell. They stir, begin to walk, astonish themselves. Prometheus awakens; his delight cannot rise higher. But he still does not see all the hoped-for effect of the god's spark in his people. They are clumsy and raw. He decides to hand them over to Apollo and the Muses for education; but - a really fine allegorical trait - the wild people resist, shy away from their best. He wants to lead them to the Helikon; they resist; he must pull her away by force. They appear there in the second act. Föbus stirs the golden strings, and look! their spirit awakens, the first beautiful feeling, gratitude towards their benefactor, glows up in them, and expresses itself in every quicker movement of their animated body. But with this first beauty of feeling, unfortunately, has! now all the beauty of the ballet comes to an end. Bacchus , Terpsichore , Melpomene , Pan and Thalia , and finally the god of the muses, who descends very tastelessly from the highest peak of the mountains, in the end the whole laudable Parnassus, begins to dance one solo after the other, begins to hop and jump, which with the one from now on in the prevailing mystical nonsense of allegory produces a sad effect, in which all the two new people (Mlle Casentini and Mr. Salvatore Vigano) have nothing more to do than wonder about it. The solo dances of the Mlle Casentini are largely lacking in character in this ballet. You could call out to her: quite artificial! but what should it say - In the same way, according to my feelings, you failed to portray the first astonished awakening; the expression, which in this case was sometimes lacking in truth, often bordered on the childish, and not every of her attitudes, taken at all, would like to find full applause before the throne of the graces. Mr. Salvatore Vigano dances with a lot of art, just his person is too small and not slim enough. Mr. Gioja as Bacchus beautifully portrays the swift youth of the gods, but the movement of all his limbs is too constant and he cannot stand. The first performance was left to Mlle Casentini. There was also general applause here for a divertissement in which Mlle Casentini, Mde Brendi (who did not give way to art before) and both Gioja dance a quartet. It is a simple piece full of loveliness, but certainly more attractive and entertaining than many a heroic ballet of many pretenses and all waste of splendor. A beautiful girl is loved by two young men; everyone wants to be the lucky one and looks for them through pleasant presents, a wreath, a mirror, garlands and the like. like to win; whereby the trio always remains in lively pace, with woven solo dances, which in many larger ballets, despite all their art, always arouse a je ne sais quoi of boredom. The grotesques, which are so often used in tragic ballets in an extremely bad taste, are also used very appropriately in some comic appearances. "

A fairly detailed summary of the ballet can be found in Carlo Ritorni's biography of Viganò, published in 1838. In the CD booklet for the recording of the complete ballet music with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt , this is related to the numbers of the ballet:

“Followed by the thundering anger of heaven - which gives the opportunity for a roaring musical prelude (introduction) - Prometheus comes running through the forest to his two clay statues, to whom he hastily brings the heavenly torch to their hearts. While he sinks down on a stone, exhausted and breathless after the work is done, they gain life and movement and in reality become what they seem to be, a man and a woman (Salvatore [Viganò] himself and his splendid Casentini). Prometheus starts up, looks at them with jubilant joy (I), invites them to him with fatherly love, but is by no means able to arouse in them a feeling that shows the use of reason: on the contrary, they allow themselves to be with him instead of him turn, fall lazily to the earth next to a high tree (should this be the oak, whose fruits were the indispensable food of the first humans?). He tries again with caresses and convincing words; but those who do not have the better part of man, reason, do not understand his words and become annoyed about them and try to drag the matter out by drifting around aimlessly (I). Sadly, the Titan tries to make threats; and since they don't help either, he gets angry and even thinks he has to destroy his work. But an internally heard voice prevents him from doing so (II); he returns to his first sensation and, by showing that a new plan has arisen in him, he grasps the two and drags them somewhere else (III).

The second act takes place on Parnassus. The following appear: Apollo, the Muses, the Graces, Bacchus and Pan with their entourage, Orpheus , Amphion and Arion as people who are to be born in the future and who are introduced here with an anachronism. At the opening of the scene, the court of Apollo shows a beautiful picture of poetic figures (IV). Note that at this point the choreographer wants neither music nor dance in particular; so, if these are later used as special means, one can immediately recognize their news (their intervention). This preliminary remark applies to all similar cases! Prometheus comes and presents his children to God (IV), so that he may instruct them in the arts and sciences. At Phöbus' signal, Euterpe , accompanied by Amphion, prepares to play, and with their wise men the two young people begin to give signs of reason and reflection, to see the beauty of nature and to feel human feelings. Arion and Orpheus strengthen the harmony with their zithers and finally also the god himself (V). The candidates romp to and fro, and when they reach Prometheus, they recognize in him the object of their gratitude and love; they prostrate themselves before him and embrace him passionately (VII). Then Terpsichore step forward with the Graces (VI) and Bacchus with the Bacchantes who perform a heroic dance (VIII) that is appropriate for the retinue of Mars; the children of Prometheus are not opposed to the impulses of fame and, after taking up arms, want to take part in the dance. But Melpomene intervenes and presents the astonished young people with a tragic scene by showing them with her dagger how death closes the days of man. While the children shudder, she rushes to the confused father, reproaches him for having created the poor for such misfortunes, and believes that he is not punishing him too severely with death (IX); seek in vain with compassionate children to hold them back; she kills Prometheus with the dagger (IX). Thalia ends the grief with a playful and playful scene by holding her mask in front of the faces of the two weeping, while Pan (X) (he is the inventor of the shepherd's dance) at the head of his fauns, who dance in a funny way (XIII) , calls the dead Titan back to life, and so the piece ends with festive dances. "

The text does not exactly reproduce the sequence of the scenes, but describes - together with the addition by Harnoncourt - all the numbers composed by Beethoven:

“Gioja danced the Bacchus; so (XI) probably means his renewed entry on a barrel and (XII) his marching solo. (XIII) a grotesque dance, the lowest form of the Viennese ballet pantomime, danced here by two men and one woman; Measure 18: »1. Couplet, primo uomo ", T 62:" 2. Couplet, 2do uomo ", T. 94:" 4. Couplet, 3zo Solo donna «. (XIV) The first child, danced by Sgra. Casentini, Vignanò's wife. (XV) Vignanò himself, who danced the second child. (XVI) the proud Prometheus, father of men, triumphs. "


According to the notice, the cast of the premiere was:

  • Prometheus : Filippo Cesari
  • The creatures: Maria Cassentini and Salvatore Viganò
  • Bacchus : Ferdinando Gioja
  • Pan : Franz Kilian Aichinger
  • Terpsichore : Miss Brendi
  • Thalia : Amalie Cesari b. Muzzarelli
  • Melpomene : Theresia Reuth b. Decamp.

Josef Platzer created the decorations .


Including the first performance on March 28, 1801, the ballet was performed a total of 29 times in the 1801/02 season. That was an astonishing amount for the circumstances at the time. In the 20th century it was u. a. Staged by Serge Lifar (Paris 1929), Aurel von Milloss (first Augsburg 1933), Ninette de Valois (London 1936), Erich Walter (Düsseldorf 1966) or Frederick Ashton (Bonn 1970). The overture to ballet music was often performed separately during Beethoven's lifetime and is now part of the international standard repertoire of symphony orchestras.


  • Carlo Ritorni: Commentarii della vita e delle opere coredrammatiche di Salvatore di Viganò. Milan 1838.
  • Gustav Nottebohm: The first performance of Prometheus. In: Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. No. 37, September 15, 1869, pp. 289ff.
  • Egon Voss : Difficulties in dealing with the ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus” by Salvatore Viganò and Ludwig van Beethoven. In: Archives for Musicology . Volume 53, 1996, pp. 21-40.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Klaus Martin Kopitz , Rainer Cadenbach (Ed.) U. a .: Beethoven from the point of view of his contemporaries in diaries, letters, poems and memories. Volume 2: Lachner - Zmeskall. Edited by the Beethoven Research Center at the Berlin University of the Arts. Henle, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-87328-120-2 , p. 1116.
  2. ^ Newspaper for the elegant world , Leipzig, vol. 1, no. 60 from May 19, 1801, col. 485–487.
  3. Journal des Luxus und der Moden , Volume 16, June 1801, pp. 303-306.
  4. CD booklet "The Creatures of Prometheus" (translation: Constantin Floros) , TELDEC CLASSICS 1995, 4509-90876-2
  5. ^ Horst Koegler, Helmut Günther: Reclams Ballettlexikon . Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1984, p. 175.