During 1809 and 1810, Beethoven composed both the overture and the incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont, depicting the life of the count of Egmont, a Flemish nobleman who was executed as part of a conspiracy in 1567.
If the 'Pathétique' Sonata sits in Beethoven’s early period, and the 'Choral' Symphony is the musical embodiment of his later years, the Egmont Overture finds itself squarely in the middle. In many ways, the work harks backwards and yet it also looks forwards prophetically. The stately, austere orchestral opening, so beloved of Beethoven and clearly evident in early works such as the 'Eroica' Symphony, is absolutely present here. But so is the thrilling, climactic ending, drawing together themes heard throughout the work and weaving them into a powerful finale.
In a letter to Goethe, Beethoven’s friend Bettina von Brentano explained the composer’s fascination with Egmont, writing that he had told her, "Goethe’s poems exert a great power over me not only by virtue of their content but also their rhythm; I am put in the right mood and stimulated to compose by this language, which builds itself into a higher order as if through spiritual agencies, and bears within itself the secret of harmony."