The Real "Wellington's Victory"

By James David Jacobs

Jan. 21

Today's 4:00 request is from Ruth, of Bedford, MA, who was kind enough to offer her own detailed description for the occasion:

"I would love to hear Beethoven's 'Wellington's Victory,' (which he referred to as the 'Battle symphony') a most un-Beethoven-esque work - frequently described as a "potboiler" - which commemorates Wellington's victory at Vitoria, Spain [shown above, courtesy Wikimedia Commons - ed.] (not at Waterloo, as commonly thought).

The work was composed in 1813 at the request of Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (he who devised the metronome, that devilish metrical conscience of all musicians to this day) for his mechanical Panharmonicum [shown at left, courtesy The Daily Beethoven - ed.] - and, indeed, as Charles Rosen suggests (in The Classical Style) Maelzel apparently did some of the actual writing. The first orchestral performance of the work was conducted by Beethoven, himself, at a benefit for wounded Austrian soldiers wounded in the battle of Hanau.

The music describes the battle at Vitoria, complete with simulation of the opposing batteries by two percussion sections opposing one another from opposite sides of the stage and has been performed with real rifles and cannons, includes well-known patriotic tunes of the day, including 'God Save the King,' 'Rule Britannia,' and the French tune 'Malbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre,' which we know today as 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain' or 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.' In fact, I have always thought of this as 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain Symphony.' The work was apparently Beethoven's most popular in its day! (Sic transit...)"

We will hear the work in an arrangement published in 1816 for wind band, performed by Octophoros on period instruments (presumably including period artillery, used in accordance with early 19th century rules of engagement.)

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