Beethoven’s oeuvre as an argument: Fidelio Staged by the Municipal Theatre at the End of the 19th Century and its Reception in the Context of the Beethoven Tradition in Pressburg
Beethoven’s works Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 and opera Fidelio, Op. 72 are often mentioned as internally related opuses, which enjoyed a privileged position in music programs throughout the 19th century. This was the case in Pressburg, too, where the performance of Beethoven’s works developed into a long-standing tradition. Liaising with Beethoven and trying to implement musical initiatives from Vienna was nothing exceptional. The question is, however, what role his opera Fidelio played in shaping the cultural traditions of this town situated near the border of the Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen, whose predominantly German-speaking population oscillated from the 1880s onwards between loyalty to Hungary and its own cultural identity.
The rich cultural life through associations was an indispensable part of the social life of the Pressburg bourgeoisie. The most significant and longest-standing musical association in the town was undoubtedly the Church Music Association of St. Martin’s Cathedral, shaped the Beethoven musical tradition and performed the Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123 in 1835. It was one of its first European complete performances within the liturgy. All the more surprising is the fact that the Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was first staged in Pressburg only in 1873 and it was subsequently presented, compared to Beethoven’s other works, only sporadically.
A look at the programs of the Municipal Theatre in Pressburg between 1886 and 1899 reveals that the theatre directors included Beethoven’s Fidelio into the repertoire always at a time when negotiations were held about the renewal of the lease agreement. This was because they were aware of the fact that, in Pressburg, Beethoven’s works symbolized the sanctity, or even sacrosanctity, of art music. Staging Fidelio was an “argument” against the centralizing requirements formed by the Hungarian Government. Fidelio embodied the symbol of classical cultural values on which the inhabitants of Pressburg built their own cultural identity and whose loss would have meant a loss of their cultural memory.
Keywords: Municipal Theatre in Pressburg; opera Fidelio; Church Music Association of St. Martin´s Cathedral; Missa solemnis