The Dancing Prometheus: Beethoven and Ballet

Larissa V. Kirillina


Beethoven’s music has frequently appeared in ballet productions in the 20th and early 21st centuries. However, his only full-scale ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (1801), remains outside of the theatrical mainstream. Meanwhile, this work was important for both of its creators: the great choreographer Salvatore Viganò and Beethoven.

The ‘Promethean’ line in Beethoven’s and Viganò’s legacy continued after the ballet’s premiere in 1801. A number of Beethoven’s works from 1801–1804 are united by the so-called ‘Promethean theme’ (the quotation or reminiscence from the final counterdance of the ballet). Viganò, not satisfied with the Vienna production of Prometheus of 1801, staged an expanded version of the ballet in Milan in 1813. In that performance, it became possible to accentuate the moments covert in the Vienna version: the striking analogies between the images of Prometheus and Christ. Being a good musician, Vigano used fragments of Beethoven’s other new works, besides Prometheus, in his ballets in Milan. Their artistic quests ran parallel to each other, although Beethoven never turned to the genre of the ballet afterwards.

The magnificent orchestral score of Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus has taken on a life of its own. The ballet in its 1801 version was rarely staged during the 19th and the 20th centuries. However, there has been a revival of interest in it in the 21st century. In recent years, a number of stage incarnations of Beethoven’s ballet have appeared, in which the plot has undergone various transformations. Francesca Harper proposed a reading of the work by means of contemporary dance (2005, New York). At the same time, Helena Kazarova staged Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus in an authentic manner in 2016 (Czech Republic, Valtice Castle Theater). Another solution – a very ascetic and symbolist one – was proposed by Attila Egerhazy, who staged the ballet in 2017 by means of the Dance Center of the Prague Conservatory. Finally, in 2021 in Bologna, choreographer Monica Miniucchi created a performance based on Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus bearing very little resemblance to a traditional ballet, performed mainly by means of pantomime. All these endeavors show that Beethoven’s sole ballet is by no means a museum legacy of the past. It has the ability of becoming an organic part of contemporary musical theater.

Keywords: Ludwig van Beethoven, ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Salvatore Viganò

For citation: Kirillina L. V. The Dancing Prometheus: Beethoven and Ballet [Electronic source]. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2023, no. 3, pp. 63―81. (In Russ.) DOI: 10.56620/2587-9731-2023-3-063-081


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Copyright (c) 2023 Larissa V. Kirillina

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