Wednesday, December 1, 2010

12/1 Beethoven's "Dervish Chorus"

One of my favorite less-famous choral "numbers" by Beethoven is the "Chorus of Dervishes" from "The Ruins of Athens" (Die Ruinen von Athen), Opus 113, another of Beethoven's works for the stage.  In general B. preferred to write music only for the opening, transitions and non-speaking action parts of plays.  He wasn't interested in "background music", though I often consider his stage music to be a 19th Century equivalent to today's film music - well, functionally at least.

August von Kotzebue's play "Die Ruinen von Athen" premiered at the opening of a new royal theater in Pest (now Budapest) in Hungary. The plot is as follows:

"Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens) tells the story of Minerva, who, after sleeping for 2,000 years, awakens to find the Parthenon destroyed and Athens occupied by the Turks. Culture and reason have disappeared from what was the ancient Greek world, but these human qualities have been preserved in Pest by the enlightened Emperor Franz." (Allmusic)

The Emperor Franz happened to be the reigning emperor at the time, so you can see how appropriate this plot was to the occasion....

Beethoven wrote the music for "Ruins" as well as music for another play for the same occasion ("King Stephen") in 3 weeks while at the hot springs at Teplitz to cure some stomach pains.  Altogether he wrote 17 pieces (!).

The Chorus of Dervishes scene is about how Pest has now been invaded by the Dervishes and the Greeks have become slaves. Despite the dark nature of the text, it's a pretty exciting and dramatic choral work - it would fit nicely with a chase scene in a vampire film perhaps.

Du hast in deines Ärmels Falten
Den Mond getragen, ihn gespalten.
Kaaba! Mahomet!
Du hast den strahlenden Borak bestiegen
Zum siebenten Himmel aufzufliegen,
Großer Prophet! Kaaba!

In the folds of your sleeves
you have carried the moon and shattered it.
Kaabah! Muhammad!
You mounted the radiant Borakand, flew up to seventh heaven,
great Prophet! Kaabah!

Here's a fascinating arrangement for violin and piano by Auer performed by Georges Enescu:


  1. Die Ruinen von Athen are underrated as a whole... I've listened to this stage music many times and I really love it, from the ouverture to the end!

    The Dervish Chorus is less known than the Turkish March, but it should be a must-have for music fans, and not only for Beethoven aficionados.

  2. Thank you for this information !

  3. in Dervish Chorus piece it's clear that Beethoven mention about the Prophet Mohammad's splitting the moon, his flew up to seventh heaven, these are already available in Islamic teaching.On the other hand he says ''Great Prophet'' so if any objective person read the Quran ll see thats from the God as Beethoven already perceived.