The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture be a good classical music anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement? Can you think of others? | October 22, 2011

An ALERT and a REMINDER: First, an alert to an event that slipped through my weekly roundup: on this Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square downtown, Classical Revolution will present flutist Verena Steffen and organist Olivier Eisenmann (below). They will perform a free concert of music by Handel, Hummel, Mozart and others.

Also: Tonight, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, is the historic opening concert of the centennial celebration of the  Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). It features Schubert’s Cello Quintet, Bloch’s Prelude, Samuel Barber’s String Quartet (with the famous “Adagio for Strings” slow movement) plus the world premiere of Walter Mays’ String Quartet No. 2.

 By Jacob Stockinger

There is a lot to like about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has now spread worldwide and shows no sign of slowing.

It certainly seems like a good Western response to the Arab Spring in that it challenges authoritarian powers and seeks to establish a more equitable or fairer democracy in populist economic terms – something Martin Luther King Jr., championed as an underpinning of civil rights and human rights at the end of his life.

The demonstrators have also proven quite responsible from what I can see. True, there are scattered reports of violence. But by and large, the IOcupiers, of all ages from college youth to unemployed older persons, seem well behaved and cooperate with authorities.

It would be good, I think, for the movement to have a theme or anthem that is identifiable with them – something like “We Shall Overcome” was to the civil rights movement. But they don’t have an anthem, as a recent story in The New York Times pointed out.

Here is a link to the story.

But the story got me thinking.

Any protest anthem is most likely to come from folk or pop or rock or gospel music, especially if it has appropriate lyrics. Indeed, I even think that if economic equality is part of democracy, then recycling “We Shall Overcome” would be entirely appropriate to use again in this civil rights-human rights-economic rights campaign.

But, I wondered, what classical music would be a good and appropriate choice for the Occupy Wall Street movement?

There are various works, including the “Heroic” Polonaise theme of Chopin, the main theme of which was broadcast on the radio until Warsaw fell to the Nazis.

But I kept thinking of Beethoven, partially because Beethoven (below) was such a champion of 19th-century democracy in politics and was so deeply and personally disillusioned when Napoleon abandoned his democratic ideals following the French Revolution.

So the piece that came to mind is Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture  (at the end), which starts sad and ends in joyous victory, and which has a final theme that could be used by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Based on a play by Goethe, the story or program of “Egmont is a story of occupation and liberation, resistance and rebellion, centering on the historical figure of Count Egmont (below). You can check out the piece on Wikipedia and learn more.

You should also know that the work served as the unofficial anthem of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (below). That is another good qualification, especially if you view the banking world as a closed, secretive, selfish and ruthless entity, as a Kremlin of sorts.

What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

What piece of classical music would you see as a possible anthem for the growing protest movement?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Hi Jake – I don’t have a suggestion, but I love the fact that you asked the question. I’ll listen to the Beethoven (it’s been a long time). Thank you!

    Comment by Katleen McElroy — October 24, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    • Hi Kathleen,
      Well, sometimes you just have to ask the obvious — even when not a lot of people reply to the question.
      Thanks for your encouragement.
      Let me know what you think.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 25, 2011 @ 9:45 am

  2. I admire the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. The corporate control over government, partly due to the recent Supreme Court decision has truly become untenable. The middle class is being decimated by a mammoth transfer of wealth from them and the poor to the incredibly rich. It’s clearly gone beyond the pale and, I suspect, the poor are finally coming home to be roosted upon the greedy, obscenely wealthy. Wouldn’t Beethoven’s “Eroica” also be an appropriate piece for such actions, especially the horn elements of the scherzo?

    Comment by Larry Retzack — October 23, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    • Hi Larry,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I agree with you about the effects of the “Citizens United” ruling from the Supreme Court and the wealth gap.
      And yes, I think that Beethoven’s “Eroica” — the section you mention but also others — would also be very applicable as an anthem or theme.
      It will be interesting to see if an anthem emerges.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 23, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

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