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TitleTarpeja: The triumphal march of Ludwig van Beethoven, WoO 2a

The Rock of Tarpeja is situated south of the pass of the Capitolino. It is associated with the vestal Tarpeja, daughter of the guardian of the pass, Spurio Tarpeo.
The legend is transmitted to us from different sources, but it is primarily Titus Livio, the great scholar, who speaks about is explicitly in his writings.

Tarpeja, young vestal, is corrupted by Titus Tazio, King of the Sabins, in order to conquer the pass of Capidoglio which dominates Rome. His principal aim is to pass his soldiers by a secret passage in order to attack Rome. In exchange, the girl would receive that which the soldiers carry on their left arms, their gold bracelets; their precious rings…


The south with imperial constructions...

Instead, Tarpeja is crushed by the heavy shield of the Sabins: these they also carry on their left arms. After receiving this payment, the body of the unfortunate girl is thrown over the rock.

Another interesting version of the legend saves the honour of the vestal: she makes a pact with the Sabins with the aim of disarming them. When Titus Tazio realizes her double game, he orders the death of the girl.

Whatever the version, virtuous heroine or bribed traitor, poor Tarpeja finds death as the only payment for her services. The rock therefor became the Rock of Tarpeja where, for a long period, all the murderers and traitors of Rome were thrown down.

In reality, Tarpeja is non other than the divine guardian of the hill: Mons Tarpeum (see the photographs) is actually the ancient name of the Capitol. The statue of this divinity is represented by a pile of arms, and that is probably the origin of the legend of the traitress Tarpeja. A precipice adjoining the hill is known, since ancient times, by the name of Saxum Tarpeum, that is to say, the Rock of Tarpeja.

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TitleThe tragedy Tarpeja by Christoph Kuffner

This story did not fail to interest the generation of writers of the first years of the nineteenth century. And as a result, on the 26th March 1813 in Vienna, the tragedy Tarpeja, by Christoph Kuffner, was presented. A well-known and prolific poet of his time, admirer of Greek and Latin culture, the Austrian writer maintained an amicable rapport with Beethoven for many years. And, in 1826, the two artists again projected to write two oratorios together. The soirée was to be organised at the office of Joseph Lange, Mozart's brother-in-law. However, the tragedy, in four acts, received only one performance then disappeared from the repertory.

Here are the characters who figure in Kuffner's work: the King of Rome, Romolo, and his wife Esilia; Spurio Tarpeo, commandant and chief of the Capitoline garrison and his daughter Tarpeja; Tazio, Sabin king, and his general Meteo Curzio: the Etruscan general Lacumo as well as soldiers, slaves etc.

First Act: Tazio asks Tarpeja to reveal to him the exact position of the path which leads to the city of Rome. He promises to use the secret to make peace with the Romans. Tarpeja, beloved as much by Tazio as by Lucumo, chooses Tazio and reveals to him the passage. The two lovers then make a rendezvous for the following day. Enter on the scene Spurio Tarpeo, suspicious of the evasive behaviour of his daughter, Romolo, King of Rome, and the general Lucumo.

Second Act: Spurio Tarpeo, defender of the Capidoglio, enters a temple in Rome. Romolo wishes to preserve peace with the Etruscans, and he releases the prisoners, meanwhile his wife, Esilia, entreats Tarpeja to come into the temple so the young girl does not reveal to him the secret which is in her heart. At the sound of a triumphal march, Tarpeo grips the hand of Lucumo and offers Tarpeja in marriage. But she, beloved of Tazio, firmly repulses the overtures of love. Despite her refusal, her father orders Tarpeja to marry Lucumo. At this order, the young vestal faints.

Third Act: In the camp of the Sabins, Curzio talks with Tazio. He is resolved to conquer Rome with a frontal attack, without recourse to reason. Meanwhile, Tarpeja reveals to Lucumo that she is in love with Tazio. Then the wife of Romolo, Esilia, enters and attempts to find a general compromise between Lucumo and Tarpeja.

Fourth Act: the scene returns to the place where the action of the first act unfolded. Tarpeja begs Tazio to renounce his project. Meanwhile, Lucomo arrives and imprisons the Sabins. At the sound of musical instruments, there arrives Spurio Tarpeo, with the intention of killing the girl and saving his honour. Tazio confronts him and they duel. Tarpeja begs Tazio to kill her with his sword. But then, on the Capidoglio, the Roman soldiers arrive. Battle breaks out. At that moment, the Roman women throw themselves and their children between the adversaries, in order to prevent a massacre. A triumphal march sanctions the peace between the two nations.

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TitleThe triumphal march of Ludwig van Beethoven

The magnificent triumphal march which Beethoven composed for this tragedy, and which bears the number of WoO 2a, was written for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinet, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. Willy Hess discovered that the march was intended to be performed at the start of the eighth scene of the second act, or at the end of the tragedy. The difference between the heavy prolix of the text of Kuffner and the magnificent eloquence of the Beethovenian music is considerable. But the rhythm, and the key of C major, conveys to us the excitement of a popular celebration, to this "lay religion" of the age of enlightenment, strongly agreeable to the master of Bonn.


Willy Hess, Tarpeja, in "Beethoven - Jahrbuch" 1961 - 1964, Beethovenhaus, Bonn, pages 92 - 147.

Luigi dalla Croce, Ludwig van Beethoven - Le nove sinfonie e le altre opere per orchestra, L' arte della fuga, EST Edizioni Studio Tesi - 1986 - ISBN : 88 7692 135 - 4

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TitleTarpeja in Rome


Communal plaque displayed at the start of the way of Tarpeja, in the Xth district.


The plaque was erected in 1582 by Pope Gregory XII, and is situated at the start of the way of Tarpeja. It commemorates the edification and modernisation of the zone.


The Tarpeo lookout and the temple of Jupiter Capitolino, at the top of the street.

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© Armando Orlandi
Many thanks to Melanie PIDDOCKE for her translation of this page from French into English
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