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The Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (Op. 55) by Ludwig van Beethoven (known as the Eroica which is Italian for "heroic") is a musical work sometimes cited as marking the end of the Classical Era and the beginning of musical Romanticism.

Instrumentation

The symphony is scored for 2 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat, 2 bassoons, 3 horns in E flat and C, 2 trumpets in E flat and C, timpani and string.

Structure

The piece is in four movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  4. Finale: Allegro molto


Overview

Beethoven in 1804, when he was composing the Eroica Symphony.

Dedication and premiere

Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. The biographer Maynard Solomon relates that Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and Napoleon as their embodiment. In the autumn the composer began to have second thoughts about that dedication. It would have deprived him of a fee that he would receive if he instead dedicated the symphony to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowitz. Nevertheless, he still considered giving the work the title of Bonaparte.

When Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently with a knife that he created a hole in the paper. He later changed the title to Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d'un grand'uomo ("heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man"). His assistant Ferdinand Ries tells the story in his biography of Beethoven:

However, the road to titling of the work Eroica had further turns. After completing the work, Beethoven wrote to his publisher in the summer of 1804 that "The title of the symphony is really Bonaparte." The final title was not applied to the work until the parts were published in October, 1806. In fact, Schindler tells us that upon hearing of the French Emperor's death in Saint Helena in 1821, Beethoven proclaimed "I wrote the music for this sad event seventeen years ago" - referring to the Funeral March (second movement).

Beethoven wrote most of the symphony in late 1803 and completed it in early 1804. The symphony was premiered privately in summer 1804 in his patron Prince Lobkowitz's castle Eisenberg in Bohemia. The first public performance was given in Viennamarker's Theater an der Wienmarker on April 7, 1805 with the composer conducting. For that performance, the work's key was announced as "Dis", the German for D-sharp.

Critical reception

The work is a milestone in the history of the classical symphony for a number of reasons. The piece is about twice as long as symphonies by Haydn or Mozart—the first movement alone is almost as long as many Classical symphonies, if the expositional repeat is observed. The work covers more emotional ground than earlier works had, and is often cited as the beginning of the Romantic period in music. The second movement, in particular, displays a great range of emotion, from the misery of the main funeral march theme, to the relative solace of happier, major key episodes. The finale of the symphony shows a similar range, and is given an importance in the overall scheme which was virtually unheard of previously —whereas in earlier symphonies, the finale was a quick and breezy finishing off, here it is a lengthy set of variations and fugue on a theme Beethoven had originally written for his ballet music The Creatures of Prometheus.

According to Harold C. Schonberg, “Musical Vienna was divided on the merits of the Eroica. Some called it Beethoven’s masterpiece. Others said that the work merely illustrated a striving for originality that did not come off.” A Symphony in E flat major by the now-forgotten Anton Eberl (1765-1807) was premiered at the same concert, and it received rather more positive reviews than Beethoven's did.

Music critic J. W. N. Sullivan writes that the first movement is an expression of Beethoven's courage in confronting his deafness, the second, slow and dirgelike, depicting the overwhelming despair he felt, the third, the scherzo, an "indomitable uprising of creative energy" and the fourth an exuberant outpouring of creative energy. Hector Berlioz discussed Beethoven’s use of the horn and the oboe in his Treatise on Orchestration.

Richard Strauss's mourning music Metamorphosen is based on the theme of the funeral march from the Eroica, and combines harmonically distorted variants of its main motifs. At the very end the opening bars of the funeral march are quoted literally in the bass.

Writers on art from the Marxist tradition often seize on the Eroica. Gareth Jenkins wrote that "Beethoven was doing for music what Napoleon was doing for society—turning tradition upside down", and that the symphony embodied a "sense of human potential and freedom" first seen in the period of the French Revolution.

Horn solo anecdote

In the first movement, the solo horn enters with the main theme four bars before the "real" recapitulation. Beethoven's disciple Ferdinand Ries recounted:

Use of second movement in funerals



Notes

  1. Steinberg, Michael. "The Symphony: a listeners guide". p. 12. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  2. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
  3. Aaron Green. "Historical Notes on Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Op. 55." About.com http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/symphonies/a/aaeroica.htm
  4. Eroica Symphony, Wiſdom Portal.
  5. Gareth Jenkins. "Beethoven's cry of freedom" Socialist Worker (UK) 4 October 2003. http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=2496
  6. American Heritage.
  7. Music and Arts.
  8. Wilfrid Blunt, On Wings of Song, a biography of Felix Mendelssohn, London 1974.


References



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