Allegro con brio
Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
Scherzo. Allegro vivace
Finale. Allegro molto
History of Beethoven’s Third Symphony has been analyzed in a great deal of literature, and the remarks of his biographers about this work go far beyond the music as such. The symphony has been linked to Beethoven’s worldview and political beliefs, the reasons for its composition have been examined, and there is a number of hypotheses about its name and dedication. According to second-hand reports, the impulse for the symphony came from General Bernadotte, the French envoy to Vienna, whom Beethoven admired and whose salon he attended. The funeral march of the second movement, for example, was associated with the death of Admiral Nelson (however, at the time of his death at Trafalgar 1805, the symphony was already written); others linked it to Beethoven’s interest in ancient heroes and the like. The first sketches for the symphony come from 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte became First Consul of the French Republic; Beethoven’s admiration for him and everything French went so far that he even intended to relocate to Paris. He wanted to dedicate his new symphony to Napoleon, but his patron, Prince Lobkowitz, did not like the idea. He offered Beethoven a considerable amount of money for this composition, reserving the right to perform it for six months. Beethoven resolved this issue by a compromise – he dedicated the symphony to Lobkowitz, while giving it the title “Bonaparte”. In mid-May 1804, however, Napoleon declared himself Emperor, and according to the testimony of Beethoven’s secretary, Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven tore the title page of the symphony in a fury. The original autograph score has not survived, but the changed name can be also seen in its copy, from which the original title was erased so forcefully that there is a hole in its place. The symphony was rehearsed in private in Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna in the late May and early June 1804 by an orchestra conducted by the concert master Anton Wranitzky. Lobkowitz took advantage of his right to the symphony, and let it be performed at his Jezeří Castle in northern Bohemia (in the presence of the Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand, who was passing through the Czech lands on a diplomatic mission), and in January 1805 again in his palace in Vienna. The public premiere of the symphony took place on 7 April 1805 at the Theater an der Wien under Beethoven’s direction. The question remains who is referred to in the title Sinfonia Eroica, “composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grande Uomo” (Heroic Symphony, “composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”), under which the composition was published in the autumn of 1806. The “great man” seems to be Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was killed on 10 October 1806 at the Battle of Saalfeld.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major “Eroica” was soon perceived as a revolutionary work both in terms of the social and artistic revolutions. For example, as early as 1839, it was written: “Beethoven transformed the storm of the world revolution into tones; with anxiety and yet full of enthusiasm, we listen how he dares to approach the limits of harmony.” The symphony represents a milestone in the development of Beethoven’s symphonic music as well as the genre as such. Above all, it is extremely extensive. The unusual number of three French horns in the instrumentation is sometimes related to Beethoven’s early problems with hearing, but it rather suggests a tendency to expand the orchestra’s sound capabilities, as they were fully developed in Romanticism through technical improvements in the design of instruments. The main theme does not consist only of a simple swinging between the notes of an E flat major chord that quickly stumbles on a dissonant C sharp, but the opening two tutti chords determine the rhythmic basis of the whole movement and give the background for all material. The development section, bringing in a new theme, which will also appears in the coda, is gaining in importance. The second movement is the first example of using the funeral march as a separate symphony movement, and scherzo is one of the most energetic in Beethoven’s oeuvre. The final movement features masterful variations, undeniably connected with Beethoven’s music for the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, i.e., Fifteen Variations and Fugue, Op. 35 also called Eroica Variations. In many ways, Beethoven’s Eroica paved the way for the great symphonies of the next generation of composers.