Ms Yang Tien
Music Historical Overview
Beethoven and the heroic style
Early eighteenth century marked the beginning of the middle period, which was said to be the most productive period out of his three compositional periods as some of his most magnificent works were produced during this time (Lockwood, 194). In this paper, I will examine the heroic style - why it came about, what are some characteristics of ‘heroic’ music and through the analysis of a ‘product of the times’ (Taruskin) , compare the differences between the music of the heroic style and that of before. The middle period is also known as the heroic period from 1803 – 1812 is after the Viennese period and before the Late Period. The middle period starts off with a few of Beethoven’s most famous pieces, all of which contain a ‘heroic’ element about them (Oxford Grove Online). Why heroic then? It was not that Beethoven was a hero for his new compositional styles or his personal struggles but the term ‘heroic’ was used to describe Beethoven’s works during early eighteenth century (Broyles, 111). Furthermore, there were many factors that contributed to the evolution of the heroic style. Towards the end of the Viennese Period, Beethoven showed great dissatisfaction to many of his works. However, the end of the Classical period saw many changes, one major change was the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte was a major influence in Beethoven’s music and even dedicated what can be considered his greatest symphony to Napoleon (Lockwood, 186).
One of the pieces that could be considered the mark of the beginning of the heroic style would be Beethoven’s famous Symphony No.3 Op.55, also known as the ‘Eroica’ or
Heroic Symphony. Just with this one symphony, Beethoven was able to revolutionize music by brilliantly manipulating the rules that had previously been set during the Classical period that set him apart from other composers of that time, giving him the honorable title of ‘The Man Who Freed Music’ (Burnham, xvi). This piece like many other pieces of Beethoven during the middle period intrigued as well as upset many critics and listeners as it was a very new style of composing for Beethoven (Broyles, 111). Originally entitled the ‘Bonaparte Symphony’, this symphony was attributed and written for Napoleon Bonaparte (Oxford Grove Online). It was said that initially, French ambassador, General Bernadotte had suggested the idea of writing a symphony in honour of the young Napoleon. (Taruskin, 655) However, it was not until 1803 that he was inspired, by Napoleon himself, to write the symphony for him.
There are several key characteristics that differentiate the heroic style from the previous styles of Beethoven’s music. Several main aspects would include exceptionally vibrant passages, militaristic themes of war, death and victory through tension and release and lastly extreme chromaticisim. All of these break away from the rigid rules set during the Classical period. The two pieces that I will be looking at are Beethoven’s string quartet Op. 59 No. 3 – a fruit of the middle period and the first movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major Op. 18 No. 1 - Allegro con brio.
Energetic and dynamic passages are particularly striking features of the heroic style. These passages include sudden changes in rhythmic density and note values, creating challenging and exciting rhythmic motifs played throughout all different instruments. These rhythmic motifs are so easily associated with the heroic style that Beethoven’s works from
this period could be identified by rhythm (Burnham, 29), in the same way, the period in which pieces are from can be identified by their melody or harmony. Another part of the compositional style Beethoven has used to bring out these passages would be the use of extreme dynamic changes. Wide...