Program Notes on Eroica

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HLM 213
Program Notes
April 26, 2012
The Eroica Symphony
Beethoven’s third symphony was first preformed privately in early August of 1804. One would think that the people of this time period would marvel over anything Beethoven composed. However, Eroica was not as well received or understood, as Beethoven would have liked. Many educated listeners were thrown off by the “false” horn entry halfway through the first movement. It is said that Beethoven’s pupil was surprised by this, and was reprimanded for saying that the “player had come in ‘wrongly’”(Green). Beethoven should have expected such response, though. He had been consciously planning to compose a work of art, a masterpiece of unequaled breadth. Three years before he wrote his third symphony, Beethoven had stated his discontent with his own compositions previously written and “Henceforth [he] shall take a new path.” (Beethoven)

In late September of 1802, Beethoven felt compelled to write out a last will and testament. This document that he drafted became known as the Heiligenstadt Testament due to where he was located, the village of Heiligenstadt. Beethoven was never to reveal this document to anyone, except for his brothers, Carl and Johann, to whom it was addressed. The language within this testament is filled with pain. Upon reading it, you can feel the unhappiness that manifested itself within the writer. The Heiligenstadt Testament can explain the sudden, drastic musical changes that occurred around 1803. Beethoven’s music, after writing his will, became much more daring. He cast aside his previous teachings and rules as he developed a new path of music, Eroica as his flagship. These two pieces of Beethoven’s history, Eroica and the Heiligenstadt Testament, are inseparably linked, almost as if they were the same creation (DeWitt).

Eroica will forever be connected with Napoleon Bonaparte. In writing this Symphony, Beethoven had been thinking of Bonaparte, but, this was Bonaparte as First Consul. At this time, Beethoven had the utmost respect and held the highest esteem for him. He even went as far as comparing Bonaparte to consuls of ancient Rome. Many of Beethoven’s closest friends saw the score laid out on his table. It was beautifully copied in manuscript, with “Bonaparte” inscribed at the very top, and “Luigi van Beethoven” at the bottom. When Beethoven first learned of Bonaparte declaring himself emperor in 1804, he was outraged. “So, he is no more than a common mortal! Now, he too will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” exclaimed Beethoven. After this, he walked over to the table where the Symphony lay, held it by the top, tore it down the middle, and threw it on the floor (F. Wegeler & F. Ries). Prince Lobkowitz, a Bohemian noble who was a leading patron of the arts in Vienna, wanted exclusive rights to the Symphony for six months. He expected to dedication to be towards him due to the generous payment he was offering Beethoven. However, Beethoven was still eager to honor Napoleon. This lead to the idea of dedicating the piece to the Prince, but entitling it “Bonaparte”. The “emperor” received neither title nor dedication. The dedication would go Prince Labkowitz and would be titled Eroica (oxfordmusiconline.com). Eroica is comprised of four movements:

I. Allegro con brio
II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
III. Scherzo: Allergro vivace
IV. Finale: Allegro molto
The orchestra that Beethoven decided on was typical for symphonies of that time period. In addition to the strings, he scored Eroica for two flutes, two oboes, two Bb clarinets, two bassoons, two trumpets and two timpani. The first movement, Allegro con brio, is in Sonata form and opens with two massive Eb chords. These staccato chords grab the listener’s attention and establish the tonic. These chords are unfolded, and the cellos reveal...
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