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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Classical Era > Symphony No. 3, in E Flat ("Eroica"). Op. 55. (Beethoven)


Symphony No. 3, in E Flat ("Eroica"). Op. 55.

Ludwig Van Beethoven
(1770-1827)



1. Allegro con brio.
2. Marcia funèbre. Adagio assai.
3. Scherzo and Trio. Allegro vivace.
4. Finale. Allegro molto.

Beethoven first projected the Third Symphony in 1802 and finished it in 1804. "Eroica" is likely to mislead the hearer if he supposes the music to be of a martial character, and we therefore add the complete title of the work as it first appeared in print: "Sinfonia Eroica, composta per pesteggiare il sovvenire di un grand' Uomo, dedicata," etc.; ("Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man"), namely, the hero in its widest sense. The first manuscript copy, however, bore the following inscription:

Sinfonia grande,
NAPOLEON BUONPARTE,
1804 in August:
del Sigr.
Louis Van Bethoven.
Sinfonia 3. Op. 55.

The fly-leaf of the copy, which the composer retained, had the words "Luigi van Beethoven" at the top, and Buonaparte" at the bottom. It is known that Beethoven watched with deep interest the revolution in France. One man attracted his attention and kindled his enthusiasm.Napoleon Bonaparte had appeared like a sun above the sea of confusion and mediocrity, rising rapidly but steadily untill it seemed he would be the foremost hero of the republic, but when Beethoven first heard of the "Vive l' Empereur" he took the score of his "Eroica," tore its title-page in two, and threw the work on the floor. His idol was shattered, and the symphony was finally published in memory of "un grand' Uomo."





The first movement has a number of themes in the highest degree characteristic. The main theme is given out at the very beginning by the cellos in a quiet manner, but after twenty-four measures we encounter the syncopations which play so decided a part in this great picture of a strife. A tender episode for the winds, repeated by the strings, interrupts the turmoil, but after a short repose a rapid crescendo leads again to the clashing syncopations. A similar treatment is adopted in the second part, the whole forming one of the most remarkable pieces of the orchestral writing ever accomplished.

The Adagio appeals more directly to the listener, with its sad melody in C minor and its heartfelt tones of melancholy. This solemn dirge, designated by the composer "Marcia Funèbre," is followed by the Scherzo, Allegro vivace. The contrast in the heading of the two movements would naturally suggest startling incongruities in the music ; but it is one of the greatest achievements of Beethoven's genius that he surmounts the difficulty in a way which he does not admit of an idea of unfitness.

The Scherzo begins with a pianissimo staccato, which has something mysterious in its character, moving four measures in the step of a secunda only, and that on the lower notes of the violins. Not until the fifth measure does the melody rise into the higher octave, and only in the ninth measure do we find a hint of a lighter character of the Scherzo in a short group of connected descending notes. Even the second part moves in a similar manner of steps and half-steps always pianissimo. It is not until the middle of this part that it breaks forth with a sudden fortissimo, and not even then without a reminiscence of the syncopations of the first Allegro. The Trio, with its horn passage, finally dispels the gloomy character of all that precedes, and calls up more peaceful visions.

The last movement, Allegro molto, begins with a dominant seventh chord in the form of a cadenza, after which the theme enters pizzicato. This melody, in its intervals, is really a fundamental bass, and is worked up in the form of variations, ever and anon interrupted by a hold on the dominant chord, until a new theme appears, happier and brighter than any, dominating the last part of the movement. It gives room to a severe treatment of the first theme in strict countrpoint, only to reappear in a Poco andante of some length, which without warning breaks into the final Presto fortissimo that brings the work to a close.

The principal theme of the first movement is given out by the cellos as quoted at a:

[Music excerpt]

The second subject at b is in fine contrast with the first, and is thrown about from instrument to instrument. The episode given out by the winds, as mentioned above, is indicated at c:

[Music excerpt]





Another prominent theme starts in about the middle of the second part, as at d:

[Music excerpt]

followed by that remarkable passage in the basses at e. The melody of the Adagio we give at f

[Music excerpt]

with its counterphrase at g. The main theme of the Fianale is a subject chosen from an air in Beethoven's music to "Prometheus," the present Finale adopting the bass at a for a melody, and only bringing in the original melody at b, at the third variation. We give them here condensed, one above the other :

[Music excerpt]



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