Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven's Eroica Symphony
Symphony #3 in E flat Major, Opus #55

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Beethoven's Third Symphony in E flat, Opus #55, was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. He admired Napoleon's new constitution founded upon "the true principles of representative government, on the sacred rights of property, equality, and liberty." But when the news came that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor (May 1804), Beethoven flew into a rage declaring "So he too is nothing more than an ordinary man. Now he will also trample all human rights underfoot, and only pander to his ambition; he will place himself above everyone else and become a tyrant!" Beethoven then ripped up the title page upon which he had written the dedication "Buonaparte" and produced another giving it the new title Sinfonia Eroica— the "Heroic Symphony", a title with a whole new set of resonances. Beethoven's Heiligenstadt Testament (Oct. 6, 1802) shows the depth of his despair on the verge of suicide. The love of his music and dedication to his art saved him. In his letter to Krumpholz (1802), Beethoven writes, "From today on I will take a new path." According to Whitmer (Musical Quarterly, 1916), "Beethoven reconstructed for his time and for us the idea of beauty in music. Beauty is that which is the most expressive embodiment of the inner life." Beethoven was able to share with us the joys and suffering of his inner life in his music. His Eroica was a new outburst of creative energy that changed symphonic music. This "Heroic Symphony" might as well be dedicated to Beethoven himself, for he has shown us how one who is in the valley of despair can rise to heavenly heights if one is dedicated to his art and love his work. I have typed sections on the Eroica Symphony from books in Stanford's Green Library for those who wish to explore further this musical masterpiece. Additional web links are included to study more about Beethoven and his work.

Beethoven's Eroica Symphony: Quotes from Books in Stanford's Green Library

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Edited by Stanley Sadie, Vol. 2, Macmillan Publishers, London, 1980, p. 381

The Symphonic Ideal. After the period of inner turmoil expressed (and perhaps resolved) by the Heiligenstadt Testament of October 1802, Beethoven began to engage seriously with large works involving extra-musical ideas. It was the first time he had done so since going to Vienna. The decision to embark on a 'Buonaparte symphony' at just this time came from inner pressures. The oratorio Christus am Oelberge, musically not a great success, was written hastily in early 1803. The opera Lenore was written very slowly in 1804-5. Between them came the 'Eroica' Symphony, no. 3: an authentic 'watershed work', one that marks a turning-point in the history of modern music. Thanks to Nottebohm's monograph on the 'Eroica' sketches, more is generally known about the composition of this work than any other by Beethoven. The sketches show a minimum of false starts and detours. The most radical ideas were present from teh start, if in cruder form, and work seems to have proceeded with great assurance. This is striking indeed, for however carefully one studies Beethoven's evolving style up to 1803, nothing prepares one for the scope, the almost bewildering originality and the technical certainty manifested in this symphony. In the first movement, one must marvel at the expansion in dimensions on every level; at the projection of certain melodic details of the main theme into the total form— the bass C# (Db) instigating moves to the keys of the supertonic and the flat seventh degree in the recapitulation, the violins' G-Ab returning vertically as the famous horn-call dissonance; at the masterly coagulation of diverse material into the second group; and at the whole concept of the panoramic development section, with its passage of deepening breakdown redeemed by the introduction of a new theme (if it is indeed really new). The moving thematic 'liquidation' at the end of the Marcia funebre, the four alla breve bars in the da capo of the scherzo, the novel structure of the finale, the powerful fugatos throughout— none of these could have been predicted. Also astonishing is the quality of 'potential' that informs the main themes of the three fast movements. Two of them require (and in due course receive) horizontal or vertical completion, and the other is presented in a state of almost palpable evolution. These themes were made to order for the new 'symphonic ideal' which Beethoven perfected at a stroke with his Third Symphony and further celebrated with his Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth. The forcefulness, expanded range and evident radical intent of these works sets them apart from symphonies in the 18th century tradition, such as Beethoven's own First and Second. But more than this, they all contrive to create the impression of a psychological journey or a growth process. In the course of this, something seems to arrive or triumph or transcend— even if, as in the Pastoral, what is mainly transcended is the weather. This illusion is helped by certain other characteristic features: 'evolving' themes, transitions between widely separated passages, actual thematic recurrences from one movement to another, and last but not least, the involvement of extra-musical ideas by means of a literary text, a programme, or (as in the 'Eroica') just a few tantalizing titles.

Romain Rolland, Beethoven
Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London, 1930, pp. 112-115 (ML410.B4R652)

3rd Symphony, Opus 55, "Eroica" in E flat. Dedicated to Prince Lobkovitz.
Allegro con brio— Marcia funèbre— Scherzo & Trio— Finale.
This Symphony was completed in August 1804, and first performed on April 7, 1805. The French Ambassador at Vienna had suggested that Beethoven should write a work on the grand scale based on his admiration for Napoleon as the savior of France from the horrors of the Revolution; and it is a fact that Beethoven actually dedicated this Symphony to Napoleon. But when the news came that the First Consul had declared himself Emperor, Beethoven tore up the title page in a rage and added the following superscription:—
    Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il Souvenire di un grand' Uomo,
    E dedicata A Sua Altezza Serenissima
    Il Principe di Lobkoviz da Luigi van Beethoven,
    Op. 55 No. III. delle Sinfonie.

This is one of the grandest and most powerful of the works in the Second Period style. It is noteworthy that all the principal themes are based on the intervals of the common chord, or on the little pendant of the diminished third which forms the tail of the first subject. The work opens in medias res with two strong chords, the chief subject entering on the cellos.
    There is some lovely responsive work between the wood-wind and the string bands for the second subject. The development is masterly and embraces a wonderful new subject, first entering on the oboes in the strange key of E minor. The recapitulation is approached in a marvellous way— the climax of the development being reached with a chord in C flat, the echoing reflections of which gradually die away until they reach a mere shimmering of violins, into which is suddenly thrown an unexpected entrance of the horn with the chief theme in the tonic key. Was it a slip? Of course not. Rather a stroke of genius. The movement has an immense coda, which with Beethoven at this period amounts to a second development.
    The Funeral March is one of the grandest things in music. It is a pageant of a great world tribulation rather than an elegy for Napoleon, who was certainly not dead at that time. More probably Beethoven's mind was occupied with the misery and wretchedness caused by war than with the single hero of that period who reaped both glory and dishonor at one blow. The oboe subject in the Trio portion is only one of many wonderful passages in this piece. The speaking bass melodies, the majestic second subject on the strings almost bursting with eloquence, and the wonderful coda, not broken-hearted that buoyed up by the rhythm of things viewed broadly. Any attempt to connect the Scherzo and Finale with Napoleon must fail ludicrously. The Scherzo is simply one of Beethoven's finest productions in one of his bubbling, vivacious mood. The three horns have a subject which appears to be a genuine hunting call.
    It is a seven-bar phrase, the echoes to which are enchantingly colored. The common chordal formation of the duple time interjection near the end suggests something more massive, and the little coda figure, E flat, E natural, F, comes from the opening theme of the Symphony. The Finale is an amazing set of variations, the bass of the eight-bar theme being displayed and varied many times before the melody itself enters at the eightieth bar; and even then we continually hark back to the bass. It is not until the close, after the melody has been given at a slow rate on the wood-wind in its proper setting, that it is taken up triumphantly and carried victoriously into the coda. Beethoven used this particular theme four times— in a Contre-tanz, in his Finale to the Men of Prometheus, as the theme for his set of variations for piano, Opus 35 and in this Symphony. This curious method of writing a set of variations recurs 20 years later in the Ninth Symphony. A somewhat similar process has been adopted by Elgar in his Enigma Variations, as the theme used there is said to be the counter-subject of a concealed melody.

Denis Matthews, The Master Musicians: Beethoven
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1985, pp. 155-157 (ML410.B4M47)

The immense expansion of form and content in Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica, (1803) has inevitably been discussed in the post-Heiligenstadt part of the biography. The incentives, whether Bonaparte, or heroism in general, or simply an inner artistic compulsion, are understandable, though the actual achievement remains staggering. Some time presumably elapsed between the primitive 'Wielhorsky' sketches and the progressive work in 'Landsberg 6', the so-called 'Eroica' sketchbook. Here one idea was firmly fixed from the start, the opening subject with its E flat argeggio turning dramatically to the alien and ambiguous C sharp.
    The sketches suggest that Beethoven planned a 'shock' beginning with a pair of irregularly spaced dominant-seventh chords, though perhaps as the sequel to another slow introduction. These were filled in to clarify the rhythm but eventually replaced by the two simple but arresting E flat ones, providing the firmest possible launching-pad for the tonal adventures to come. In the end it is striking how subsidiary or transitional ideas were seized upon to produce paragraphs of colossal cumulative power. One such idea, phrased in pairs of crotchets across the three-four time and heard early on, was to generate the most shattering climax in the development. Much has been made of the 'new' theme that follows this climax in the remote key of E minor, and which analysts have tried to derive from the rising triad of the first subject, though Beethoven provided a more obvious unifying factor in the accompanying syncopations.
    It became clear that sonata form on such an epic scale demanded a coda of unusual proportions, with room enough to recall the 'new theme' before carrying the first subject home as a triumphant round in its most fundamental form. Such a peroration to a first movement had no symphonic precedent, though the ending of Mozart's 'Jupiter' Symphony had pointed the way to Beethoven's climactic codas. The marking 'con brio' is a key to the first movement's character, and it should go without saying that the comfortable 'moderato' or 'non troppo' sometimes heard can only remove or undermine its elemental drive. The Funeral March, on the other hand, benefits from the broadest tempo compatible with sustained intensity of line. Some naive observers queried Beethoven's placing of the march second, as though to kill off his hero early in the proceedings; but a symphony is not a biography, and to borrow his later remarks on the Pastoral Symphony, he was expressing feelings rather than depicting events. Viewed objectively the march is a very slow movement on a large scale and in rondo form, but the scoring of the theme for low-lying strings, with rumbling basses suggesting muffled drums, sets a tragic mood from the start, enhanced by a counterstatement in the most plaintive register of a solo oboe. The theme's afterthoughts are spacious, thus delaying the first episode, which brings the tender consolation of C major but produces triumphant cadences of a military nature. The second episode, however, provides the emotional climax, a double fugue that breaks in soon after the return of the march; and the disintegration of the latter in the coda is a stroke of genius foreshadowing the return of the Arioso in the Op. 110 Sonata and the 'beklemmt' passage in the Cavatina of the Op. 130 Quartet. Structurally and emotionally the Eroica stands ahead of its time as a landmark in musical expression.
    It was also imaginative to follow the grief-laden ending of the Funeral March with a rapid scherzo that runs half its course in a subdued pianissimo and to pick out its salient melodic feature with oboe or flute in keys other than the tonic, B flat or F major, saving the home-key statement (E flat) for the sudden and long-delayed ff. The addition of a third horn enabled the trio to live up to its name for once, and the E flat fanfares inevitably recall the triadic theme of the first movement, even more so in the sketches. For the finale Beethoven took as his text the Prometheus theme and its bass that had already produced the piano Variations and Fugue Op. 35. The Eroica inherited some of its procedures and added others, and it is far too facile to describe the finale's unique form as an amalgam of variations and fugue. Its sequence of events may be summed up as (a) a downward rush of strings obliterating the E flat key of the scherzo in order to emphasise it afresh, and beginning as though in G minor; (b) variations on the bass of the theme eventually yielding the theme itself; (c) a fugato on the bass; (d) a return of the theme in D major with varied repeats and leading to (e) a central episode in which a march in dotted rhythm is superimposed on part of the original bass and in G minor. From this point the events are freely reversed, creating a kind of arch-form which can be clarified by continuing with the letters in retrograde order: (d) the first part of the theme returns in C major; (c) a second fugato on the inverted bass; (b) variations are resumed but in slow tempo; and finally (a) the music drifts yet again to G minor, to be interrupted by a quick rush of strings parallel to the opening and veering rapidly to the home-key of E flat for a brilliant coda. The importance of G minor at the three crucial points is easily overlooked, though it serves as a foil to E flat and reinforces the symmetrical aspect of the whole.
    The strength of the Eroica finale lies in its wide variety of textures and treatments, most of which are offshoots from the simple binary theme and its bass. Its most sublime moment surely comes after the climax of the second fugal section when the wind offer the Prometheus theme 'poco andante' and in a new and richer harmonisation; and this elevated manner, far removed from its origins in the ballet and as a contredanse, epitomises the grander and deeper emotions of the symphony as a whole. When the poet Christoph Kuffner asked Beethoven to name his favorite among the symphonies he replied 'The Eroica', though the year was 1817 and the Ninth had yet to come.

Antony Hopkins, The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven
University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1981, pp. 65-98 (MT130.B43H6)

Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55
    Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz
    SINFONIA EROICA composta per festiggiare il sovvenire di un grand'Uomo,
    e dedicata A Sua Altezza Serenissima il Principe di Lobkowitz
    da Luigi van Beethoven, Op. 55

    Orchestra: 2 flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets; 2 bassoos;
    3 horns; 2 trumpets; 2 timpani; strings
    1. Allegro con brio
    2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
    3. Scherzo and Trio: Allegro vivace. Alla breve
    4. Finale: Allegro molto— Poco andante— Presto

    First performance: 7 April 1805
Although nothing could sound more positive than the two abrupt chords of E flat Major which begin the symphony, Beethoven did not arrive at them at once. The very first sketches show two abortive openings, both based on dominant seventh harmony. Both of these were properly rejected, although they do seem to have a suggestion of 'flight' about them that would bear out the idea of a Promethean descent from heaven. By changing them to two unchallengeable chords of E flat Major, Beethoven stresses the importance of the fundamental tonality, an emphasis that is needed since the first theme seems to drift away from it in a curiously disturbing way... Now up to this point, apart from the two opening chords and a momentary feeling of unease in the violins prompted by that alien C#, the music has been almost bland, its rhythmic stress falling notably on the first beat of the bar. It is time to introduce a toughter element, strong accentuation that breaks the rhythmic pattern. Why? Because Beethoven wishes later to assert the theme more powerfully; the best way of asserting power is to overcome opposition. These rhythmic jolts and dissonances (bars 25-34) provide just such an opposition, a hostile force that is dramatically overcome by the ff restatement of the theme that follows (bars 37-40).

J.W.N. Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development
Mentor Books, New York, 1949, pp. 74-81 [original: Knopf, 1927] (ML410.B4S95)

It is usual to find that the Eroica symphony marks a definite turning-point in Beethoven's music. We believe this point of view to be entirely justified. Beethoven's music, up to the time that he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, is chiefly a music that expresses qualities. this is probably what many people mean by "pure" music. Such qualities can only be given the roughest of portmanteau names... In most of Beethoven's early music his experiences of life enter, not as a mastered and synthetic whole, but as moods. He may be sombre, melancholy, gay, or anything else, but these alternations in a composition have no organic connection... The first piece of music he composed that has a really profound and important spiritual content is the Eroica symphony. Indeed, the difference from the earlier music is so startling that it points to an almost catastrophic change, or extremely rapid acceleration, in his spiritual development. We have found that such a change is witnessed by the Heiligenstadt Testament, and we shall see that the Eroica symphony is an amazingly realized and co-ordinated expression of the spiritual experiences that underlay that document. The ostensible occasion of the symphony appears to have been the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, but no amount of brooding over Napoleon's career could have given Beethoven his realization of what we may call the life-history of heroic achievement as exemplified in the Eroica. This is obviously a transcription of personal experience. He may have thought Napoleon a hero, but his conception of the heroic he had earned for himself. It has been objected to the symphony that the Funeral March is in the wrong place and that it should follow the Scherzo. But this objection entirely misses the organic connection of the whole work. The most profound experience that Beethoven had yet passed through was when his courage and defiance of his fate had been followed by despair. He was expressing what he knew when he made the courage and heroism of the first movement succeeded by the black night of the second. And he was again speaking of what he knew when he made this to be succeeded by the indomitable uprising of creative energy in the Scherzo. Beethoven was here speaking of what was perhaps the cardinal experience of his life, that when, with all his strength and courage, he had been reduced to despair, that when the conscious strong man had tasted very death, there came this turbulent, irrepressible, deathless creative energy surging up from depths he had not suspected. The whole work is a miraculously realized expression of a supremely important experience, and is justly regarded as a turning-point in Beethoven's music. The last movement is based on what we know to have been Beethoven's "Prometheus" theme. Having survived death and despair the artist turns to creation. By adopting the variation form Beethoven has been able to indicate the variety of achievement that is now open to his "Promethean" energy. The whole work is a most close-knit psychologic unit. Never before in music has so important, manifold, and completely coherent an experience been communicated.
    Although the Eroica symphony is based on a profound personal experience, Beethoven was not yet able to express a subjective state in music in a perfectly direct manner. Indeed, it was only towards the end of his life, and principally in the late quartets, that his music became the perfectly direct expression of his innerstate. The dramatist may use characters and incidents as symbols, as carriers of the state of consciousness he wishes to communicate— as Shakespeare obviously does in Macbeth— but the musician, although not so bound to the external world, may also achieve a certain degree of "objectification". There are certain musical forms which are recognized vehicles for certain restricted classes of emotions. Of these forms the funeral march is one. In the Funeral March of the Eroica, Beethoven expressed a personal experience, but only to the extent that the form could accomodate it. By using the form he did, to some extent, depersonalize his experience. In this expression it becomes vaguer and also broader, being linked up with the general human experience of death and with the general human foreboding of the darkness beyond. The root content of the movement is Beethoven's personal experience of despair, transformed, by the form adopted, into a representation of a vaguer and more general human experience. Thus it might be supposed to represent the death of Napoleon or Abercrombie or Nelson or of anybody else whose characteristics could be supposed to support comparison with those depicted in the first movement. It is for this reason that the Funeral March, magnificent as it is, seems a little too prominent amongst the other movements of the symphony. There is a little too mush display about it, it is a little too suggestive of some great public occasion. The whole symphony is certainly on extremely bold lines, but the other movements are relatively personal and authentic in a way that the Funeral March is not. It is probable that only the Beethoven of the last quartets could have invented a form that should have embodied his experience directly and yet on a sufficiently large scale. To the young Beethoven, who had not yet attained the profound and utter loyalty to his own experience that characterized the music of his later years, there was also the attraction of "greater subjects", the triumphant satisfaction of surpassing all other musicians in the treatment of recognized "lofty" themes. The fact, also, that sketches for the Funeral March go back to a period preceding the Heiligenstadt Testament shows that the form chosen was not dictated wholly by the experience that actually inspires it. We need not imagine that the organic unity of the Eroica symphony, or of any other of his greater compositions, was due to considerations that were consciously present in the mind of Beethoven. In an organic work of art the succession of its constituents is not ordered in accordance with any consciously held criterion. The feeling that a certain sequence is "right" is nearly always due to causes the artist could not analyse. In suggesting that the Eroica symphony in its content and sequence, is the musical expression of the experiences that underlay the Heiligenstadt Testament, we are not suggesting that Beethoven consciously intended this representation. The initial idea of an "Heroic" symphony may indeed have been suggested by the career of Napoleon or Abercrombie or anybody else, but in the process of creation, Beethoven had to fall back upon his inner resources, the product of his qualities and his experiences. And the criterion of rightness he employed in the development of his composition was supplied by the order his experience had taken on in the depths of his mind. As a consequence of his own experience the concept of heroism was related, in his mind, within a certain context, largely unconscious, and the conception could only be realized within this context. This explains why the symphony, which makes so great an impression of organic unity, nevertheless defies all attempts to interpret it as representing any particular hero's career. This difficulty has led a recent writer to suppose that the three great movements represent three entirely different heroes, and that the Scherzo is a sort of intermezzo put where it is, either because Beethoven was timid of further outraging popular taste or because he did not fully perceive the connection of the elements of his own work. Such unconvincing shifts are made necessary merely through attaching too great importance to whatever external occasions may be conjectured to have prompted the work. For works of art of the magnitude that we are considering the external occasion is never more than what psychologists call a "tripper" incident, releasing energies and contexts that have been formed in entire independence of it.
    Beethoven preferred the Eroica symphony to the symphony in C minor [Symphony #5], a judgment that it would be difficult to substantiate on purely musical grounds. The "programmes" of the two symphonies are not unrelated, but the Eroica, in spite of the Funeral March, is a more intimate expression of the composer's experience. In Beethoven's outlook on life which, as we have already said, was not philosophic or rational, certain aspects of life had immense importance and became, as it were, personified, Heroism, for him, was not merely a name descriptive of a quality of certain acts, but a sort of principle manifesting itself in life. As a corollary he had a personified idea of Fate. Fate was his name for a personified conception of those characteristics of life that call out the heroic in man. But in this idea of Fate, it is something external. The inner state witnessing to its existence is heroism or, it may be, fear. In talking of Fate, Beethoven is not talking of an experience but of something that conditions experience. To that extent his notion of Fate is a construction, not as with his notion of Heroism, an expression of a direct perception. A feeling of the need and importantance of the heroic principle persisted in Beethoven up to the end, but his conception of Fate as some kind of personified external menace disappeared. In depicting this menace, as he does in the first movement of the C minor symphony [#5], Beethoven is, as it were, at one remove from reality. Beethoven, with his unequalled capacity for being faithful to his experience, would be obscurely aware of this, and it may be that some such feeling was responsible for his preference for the Eroica. In his later years the experience that he thus interprets in terms of heroism and fate, a contest between what we might call an inner and an outer principle, becomes a contest between two inner principles, assertion and submission. Beethoven had realized that these are the true elements involved, and that a synthesis of them is possible. Fate may still be invoked as some sort of theoretical rationale of both attitudes, but the conflicting elements are now both located within the soul itself.

George Grove, Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies
Dover Publication, NY, 1962, pp. 49-95
[original: Novello, Ewer, & Co., 1898] (MT130.B43.G8.1962)

SYMPHONY No. 3 (EROICA), in E Flat (Op. 55)
Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz
Score: 2 Drums, 2 Trumpets, 3 Horns, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes,
2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 1st & 2nd Violins, Viola, Violoncello e Basso.

A special interest will always attach to the Eroica apart from its own merits, in the fact that it is Beethoven's first Symphony on the "new road" which he announced to Krumpholz in 1802. "I am not satisfied," said he, "with my works up to the present time. From today I mean to take a new road." This was after the completion of the Sonata in D (Op. 28) in 1801. Great as is the advance in the three Piano Sonatas of Op. 31, especially that in D minor, and in the three Violin Sonatas of Op. 30, especially that in C minor, over their predecessors, it must be confessed that the leap from Symphony No. 2 to the Eroica is still greater, The Symphonies in C and D [Symphonies #1 & #2] with all their breadth and spirit, belong to the school of Mozart and Haydn. True, in the Minuet of the one and the Coda to the Finale of the other, as we have endeavored to show, there are distinct invasions of Beethoven's individuality, giving glimpses into the new world. But these are only glimpses, and as a whole the two earlier Symphonies belong to the old order. The Eroica first shows us the methods which were so completely to revolutionise that department of music— the continuous and organic mode of connecting the second subject with the first, the introduction of episodes into the working-out, the extraordinary importance of the Coda. These in the first movement. In the second there is the title of 'March', a distinct innovation on previous custom. In the third there is the title of 'Scherzo', here used in the Symphonies for the first time, and also there are the breadth and proportions of the piece, hitherto the smallest of the four, but now raised to a level with the others; and in the Finale, the daring and romance which pervade the movement under so much strictness of form. All these are steps in Beethoven's advance of the Symphony; and, as the earliest example of these things, the Eroica will always have a great historical claim to distinction, entirely apart from the nobility and beauty of its strains.
    Another point of interest in the Symphony is the fact that it is the second of his complete instrumental works which Beethoven himself allowed to be published with a title; the former one being the 'Sonate pathétique', Op. 13. How the Symphony came by a title, and especially by its present title, is a remarkable story. The first suggestion seems to have been made to Beethoven by General Bernadotte during his short residence in Vienna, in the spring of 1798, as ambassador from France. The suggestion was that a Symphony should be written in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte. At that date Napoleon was known less as a soldier than as a public man, who had been the passionate champion of freedom, the saviour of his country, the restorer of order and prosperity, the great leader to whom no difficulties were obstacles. He was not then the tyrant, and the scourge of Austria and the rest of Europe, which he afterwards became. He was the symbol and embodiment of the new world of freedom and hope which the Revolution had held forth to mankind. Moreover, no De Remusat or Chaptal had then revealed the unutterable selfishness and meanness of his character. Beethoven always had republican sympathies, and it is easy to understand that the proposal would be grateful to him. We cannot suppose that a man of Beethoven's intellect and suspectibility could grow up with the French Revolution, and in such close proximity to France as Bonn was, without being influenced by it. Much of the fire and independence of the first two Symphonies are to be traced to that source. The feeling was in the air. Much also which distinguishes his course after he became a resident in the Austrian capital, and was so unlike the conduct of other musicians of the day— the general independence of his attitude; the manner in which he asserted his right to what his predecessors had taken as favors; his refusal to enter the service of any of the Austrian nobility; his neglect of etiquette and personal rudeness to his superiors in rank— all these things were doubtless more or less due to the influence of the Revolutionary ideas. But he had not yet openly acknowledged this in his music. Prometheus was a not unsuitable hero for a work that may have been full of revolutionary ideas, though invisible through the veil of the ballet. Perhaps the melody which he employed in this Finale, and elsewhere twice outside his ballet, may have had to him some specially radical signification. At any rate, his first overt expression of sympathy with the new order of things was in the 'Eroica'. And a truly dignified expression it was. We shall have an opportunity, in considering the Ninth Symphony, of noticing how carefully he avoids the bad tast of Schiller's wild escapades. Here we only notice the fact that the Eroica was his first obviously revolutionary music. He was, however, in no hurry with the work, and it seems not to ave been till the summer of 1803 that he began the actual composition at Baden and Ober-Döbling, where he spent his holiday that year. On his return to his lodgings in the theatre 'an-der-Wien' for the winter, we hear of his having played the Finale of the Symphony to a friend [Mähler the painter]. Ries, in his Biographische Notizen, distinctly says that early in the spring of 1804 a fair copy of the score was made, and lay on Beethoven's work table in full view, with the outside page containing the words— at the very top, 'Buonaparte', and at the very bottom, 'Luigi van Beethoven'. How the space between the two illustrious names was to be filled in no one knew, and probably no one dared to ask. Another copy it would appear had gone to the Embassy for transmission to the First Consul.
    Meantime, however, a change was taking place in Napoleon, of which Beethoven knew nothing. On May 2, 1804, a motion was passed in the Senate, asking him to take the title of Emperor, and on May 18th the title was assumed by him. When the news reached Vienna it was taken to Beethoven by Ries, and a tremendous explosion was the consequence. 'After all, then, he is nothing but an ordinary mortal! He will trample all the rights of men under foot, to indulge his ambition, and become a greater tyrant than any one!' And with these words he seized his music, tore the title-page in half, and threw it on the ground. After this his admiration was turned into hatred, and he is said never again to have referred to the connection between his work and the Emperor till 17 years afterwards, when the news of Napoleon's death at St. Helena (May 5, 1821) reached him. He then said: 'I have already composed the proper music for that catastrophe,' meaning the Funeral March, which forms the second movement of the work— if indeed he did not mean the whole Symphony. In this light, how touching is the term sovvenire in the title! The great man, though emperor, is already dead, and the remembrance of his greatness alone survives!
    The copy of the Eroica which is preserved in the Library of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde' in Vienna is not an autograph, though it contains many notes and remarks in Beethoven's own hand; and it is not at all impossible that it may be the identical copy from which the title-page was torn off. It is an oblong volume, 12-3/4 inches by 9-1/2, and has now the following title-page:

Sinfonia Grande
Intitulata Bonaparte
804 im August
del Sigr.
Louis van Beethoven
auf Bonaparte

Sinfonia 3                 Op. 55
The original title would seem to have consisted of lines 1, 3, 4, 5, 8; lines 2, 6, 7 (all three in pencil) having been afterwards added. 6 and 7 certainly, 2 possibly, by Beethoven himself. Line 2 is now barely legible. The copy appears thus in the catalogue of the sale of Beethoven's effects: 'No. 144. Fremde Abschrift der Sinfonie Eroique in Partitur mit eigenhändigen Anmerkungen.' It is valued at 3 florins, and it fetched 3 fl. 10 kr.; which, at the then currency, was worth about 3 francs. The copy then came into the possession of Joseph Dessauer, the composer of Vienna, and is now in the Library of the 'Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde'. The title just given is obviously an inteermediate one between Beethoven's original and that prefixed to the edition of the Parts published in October, 1806, and to Simrock's edition of the Score, No. 1973, published 1820. But there is no reason to suppose that beyond the title-page the work was altered. It is still a portrait— and we may believe a favorable portrait— of Napoleon, and should be listened to in that sense. Not as a conqueror— that would not attract Beethoven's admiration; but for the general grandeur and loftiness of his course and of his public character. How far the portraiture extends, whether to the first movement only or through the entire work, there will probably be always a difference of opinion. The first movement is certain. The March is certain also, from Beethoven's own remark just quoted; and the writer believes, after the best consideration he can give to the subject, that the other movements are also included in the picture, and that the Poco Andante at the end represents the apotheosis of the hero. But, in additon to any arguments based on consideration, there can be no doubt that it was the whole work, not any separate portion of it, that Beethoven twice inscribed with Bonaparte's name. It has been well said that, though the Eroica was a portrait of Bonaparte, it is as much a portrait of Beethoven himself. But that is the case with everything that he wrote.


Web Links to Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven: Chronological Landmarks
  (Birth: Dec. 16, 1770 to Death: March 26, 1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Timeline
  (Bonn: 1770-1792; Vienna 1792-1827; Posthumous)
Classical Music Archives: Beethoven Biography
  (pictorial biography)
Ludwig van Beethoven: The Magnificent Master
  (Biography, Works List, Picture Gallery, Musicians on Beethoven)
Mad About Beethoven (By John Suchet)
  (Beethoven the master, People & places, The Music, Beethoven books)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Life and Work
  (Biography, Books, Music, Midi & MP3, Galleries, Love, Forum)
Beethoven-Haus Bonn
  (Museum visitors, Digital archives, Works & Sketches, Pictures)
Multimedia Beethoven Encyclopaedia
  (Composer, Fragments, Portraits, Symphonies, Sonata, Concertos)
The Beethoven Reference Site
  (Timeline, Picture Gallery, Anecdotes Who's Who, Works List)
Ludwig van Beethoven Website
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
  (Matt Boynick, Classical Music Pages)
Ludwig van Beethoven
  (Life, Works, Letters, Media)
Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies
  (San Jose State University)
A Post-Impressionistic View of Beethoven
  (By T. Carl Whitmer, Musical Quarterly, 1916, pp. 13-31)
The Works of Ludwig van Beethoven (By Simon Johnston)
  (Catalogue of Major Works: Opus #1-138)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Heiligenstadt Testament
  (Beethoven's suicide note, October 6, 1802)
Ludwig van Beethoven at Heiligenstadt
  (Beethoven at Heiligenstadt, Copy of Heiligenstadt Testament)
Heiligenstadt Testament
  (Facsimile of Heiligenstadt Testament, Translation, External links)
How did Beethoven earn his living between 1792 and 1801?
  (By Somnuk Phon Amnuaisuk)
Classical MIDI Connection: Ludwig van Beethoven
  (Overtures, Piano & Violin Concertos & Sonatas, Symphonies)

Web Links to Beethoven's Eroica Symphony
The Symphony that changed the history of music: Eroica
  (BBC Classical TV— Eroica: Beethoven & Napoleon)
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (By W. A. DeWitt)
  (Why the Eroica?, History, Musical Analysis, Sheet Music, Beethoven Links)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op.55 ("Eroica")
  (Program Notes: Boston Classical Orchestra, April 17, 2005)
The "Eroica" symphony (Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55)
  (By Michael Norrish on Eroica performance, Aug. 4, 1995)
Opus 55: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major "Eroica"
  (uVector: information about Music and Books)
The Eroica Riddle: Did Napoleon Remain Beethoven's "Hero?"
  (By Christopher T. George, International Napoleonic Society, Dec. 1998)
The Eroica and the "New Path" to Organizing Performances
  (from Florida State University's Connected to Learning @ FSU web page)
Eroica House (Austrian Ministry of Culture)
  (Beethoven composed his 3rd Symphony here, Portraits, Analysis)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
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email: (9-22-2006)