Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica")
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: About 50 Minutes
Time of Creation: 1802–1803
World Premiere: 09 June 1804 (private – Vienna)/07 April 1805 (public – Vienna)
Table of Contents
Beethoven's Eroica in 5 Sentences
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 with the epithet “Eroica” (“The Heroic”) went beyond all bounds at the time of its composition, for it was significantly longer than the symphonies customary at the time. It was written at a time when Beethoven was a great admirer of Napoleon – Beethoven initially dedicated the work to Napoleon, but later withdrew the dedication, disappointed by Napoleon’s self-crowning as emperor. That he tore up the title page of the Eroica out of anger is a legend that goes back to Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries. Musically, too, Beethoven’s veneration of Napoleon was incorporated into the work; there are clear echoes of French revolutionary music, especially in the second movement. Beethoven himself once called the Eroica his most important work in 1817 (and not, as one might believe from today’s perspective, his 5th Symphony).
Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.
4 Highlights from Beethoven's Eroica
Highlight 1: Noise-killer and dance-like main theme
Beethoven’s Eroica begins with a so-called “noise killer”: two beats from the entire orchestra to silence the chattering audience 😊 This is followed by the dance-like main theme that characterizes the entire first movement:
Highlight 2: Funeral March
The second movement is a funeral march, and this is a clear “nod” to Napoleon. In France, funeral marches were often played at funeral honors starting in 1789:
Highlight 3: "Fear moment" for the horns
In the third movement, the horn section then makes its grand entrance, for which it feverishly awaits the entire piece 😊 This passage is not easy to play:
Highlight 4: Breakthrough Closure
The last movement of Beethoven’s Eroica is a set of variations, and just before the close comes a somber variation that gradually “frays”…but then comes the bright breakthrough, and Beethoven leads his 3rd Symphony to the heroic ending worthy of a work nicknamed “Eroica:”
3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Eroica
Question 1: Where was Beethoven's Eroica first performed?
The private premiere took place in the Viennese palace of Prince Joseph Lobkowitz, a patron of Beethoven. The public premiere took place later at the Theater an der Wien.
Question 2: Was there a particular occasion for the Funeral March in Beethoven's Eroica?
This is still unclear today. It is possible that the Funeral March was intended as a pure “homage” to France (see above, “Highlight 2”). However, a patron of Beethoven, the Archduke Maximilian Franz, had also died on July 26, 1801.
Question 3: Did other composers quote Beethoven's Eroica?
Yes. Richard Strauss, for example, quoted the main motif of the Funeral March in his Metamorphoses for 23 solo strings.
2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Eroica
Recording 1: hr Symphony Orchestra, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (live, 2016)
The energy that actually always spills over in performances with the hr-Sinfonieorchester conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada is a perfect fit for Beethoven’s heroic symphony:
Recording 2: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Boder (live, 2021)
This performance took place as part of the Beethovenfest in Bonn: