Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica")

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 50 Minutes
Genre: Symphony
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:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Eroica

He wants to sell you the symphony for 100 guilders. According to his own statement, it is the greatest work that he wrote so far. Beethoven played it for me the other day and I think heaven and earth must tremble under one at its performance. He has a great desire to dedicate it to Bonaparte, if not, because Lobkowitz wants to have it for half a year and give 400 florins, then it will be called Bonaparte.

Beethoven's student Ferdinand Ries to the Bonn publisher Nikolaus Simrock

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