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1804 – Beethoven Symphony No. 3


1804 Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in Eb ‘Eroica’
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani
Movements I: Allegro con brio  (Eb) II: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai (c) III: Scherzo: Allegro vivace (Eb) IV: Allegro Molto (Eb)
Overview This symphony was originally in honour of Napoleon as the heroic bringer of freedom to Europe, but Beethoven angrily retracted the dedication when Napoleon declared himself Emperor. The symphony takes the basic language of Classical music and makes it much more monumental; it is the first major work of Beethoven’s middle ‘heroic’ period of composition, of which the very muscular and energetic writing is typical.
Essay Points
A) Overall form Like Mozart 41, the finale of Eroica is much more relatively weighty than in earlier symphonies and there are clear thematic and other links between the first three movements and the finale. The idea of the symphony moving towards a last movement that then provides a culmination of what has gone before is very important in the Romantic era. The middle movements are somewhat different in tone but the traditional four-movement pattern is retained.
B) 1st mov. / sonata Sonata form is hugely expanded in this first movement and made much more dramatic. Beethoven takes a simple arpeggio theme but manages to give it a heroic, weighty feel through both its orchestral presentation and the dramatic journey undergone in the symphony. After the diatonic opening, there is an unexpected C# in bar 8 and this ‘problem’ turns out to have consequences, for example the modulation in Db major – enharmonically the same as C# – in the recapitulation. The movement ends with a simplified and again diatonic version of the theme – the ‘problem’ of the C# has been overcome.

A horn comes in a few bars before the recapitulation trying to play the main theme in the tonic against the dominant harmonies. This moment apparently caused one of its first listeners to presume the horn had made a mistake – the gesture is superficially similar to the humorous touches that Haydn often indulges in but the effect is more jarring and disturbing.

C) 2nd mov. This very slow and sombre funeral march is very different in tone to the Andante movements more typical of Haydn and Mozart second movements.
D) 3rd mov. / Minuet Picking up on Haydn’s innovations in the Surprise symphony and others, this third movement is a fast and aggressive Scherzo – a very long way from the traditional minuet.

The A section reprise and codetta from the Scherzo:

E) 4th / Finale This is a complex and highly developed set of theme and variations, which includes a fugue and a change of tempo to presto towards the end. The movements starts with some variations just on the bass line before starting variations on the actual theme.
F) Dev. of orchestra
G) Harm. / tonality The ‘monumentalisation’ of diatonic harmony discussed above is an important aspect of this work as is the dramatic use of chromaticism (e.g. the C# at the opening mentioned under topic B). There are also some extraordinary moments, harmonically, not least the Neapolitan (bII) in E minor in the development – a heavily accented and scored F major seventh with no equivalent in the music of Mozart and Haydn.
H) Drama / progr. The dedication to Napoleon was changed in favour of a more generalized homage to heroism. The idea of a symphony depicting the struggles and triumphs of a heroic protagonist of some kind is a very typically Romantic one.
I) Melody / theme The use of simple, mostly diatonic, themes made up of short, clear motifs is typical both of Beethoven and mature Classical music in general.