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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.

Listen to this symphony  / View full score

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 (Booklet: Extract 1):

This ‘problem’ turns out to have consequences, for example the modulation in Db major – enharmonically the same as C# – in the recapitulation (before finally getting to back to Eb):

The movement ends with a simplified diatonic version of the theme – the ‘problem’ of the C# has been overcome, This dramatising of sonata form is an important part of Beethoven’s style (Booklet: Extract 4):

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 (Booklet: Extract 3):

Everything about this movement is larger and more dramatic than earlier symphonies, and one example can be found in the development, in which there is a moment of extraordinary violence. Beethoven lands on what turns out to be a Neapolitan 6th chord (F in E minor) but adds a major seventh to it and then hammers it out in a full orchestral tutti. The music subsides into a gentle theme in E minor, but there is much more turbulence to come as this is a long way from the home key of Eb (Booklet: Extract 2 starts at 0’33):

Two features of this movement are worth noting in terms of overall development of first movements: 1) the development is much longer in relation to the exposition than in Haydn 2) the coda is also much extended and is written almost as a second development. Both of these features destabilise the movement greatly.

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. It is in an expanded ternary form with considerable development along the way, with a brief B section in the major.

This is the sombre C minor opening (Booklet: Extract 5):

This is the C major ‘Maggiore’ section in the middle:

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.Opening of movement 3 (Booklet: Extract 6):

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  You will see that Beethoven’s orchestra is no larger than that of the mature Classical period but he uses it in a much more forceful way (see notes elsewhere on this page)
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. The introduction of the C# chromaticism into the main theme of the first movement is more unusual and, as discussed above, has consequences for the rest of the movmement.
J) Texture There are fugal elements in the last movement of Eroica, which starts as a set of variations.
K) Rhythm The Scherzo provides a good example of a rhythmic change seen in third movements in the later Classical era. The tempo, syncopations, accents and general relentless drive make this third movement much more aggressive and energetic than the minuet movements typical in earlier symphonies:
The A section reprise and codetta from the Scherzo:

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