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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 / Leonore Overture No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Opus
funebre: Adagio assai
Leonora Overture No.1, Opus 138
exercised the strongest influence over the minds of many of his contemporaries
particularly in the earlier years of his remarkable career, during which
traditional monarchies were overturned, to be replaced by republics. Beethoven’s
attitude to Bonaparte seems to have remained ambivalent. On the one hand he was
impressed by his rise to greatness and by his initial republican sympathies,
but at the same time he continued to entertain feelings of admiration of the
remarkable achievement even after Napoleon declared himself Emperor, a step
that Beethoven condemned, since now his idol appeared fallible, like all the
inspiration for Beethoven's third symphony seems to have come from the French
envoy to Vienna,
Count Bernadotte, who had visited the city in 1798, bringing with him in his
entourage the virtuoso violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, to whom Beethoven was later
to dedicate his famous Kreutzer Violin Sonata. Bernadotte spent some time in
the composer's company and apparently suggested the composition of a symphony in
honour of General Bonaparte.
of the completed symphony was seen by Beethoven’s friends early in 1804,
bearing on its title-page the name Buonaparte and the subscription Luigi van
Beethoven. Ferdinand Ries tells how, at the news that Napoleon had proclaimed
himself Emperor, Beethoven angrily tore up the page, leaving on his own copy
the words Sinfonia grande, with the
added pencil note, geschrieben auf Bonaparte.
In the composer's mind, whatever the fate of the title-page, the work remained
a Bonaparte symphony, although it was eventually dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz,
for an immediate reward of 400 ducats. It has been suggested that any change in
Beethoven’s plans for the dedication of the work may in part have been modified
by his decision not to visit Paris.
It is known that he had had plans of this kind and these had no doubt
influenced his decision to dedicate his concertante violin sonata to Kreutzer,
who occupied a position of importance in the French capital.
The first publication
of the E Flat Symphony described it as Sinfonia eroica composta per festiggiare
il Souvenire di un grand’Uomo, a heroic symphony composed to celebrate the
memory of a great man. These words were followed by the dedication to Prince
Lobkowitz. In 1805, of course, Napoleon was very much alive, and it was, in any
case, said that the funeral march that forms the second movement had been
written after the death of the British General Sir Ralph Abercromby, killed at
Alexandria in 1801, or even, perhaps, intended for Nelson, who had just failed
to die at the Battle of the Nile a few years before. Nevertheless the Eroica
Symphony, as it has come to be known, remained for its composer inextricably
associated with Napoleon. After Bonaparte’s death in exile, Beethoven remarked that
he had already written the music for that occasion.
symphony has a number of original features. It is, in the first place, a long
work, leading Beethoven to suggest that it should be played near the beginning
of a concert programme, anticipating, perhaps, his own later failure in concert
planning with programmes of incredible length and weight. The slow movement is
in the form of a funeral march, a scherzo replaces the classical minuet as a
third movement, and the final movement is a set of variations.
movement of the Eroica Symphony, monumental in conception, summons our
attention with two loud chords, followed by the principal theme, played by the
cellos. There is a more elusive second subject, an adventurous development and
a recapitulation that has a false start from the French horns, accused by one
who heard the first rehearsal of a failure in counting.
march is grandiose in scale, the double basses suggesting the muffled drums of
the dead march at its opening, thus making the entry of the timpani themselves
even more effective. The tension engendered is interrupted by the soft notes
that introduce the Scherzo, significantly extended in length, the Trio allowing
the horns due prominence.
makes use of a theme from the ballet Prometheus, completed in 1801. This is
offered first in skeletal form, to be varied with contrasting fugal ingenuity
and passing serenity, before the triumphant conclusion.
only opera, Fidelio, based on a French original and dealing with the rescue of
a political prisoner, Florestan, from incarceration and imminent death, through
the loyalty of his wife, Leonora, who disguises herself as a boy, Fidelio, to
achieve her ends. The first performances of the work in November, 1805, at the
Theater ander Wien, came ata bad time, a week after Napoleon’s armies had
Most of the composer’s patrons had left the city as the enemy drew near, and
the new audience, largely made up of French officers, found nothing to admire
in a German opera that altogether lacked the brilliance of Mozart or Cherubini.
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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 / Leonore Overture No. 1