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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 / SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, "Eroica"
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No.8 in B Minor, D. 759, "Unfinished"
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding the new century, in 1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made few changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense change and turbulence. To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original, but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an intimidating extent.
The initial inspiration for Beethoven's third symphony seems to have come from the French envoy, Count Bernadotte, who had been sent to Vienna in 1798, taking with him in his entourage the virtuoso violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer, to whom Beethoven was later to dedicate his most famous violin sonata. Bernadotte spent some time in Beethoven's company and seems to have given him the notion of composing a heroic symphony in honour of General Bonaparte. The French had, by force of arms, established a number of republics and had compelled Austria to unfavourable peace terms at the treaty of Campo Formio. As First Consul it seemed that Napoleon embodied the virtues of the republic of classical Rome, an ideal that had a strong attraction for Beethoven.
The score of the completed symphony was seen by Beethoven's friends early in 1804, bearing on its title page the name Buonaparte at the top and the subscription Luigi van Beethoven. At the news that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven tore the page up, leaving on his own copy the words Sinfonia grande, with the added note in pencil Geschrieben auf Bonaparte. The completed work was in the end dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who paid 400 ducats for the privilege. A recent biographer has pointed out that Beethoven had expressed disillusion with Napoleon before he wrote the Eroica Symphony, but that at the time of its composition he was considering moving to Paris. There was, at the very least, a certain ambivalence in Beethoven's attitude to the greatness of Napoleon's achievement and to his apparent betrayal of republican ideals.
The Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Opus 55, has a number of original features, including the substitution of a funeral march for the slow movement, a Scherzo for the Minuet, as in the D major Symphony, and a set of variations for the finale. It is, besides, on a heroic scale, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with three French horns and the customary strings.
Beethoven made his first sketches for his eighth symphony in 1811 and completed the work in October the following year, during the course of a visit to Linz. The summer had taken him to the spa town of Teplitz, where he was to meet the great German poet and polymath Goethe, to little effect, while the subsequent journey to Linz was undertaken for the officious purpose of forcing his younger brother Johann, an apothecary in the town, to break off his irregular liaison with Therese Obermeyer, a woman that Johann married in November of the same year. Whatever anxieties he may have entertained at the time about his health or about members of his family, he created in the Eighth Symphony a work of clear optimism.
Schubert's Symphony in B minor was the work of 1822 and only two of the expected four movements were finished, with part of a scherzo. These movements were not played in Schubert's life-time, but were rediscovered 43 years later and given their first performance in Vienna in 1865. The manuscript had been given by Schubert to his friend Josef Huettenbrenner as a present for his brother Anselm in Graz. The latter had later arranged a piano duet version of the movements, which he and his brother played together. For years the manuscript remained in Anselm Huettenbrenner's possession, its existence only known to a few, until it came to the attention of the conductor Johann Herbeck.
Later writers have offered various explanations of the fragmentary nature of the symphony, none completely convincing. It has been suggested, improbably, that four movements were actually completed and sent to Anselm Huettenbrenner, who then lost two of the movements. More plausibly others have found a reason for not finishing the symphony in the composer's preoccupation with other work. Certainly Schubert could never be sure that larger scale works would ever be performed. It might be added that in 1822 Schubert contracted venereal disease and that the serious nature of this incurable disease and its probable fatal outcome affected him very deeply.
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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 / SCHUBERT: Symphony No....