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Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, also known as the Eroica (Italian for "heroic"), is a musical work marking the full arrival of the composer's "middle-period," a series of unprecedented large scale works of emotional depth and structural rigor.
The symphony is widely regarded as a mature expression of the classical style of the late eighteenth century that also exhibits defining features of the romantic style that would hold sway in the nineteenth century. The Third was begun immediately after the Second, completed in August 1804, and first performed 7 April 1805.
The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 3 horns (1st in E-flat, C, and F; 2nd in E-flat and C; 3rd in E-flat), 2 trumpets in E-flat and C, timpani in E-flat and B-flat (1st, 3rd, and 4th movements) and C and G (2nd movement), and strings.
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The symphony consists of four movements:
The performance time is approximately 50 minutes.
The first movement, in 3/4 time, is of the sonata-allegro form. The movement opens with two large E-flat major chords played by the whole orchestra, firmly establishing the tonality. The first theme is introduced by the cellos, and by the fifth bar of the melody, a chromatic note (C♯) is introduced, thus establishing the harmonic tension of the piece. The melody is finished by the first violins, with a syncopated series of G's (which forms a tritone with C♯ of the cellos). After the first theme is played by various instruments, the movement transitions to a calmer second theme that leads to the development section.
The development, like the rest of the piece, is characterized by remarkable harmonic and rhythmic tension due to dissonant chords and long passages of syncopated rhythm. Most remarkably, Beethoven introduces a new theme in the development section, breaking the classical tradition that the development section works with existing material only. The development section leads back into the recapitulation; notably, the horns appear to come in early with the tonic melody while the strings are still playing the dominant chord. The movement ends in a long coda that reintroduces the new theme of the development section. Overall, the noble character of the movement has led to its being called a portrait of the hero celebrated by the work, who was initially intended to be Napoleon Bonaparte, a man Beethoven admired before he learned of Bonaparte's imperial intentions.
Although the first movement's typical performance is around 12–18 minutes, only one recording of the first movement lasted 20 minutes. It was performed by conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and released in 1996.
The second movement is a funeral march in C minor with a trio in C major. The movement contains multiple fugatos, and its solemnity has led to its being used in public funerals. The movement typically lasts 14-18 minutes.
The third movement is a lively scherzo. The trio features hunting calls from the three horns. The third movement lasts around 5-6 minutes.
The theme of the fourth movement with its bass line.
The fourth movement is a set of variations on a theme that Beethoven had used several times before. The theme first was used in the finale of his ballet music for The Creatures of Prometheus (1800), the seventh of 12 Contradanses, WoO 14 (1800–02) and later as a set of piano variations, Op. 35. The theme's subsequent use in this symphony has given the Op. 35 set the nickname "Eroica Variations". The variations here are structured in a similar manner to those Op. 35 in that the bass line of the theme makes the first appearance and is subjected to a series of strophic variations leading up to the full appearance of the theme itself. The movement is 10-14 minutes.
Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. The biographer Maynard Solomon relates that Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and viewed Napoleon as their embodiment. In the autumn the composer began to have second thoughts about that dedication. It would have deprived him of a fee that he would receive if he instead dedicated the symphony to Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz. Nevertheless, he still gave the work the title of Bonaparte.
According to Beethoven's pupil and assistant, Ferdinand Ries, when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and tore it up in rage. This is the account of the scene as told by Ries:
In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word "Buonaparte" inscribed at the very top of the title-page and "Ludwig van Beethoven" at the very bottom. ... I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be recopied and it was only now that the symphony received the title "Sinfonia eroica."
There exists also the copy of the score made by a copyist, where the words Intitolata Bonaparte ('titled Bonaparte') are scratched out, but four lines below that were later added in pencil the words Geschriben auf Bonaparte ('written in honor of Bonaparte'). Further, in August 1804, merely three months after the legendary tearing-up scene, Beethoven wrote to his publisher that "The title of the symphony is really Bonaparte." The final title that was applied to the work when it was first published in October, 1806, was Sinfonia Eroica...composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo ("heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man"). In addition, Schindler tells us that upon hearing of the Emperor's death in Saint Helena in 1821, Beethoven proclaimed "I wrote the music for this sad event seventeen years ago" – referring to the Funeral March (second movement).
Beethoven wrote most of the symphony in late 1803 and completed it in early 1804. The symphony was premiered privately in summer 1804 in his patron Prince Lobkowitz's castle Eisenberg (Jezeří) in Bohemia. The first public performance was given in Vienna's Theater an der Wien on 7 April 1805 with the composer conducting. For that performance, the work's key was announced as "Dis", the German word for D-sharp.
The work is a milestone in the history of the classical symphony for a number of reasons. The piece is about twice as long as symphonies by Haydn or Mozart—the first movement alone is almost as long as many Classical symphonies, if the exposition repeat is observed. The work covers more emotional ground than earlier works had, and is often cited as the beginning of the Romantic period in music. The second movement, in particular, displays a great range of emotion, from the misery of the main funeral march theme, to the relative solace of happier, major key episodes. The finale of the symphony shows a similar range, and is given an importance in the overall scheme which was virtually unheard of previously —whereas in earlier symphonies, the finale was a quick and breezy finishing off, here it is a lengthy set of variations and fugue on a theme Beethoven had originally written for his ballet music The Creatures of Prometheus.
The opening theme of the Eroica is similar to the overture to Bastien und Bastienne, composed when Mozart was twelve years old. It is doubtful that Beethoven was familiar with this unpublished piece. A possible explanation is that both composers took the theme from another unknown source, but Robert W. Gutman believes that the similarity is coincidental.
According to Harold C. Schonberg, “Musical Vienna was divided on the merits of the Eroica. Some called it Beethoven’s masterpiece. Others said that the work merely illustrated a striving for originality that did not come off.” A Symphony in E-flat major by Anton Eberl (1765–1807) was premiered at the same concert, and it received rather more positive reviews than Beethoven's did.
Music critic J. W. N. Sullivan writes that the first movement is an expression of Beethoven's courage in confronting his deafness, the second, slow and dirgelike, depicting the overwhelming despair he felt, the third, the scherzo, an "indomitable uprising of creative energy" and the fourth an exuberant outpouring of creative energy. Hector Berlioz discussed Beethoven’s use of the horn and the oboe in his Treatise on Orchestration.
Writers on art from the Marxist tradition have commented on the Eroica. Gareth Jenkins wrote that "Beethoven was doing for music what Napoleon was doing for society—turning tradition upside down", and that the symphony embodied a "sense of human potential and freedom" first seen in the period of the French Revolution.
Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen has themes motivically similar to the Eroica funeral march, and near the end quotes the Eroica funeral march in the bass. Strauss wrote "in memoriam" in the score at this point, which scholars generally think refers to Beethoven.
In his analysis of the Eroica, released on a 1953 Book-Of-The Month Recording  and published in his book The Infinite Variety of Music, Leonard Bernstein called the first two movements of the work "perhaps the greatest two movements in all symphonic music".
The first rehearsal of the symphony was terrible, but the hornist did in fact come in on cue. I was standing next to Beethoven and, believing that he had made a wrong entrance, I said, 'That damned hornist! Can't he count? It sounds frightfully wrong.' I believe I was in danger of getting my ears boxed. Beethoven did not forgive me for a long time.
In 2003 a Simon Cellan Jones-directed BBC/Opus Arte made-for-television film, Eroica, was released, with Ian Hart as Beethoven. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, performed the Eroica Symphony in its entirety. The subject of the film is the private 1804 premiere of the Eroica Symphony at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz (played by Jack Davenport). The film is based in part on Ferdinand Ries' recollections of the event.
In the film Beethoven does not learn that Napoleon has crowned himself Emperor of France until after the performance of the symphony is over – while having dinner with Ferdinand Ries. Rather than tearing up the title page of the symphony, he simply crumples it up.
In 1994, portions of the Eroica were used in the biographical film, Immortal Beloved starring Gary Oldman as Beethoven. Written and directed by Bernard Rose, the film's score uses various works of Beethoven that were selected by the film's music director, Sir Georg Solti.
In the film Ocean's Twelve, the Eroica is played during the attempted Amsterdam robbery.
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