Part 1: The Eroica Symphony
Notes by Fred Haight
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”: 1st mvt (Furtwängler)
Beethoven lived in a time of great hope and optimism. The world was changing, and the future looked bright.
The poet Friedrich Schiller, expressed this in “The Artists”:
“How beautifully, O man, with your branch of palm,
You stand on the century’s slope
In proud and noble manliness,
With open mind, with spirits high,
Stern yet gentle, in active stillness,
The ripest son of time.”
Schiller further said to his fellow artists that they must be leaders:
“The dignity of Man into your hands is given,
Its proctector be!
It sinks with you! With you it will be risen!”
It seems that Beethoven heeded Schiller’s words. In his admiration for the success of the American Revolution and the ideals of the French Revolution, Beethoven dedicated his 3rd symphony, “The Eroica” (Heroic), to Napoleon Bonaparte, at a time when it seemed he might actually liberate mankind. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven ripped out the title and said ” Now, he too will trample on the rights of mankind.” He rededicated it to “The memory of a Great Man.”
You can hear that heroic and inspiring quality in the first movement: The crisis-ridden middle (development section) of the movement, was the longest ever written up to that point. In this recording, it lasts a full 6 minutes from 3:12 to 9:12. The Coda, or ending, is also magnificent. If the main theme, reminds us of a hero on horseback, the last minute and a half sounds more like Pegasus, the horse with wings!