The Funeral March of the Third Symphony “Eroica”
Notes by Fred Haight
Previously, we presented the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “The Eroica” (Heroic). Today, we present the second movement, “The Funeral March”. What does a funeral march have to do with the joyous celebration of creativity and courage that we heard in the first movement?
One might see the introduction of a funeral march as “killing the Vibe,” and might see the sudden switch back to joy in the third movement, as undermining the seriousness of the second movement.
We again turn to Friedrich Schiller for guidance. In his “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man”, Schiller wrote that the purpose of art is to educate our emotions so that we are able to pass from joy to sorrow, and back to joy, without losing a beat, because our intellects and emotions becomes developed in such ways that they are integrated. We remain the same person in both joy and sorrow; because we have thought through these matters and developed an inner strength, depth, and sense of self, that “looks on tempests, and is never shaken.”
Beethoven’s deep grief in this movement, mirrors his profound joy in the first. This movement invokes something greater than personal loss: Perhaps the grieving of an entire society over the loss of a universal leader; the changing of the course of history itself when no-one arises to fill their shoes. The cases of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Indira Gandhi, Socrates, and Beethoven himself, are but a few that come to mind.
At 5:00, the performance invokes a happy memory of that unique individual’s life, and of what they gave to humanity that lives on after them. At 8:12, we hear a fugal section that summons the crisis posed for the whole of society by the hole left, from the death of an unique person. That hole can come, not just at the moment of death, but at the moment of sell-out, like Napoleon.
There is a lot of life in this Funeral March. Rather than going on, we invite you share your own personal relation with Beethoven, and tell us what you hear.