Beethoven Symphony Basics at ESM

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 “Eroica” (1804)

The Basics

General Information

Composition dates: 1802-04.

Dedication: Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz.

Instrumentation:  Strings, 2 Fl, 2 Ob, 2 Cl, 2 Bsn, 3 Hn, 2 Tr, Timp.

First performances: 9 June 1804, Lobkowitz Palace, Vienna (private); 7 April 1805, Theater-an-der-Wien (public).

Orchestra size for first or early performance: 3+ winds (private, based on Beethoven letter); 6+6.3(?).2.4/single winds (public, estimate).

Autograph Score: Not extant.

First published parts: Oct. 1806, Contor delle arti et d’Industrie, Vienna. 

First published score: 1820, Simrock (1822 Simrock edition available at Eastman’s Sibley library rare collection).


Movements (Tempos. Key. Form.)

I. Allegro con brio (MM=60). E-flat Major. Sonata-Allegro. 

II. Marcia funebre (funeral march). Adagio assai (MM=80). C minor (vi). Ternary Form/Rondo/Sonata-allegro(?). 

III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace (MM=116). E-flat Major. Scherzo/Trio (ternary).

IV. Finale. Allegro molto (MM=76). E-flat Major. Theme & Variation hybrid (Double-theme, elements of Sonata-Allegro).


Significance and Structure

Perhaps no piece in the symphonic repertoire has received more attention in writing than Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55. While contemporary reception of the piece was mixed, critics and theorists in the years since have considered the Eroica one of the most important pieces in the history of Western music.  Beethoven initially intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, but famously became disenchanted when Napoleon abandoned the ideals of the French Revolution and became Emperor in 1804, just one year before the symphony’s premiere. The composer tore up the title page in a fit of rage and branded the piece Sinfonia eroica (Heroic symphony) instead.  The subtitle of the published score simply said, “composed to celebrate the remembrance of a great man.”  Many have speculated about who this “great man” may have been.  With no definitive answer, perhaps the most compelling argument is that “Beethoven intended its title and subtitle to refer more broadly not to any single individual but to an ideal, mythic figure, whose heroism is represented by the power and weight of this symphony and whose death is commemorated by its Funeral March as second movement.” (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 55.)

While interesting, the story of the symphony’s dedicatee has little to do with its lasting importance to music history.  Part of its significance is that the Eroica was the first piece of the traditional middle or “heroic” period in Beethoven’s biography.  Beethoven started to compose the symphony shortly after he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, a document in which he reveals deep dismay at his increasing deafness and contemplation of suicide.  At about the same time, Beethoven reportedly declared to his friend Krumpholz that he was contemplating a new compositional direction (Downs, “Beethoven’s New Way & ‘Eroica'”).  Many have argued that Beethoven’s “heroic” style from the Third Symphony forward was a musical manifestation of his triumph over the personal afflictions laid out in the Testament. As Lewis Lockwood states, “Beethoven’s ‘heroic style,’ [is] a concept that…for many Beethovenians served to intertwine these two dimensions, his life and work” (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 52). While there are certainly music-rhetorical aspects that define the heroic style—expansions of form, stark, surprising harmonies and melodic directions, registral shifts, redefined instrumental use, and pregnant pauses, all calling upon and pushing to the fore the sublime aesthetic—critics have often focused on how the composer’s personal struggles are embodied in the music.  Many go so far to say that much of Beethoven’s music, starting with the Eroica, is representative of not only the composer’s life but even of universal human experience.  

Despite the many commentaries on the biographical connection, one should not lose focus of the Third Symphony’s musical importance.  In the Eroica, Beethoven expanded the symphonic form to an unprecedented scope, altering the expectations of what a four-movement symphony would be in the next two centuries.  Consider the symphonic composers before and after Beethoven: Mozart wrote over 40 symphonies, and Haydn over 100; after Beethoven, composers typically wrote no more than nine or ten, leading some to suggest a mythical “Curse of the Ninth.”  Scott Burnham stated that the Eroica came to be seen as the “One work [by which] Beethoven is said to liberate music from the stays of eighteenth-century convention, singlehandedly bringing music into a new age by giving it a transcendent voice equal to Western man’s most cherished values.” (Beethoven Hero, xvi.)    Burnham goes on to says of the first movement, “The unexampled drama of this movement singlehandedly altered the fate of sonata form, the defining form of the classical style, not to mention that of the symphony.” (Beethoven Hero, 4.)

By labeling his symphony Eroica, Beethoven added his work to the line of the characteristic symphony genre (Haydn’s “Le midi” Symphony, e.g., see above essay The Eighteenth-Century Symphony) while also inspiring critical writings that looked anticipated the more flushed out programmes of the nineteenth-century dramatic symphonies and symphonic poems by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949).  Berlioz himself said of Beethoven’s Third, “It is a serious mistake to truncate the title which the composer provided for the [Eroica] symphony. It reads: Heroic symphony to commemorate the memory of a great man. As will be seen, the subject here is not battles or triumphal marches . . . but rather deep and serious thoughts, melancholy memories, ceremonies of imposing grandeur and sadness, in short a funeral oration for a hero. I know few examples in music of a style where sorrow has been so unfailingly conveyed in forms of such purity and such nobility of expression.”  (Berlioz, The Art of Music and Other Essays). Contemporary critics such as A. B. Marx searched for a program that connects all four movements, but, as Burnham argues, critics attempting to link all four movements in a single programme face several challenges.  Perhaps the biggest hurdle to a complete four movement heroic narrative is that the second movement is a funeral march, followed by two more movements.  Therefore more modern interpretations view the symphony as four separate tableaux, as reflected in the following formal analysis.  

[We refer you to the following recording for the ensuing discussion: Beethoven Symphony No. 3 EroicaOrchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, 1st Movement, 2nd Movement, 3rd Movement, 4th Movement.]

The foundational idea of the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony is a narrative of struggle, which is a quintessential quality of the heroic archetype. This narrative is reflected in the structure of the piece at the large and small scales, and in how “dissonances” are generated and resolved in many aspects of the music, not just harmony. The opening pensive first theme (0:00-0:50) is an unusual instrumentation and articulation for a traditional heroic first theme; Beethoven here presents a legato theme in the cellos. This theme has two components, the first being the heroic arpeggiated figure which is strongly defined, followed by a shift into a chromatic pensive descent to a dissonant C-sharp, suggesting something dark and tormented is afoot. While Beethoven’s predecessors such as Mozart and Haydn used clearer question-and-answer structures, here the theme resembles a question unanswered, begging the rest of the movement to solve it. Metaphorically, the hero is launched from a state of nothing to something grand. Simultaneous to the arrival of the C-sharp in the cellos, the first violins enter with syncopated repeated pitches (rhythmic dissonance), and soon Beethoven launches into a series of full-orchestra misplaced sforzando accents (metric dissonance). In contrast to the square rhythm and articulation of the first theme, the transitional material is presented in the woodwinds using a descending line with dotted rhythms and short phrasing before reaching the second theme, which symbolizes nature by using the triple meter to create a clear, dance-like pastoral rhythm. The opening theme is stated three times, each one more full than the previous, until the third statement is adamantly made by the horns and even the trumpets, which were not generally used for melody (orchestration dissonance). 

The development section presents another kind of dissonance, this time playing with form; here Beethoven gives us a new theme (8:01-8:11) in the remote key of E minor. (This theme is repeated in the tonic E-flat minor, and returns in that key in the coda, thus resolving this key dissonance.) The rhythmic dissonance from earlier returns in a daring series of sforzandos, a very extended and tense section that threatens the loss of the metric sense. While the opening theme was questioning and searching, by the end of the Development section it has evolved (9:00-9:27) and now stays on the top note—a more fulfilled conclusion rather than the uncertain fall to C-sharp on its first hearing—yet this evolution is soft and unsure. This melodic resolution reflects the perfecting of the melody: the fulfillment, as it were, of the heroic persona, yet the idea is as yet incomplete, as it is presented piano. Following a “false return” of the main theme and key of E-flat in the second horn, and a fortissimo chastisement by the rest of the orchestra (9:56-10:07), the recapitulation commences, and the evolved, more fulfilled and heroic version of the first theme is stated by a solo horn in the key of F (10:17-10:26). An appearance of the key of D-flat, the enharmonic equivalent of C-sharp, in the recapitulation, helps resolve the harmonic problem of the C-sharp in the initial melody. The use of a full orchestral texture in contrast to the single-instrument statements earlier in the movement further completes this effect.  Finally, the form of the movement as a whole reflects a heroic narrative of overcoming tension or conflict. For example, unlike traditional codas which are to conclude a section, Beethoven’s coda is long and developmental, but returns to the full, heroic form of the initial melody (14:21-end). It is as if the music is reluctant to resolve, such that we are exhausted by the end, which reflects the human dimension.

The second movement is the most programmatic, bearing the title “Marcia Funebre” (funeral march). The imagery of the title is heard from the very first measure (0:00-0:53); the basses begin with a low muffled figure that seems to imitate military drums, and the somber c-minor melody beginning in the strings instantly brings to mind a solemn procession accompanying a fallen hero (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 61). This was not the first time Beethoven had written a movement in the form of a funeral march—the Piano Sonata no. 12 Op. 26, mvt. 3, composed around 1801, bears the title “Marcia Funebre, sulla morte d’un Eroe” or “Funeral March, regarding to the death of a hero”—but it was the first time he brought this form into a symphony, and Lewis Lockwood notes that in this second movement Beethoven “introduces death and commemoration into the genre of the symphony for the first time.”

This idea of commemoration or remembrance seems to permeate the movement, in which Beethoven creates a large-scale ternary form with the opening funereal march theme returning in various forms, acting as a sort of refrain. An optimistic middle section beginning  with a rising triadic theme in C major (3:39-4:22) seems to offer some light or hope to the listener, or reflect upon better times; George Grove characterizes this moment as a “sudden ray of sunshine in a dark sky” (Grove, Beethoven and His Nine Symphones, 72). Beethoven then extends the form by giving us a powerful fugue (5:51-7:25) beginning in the second violins; to end the movement with only a repeat of the main theme would be too easy, too simple for the “hero” Beethoven is recalling in the movement. In the fugue we have a sense of remembrance of the hero’s struggles, their trials and tribulations, which is ultimately interrupted and overcome by the return of the processional funeral march. In the coda this theme is recalled yet again, but in sparse fragments, interrupted by moments of silence, as if our hero is gasping for his last breaths, before finally reaching the end (11:47-end). In the words of Berlioz, “When these shreds of the lugubrious melody are bare, alone, broken, and have passed one by one to the tonic, the wind instruments cry out as if it was the last farewell of the warriors to their companions in arms.” Although Napoleon was still alive and well when Beethoven was composing the third symphony, when he learned of Napoleon’s death in 1821 he said “I have already composed the music for that catastrophe”, referring to the second movement of the Eroica

Rustic woodwind melodies, figures mimicking the prancing of horses, and brilliant horn calls suggest a natural setting in the third movement. One is reminded of David’s famous painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps.  Expansive formal techniques make it twice as long as Beethoven’s two previous symphonies. The opening is pianissimo with strings playing a duple-meter figure spiccato, leading to the oboe’s rustic melody (0:00-0:25). There are characteristics of a scherzo here with the irregular phrase length with the first melody phrase being an eight-bar phrase, followed by a ten-bar phrase, as well as the constant beat displacement and the use of syncopation. Although this movement is in a traditional minuet-trio structure, the sections of the scherzo’s rounded binary form are extended, and Beethoven adds a coda to the end of the movement. 

During the Classical period composers commonly used two horns, sometimes four, in symphonies, but this is the first time that three horns are used in a symphonic work. The horns used in Beethoven’s time had no valves, and used a “crook” system to be able to play in the various keys.  With the triadic horn calls at the beginning of the trio section, the rest of the orchestra “answers” the calls. He writes one part for a pair of horns and another part for the third horn, allowing for this triadic horn-call style. “In the trio, Beethoven exploits their imperfections in such a way that no stopped notes are required until near the end of the second half…” (Gregory, “The Horn in Beethoven’s Symphonies,” 307). The return of the Scherzo is repeated in a shorter version, and the orchestra plays the descending E-flat figure in duple meter (metric ambiguity) which suddenly leads into the closing material. In the coda (5:20-end), the woodwinds offer a rising chromatic figure which seems to relate back to the first movement. 

The fourth movement was perhaps the conception point from which Beethoven originally planned the entire symphony around the heroic idea. The versatility of the Fantasia style enables a journey of completion from humble beginnings to a grand transcendence. The use of a variation set (rather than a conventional sonata or rondo) stretched the symphonic form of the time. The movement contains two fugues and quotes from both the Op. 36 Piano Variations, nicknamed the Eroica Variations” (written in 1802, a year before the Eroica Symphony) as well as from Beethoven’s only balletThe Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, which he wrote in 1801. 

The movement begins with a Sturm und Drang effect (0:00-0:12), leading to a quiet pizzicato in the strings with the scant, searching “Basso del thema” (Bass of the theme) rounded binary theme from Prometheus (0:12-0:44) introducing the beginning trials of the hero. To this simple theme Beethoven adds a countermelody, four repeated A-flats descending to a G, the first three notes staccato, and the final two slurred. The contrast between the heroic and wide intervals of fifth and octave and the long note durations in the original theme, versus the semitone, staccato articulation, and eighth notes of the countermelody, create a strong distinction suggesting the main theme is nature or the transcendent while the countermelody suggests the human dimension. Together, the two motives fill out the major triad. 

Beethoven develops this basic idea into a full-fledged, folk-like melody in the oboes (1:50-1:59), again evoking a pastoral quality, which doesn’t appear until the third variation. Variations 4-7 (2:33-6:18) can be perceived as pseudo-development; this uses Fantasia techniques such as key changes, fugal style, poignant dissonances, and varied rhythms to navigate the most difficult struggles of the personal journey, which are overcome. In this section military and pastoral topoi are also presented in alternation. These contrasting topoi reflect the inherent contradictions of the human dimension and the metaphorical struggle. Variations 8-10 (6:18-9:44) function as a pseudo-recapitulation, signaled by a slowing in tempo and return to a reposed, pastoral character, but pushing forward with increasing grandeur generated by the melodic intensification and growing instrumentation.  A chromatic passage ends this section, leading into a full orchestral explosion that recalls the opening Sturm und Drang material, now at a Presto tempo, signaling the coda (9:50-end).This faster tempo rushes to the victorious ending: all struggles are overcome. Per ardua ad astra.

Contributors: CH, EH, FJ, SY, YS, MER


Beethoven’s Words

“I am far from satisfied with my past works: from today on I shall take a new way.” (Beethoven to Krumpholz, ca. 1802, as reported by Carl Czerny.)


Beethoven’s words, believed to have been uttered in 1801 or early 1802 to his friend Wenzel Krumpholz (Downs, “Beethoven’s ‘New Way’ and the ‘Eroica,’” 585) and published in a recollection by Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny, demonstrate a personal resolve for reinvention. The opening years of the nineteenth century were a psychologically transformative time for Beethoven: faced with the bleak outlook of his ever-worsening hearing loss, he regained a sense of purpose to serve a greater good, as expressed in the famed Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802. Carried by his innate “love of mankind and the desire to do good,” Beethoven returned from the brink of suicide and became a martyr—an injured hero—who would light the way for others with similar struggles, so that “someone who has had misfortune may console himself to find a similar case to his.” 

Beethoven’s stance reflects the cultural philosophy of the Romantic genius. The genius was born with an innate creative gift and “divine instinct” to create maximally-expressive art, often doing so through breaking the rules of convention (Lowinsky, “Musical Genius,” 323–328). The genius’s purpose was to serve humanity, and the burden of an artist was greater than the layman’s:  in the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven lamented that his condition was “not easy, and for the artist much more difficult than for anyone else.”

In his desperation, the composer found solace pouring his gifts into his art, and with the mindset of the genius, Beethoven began his “new way” of composition. His new works sought to break tradition in support of a dramatic narrative and tended to be longer in length compared to their predecessors, while still threading their beginnings to their ends through motivic unity. This period of fruitful compositional output is often referred to as his Middle or “Heroic” Period (ca. 1802–1814, Opp. 55-97, 113) due to its many works that portray the heroic ideal, and includes Symphony Nos. 3 through 8.  The portrayal of heroism is evident, too, in his music composed for stage works, most of which are on heroic stories.  Beethoven used themes from his earlier The Creatures of Prometheus ballet, Op. 43 (1801), based in mythology, as a foundation for his Eroica finale; his opera Leonore (1804; later revised and titled Fidelio), revolves around the protagonist Leonore infiltrating a Spanish prison to rescue her husband Florestan and incorporates themes of rebellion and liberation; the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 (1807) and incidental music to Egmont, Op. 84 (1809–10) and The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113 (1811) are also set to heroic tales. Meanwhile, non-programmatic but similarly-spirited works of this period include the Waldstein, Op. 53 (1804) and “Appassionata,” Op. 57 (1804–6) piano sonatas, written within a year of the Eroica’s completion. 

Beethoven’s “new way” found no better expression than in his Symphony No. 3. Ferdinand Ries famously described the violent erasure of this work’s original dedication, when Beethoven, upon discovering Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation as Emperor, “flew into a rage and cried out, ‘Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary man!’” (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 53). To uphold his newfound vision of the passionately virtuous without compromise, Beethoven published this symphony in 1806 with the full title “Sinfonia Eroica … composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.”

The remarkable length of this piece is accomplished through its daring structural turns, expanded by a density and abundance of musical ideas. Furthermore, in a scoring for three horns, abundant use of brass melodies, fugal writing in all but the scherzo, and an overall expansive treatment of forms, the Eroica reimagined the capabilities of a symphony. Structural details are described in the preceding essay, but the sum of the materials is four distinct, compelling tableaux of the heroic idea.  The first movement achieves deep emotional complexity, and through the creation and resolution of musical dissonances—harmonic, melodic, tonal, rhythmic, metric, textural, orchestrational, and formal—along with the shear expansiveness of the form, conveys the heroic per ardua ad astra: through struggle to the stars!  The second movement funeral march effectively turns the epic into a tragedy and, compared with the relatively mild emotional undercurrents of Beethoven’s first two symphonies, evokes an unprecedented sincerity in its gravitas and sorrow. Anguish and despair permeate unreservedly and are held together only by the emergence of hope and redemption as the music mourns for the fall of its hero. Juxtaposed against this profundity is the lighthearted nature “in Nature” of the third movement Scherzo.  In the final movement, the dramatic cascade of strings followed by a tutti fanfare signals a grand finale of a long expedition but is, instead, met with an almost mockingly humorous and delicate bass tune, which eventually reveals itself as the bass line for a much more graceful and satisfying theme, which continues to change and grow right to the horn-call and victorious ending.  As a character from a Romantic heroic novel (Bildungsroman), our hero starts as only an idea, grows into a human, relaxes in nature and love, struggles through trials and tribulations, all leading to a heroic figure greater than the sum of its parts.

By questioning the possibilities of what a symphony could be, Beethoven set the genre free of its emotional and formal constraints and allowed his music to serve as the vehicle for his unrestrained expression. Hector Berlioz wrote of the Eroica, “Where shall we find the truth or where the error? Everywhere, and yet in no particular place. Each one is right,” in justification of any idiosyncrasies that served the moral narrative and heroic spirit (Berlioz, A Critical Study of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies, 50). This emancipation would forge the path for symphonists to come, including Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner and Wagner, who remarked, “If there had not been a Beethoven, I could not have composed as I have” (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 66).

Contributors: AL, LB, MER


Others’ Words

“An entirely new symphony by Beethoven is written in a completely different style.  This long composition, extremely difficult to perform, is in fact a tremendously expanded, daring and wild fantasia. . . The reviewer belongs to Herr van Beethoven’s sincerest admirers, but in this composition he must confess he finds too much that is glaring and bizarre, which hinders greatly one’s grasp of the whole, and a sense of unity is almost completely lost. . . . The symphony in E-flat by Eberl again was extraordinarily pleasing; and really it has so much that is beautiful and powerful, handled with such genius and art, that its effect could hardly be lacking in any performance in which it were well rehearsed. . . . a simple and lovely idea governs the whole, very beautifully and artistically employed and worked out.” (AMZ 13 February 1805.)


It is difficult to have a complete picture of aesthetics around the turn of the nineteenth century without discussing the influential ideas of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement, published in 1790.  Kant distinguishes between ideas of the Beautiful and the Sublime, concepts which were part of the discussion of aesthetics and music during the eighteenth century, and continue to this day. The Beautiful is realized when it is rationally understood; the enjoyment of Beauty is found in a work or composition when its form is known and expected. Conversely, the Sublime, to quote Kant himself, “indicates some capacity to transcend all empirical standards merely by thinking of it” (Morrow, “Of Unity and Passion: The Aesthetics of Concert Criticism in Early Nineteenth-Century Vienna,” 203). The Sublime is transformational by definition because it is beyond one’s current understanding. One might say that the Beautiful is enjoyed, while the Sublime is experienced. Mary Sue Morrow writes in her article “Of Unity and Passion” that, “While none of the Viennese critics ever expounded at length on the philosophy underlying their reviews (such disquisitions generally being inconsistent with the immediacy of performance criticism), all constantly invoked criteria that call to mind the definitions of the Beautiful and the Sublime” (204). The opening reviewer of this essay, who admires Beethoven, is simultaneously impressed and overwhelmed by the “tremendously expanded, daring and wild fantasia.” By contrast, the reviewer is reassured by Eberl’s “extraordinarily pleasing” Symphony in E-flat, Op. 33 (1802), where a “simple and lovely idea governs the whole.” In other words, the transformational nature of the Beethoven work—what one might call the Sublime—is contrasted with the Beautiful in Eberl’s E-flat Symphony, which was a more comfortable musical language to this reviewer.

This could have been true for several reasons. More than Beethoven’s Third Symphony, which broke substantially with convention, the Eberl symphony fit easily into an established tradition of symphonic music by Haydn and Mozart.  J. A. P. Shulz, a prominent theorist of the time, described the symphony as a composition that emphasized “the grand, the festive, and the noble”, and was often used to “prepare the listeners for an important musical work” (see essay on the Eighteenth Century Symphony). Shulz notes that chamber symphonies were able to stand on their own, while other symphonic compositions were often preludes to, or interludes between, larger operatic or choral works or even as part of a worship service. In general, these symphonies placed only limited technical demands on their performers, and on their audience.

Beethoven’s Third Symphony, with its unprecedented length, enormous complexity, and reconstruction of form, would have been a huge shock to its public, which could no longer easily grasp what they were hearing. Where Eberl’s symphony follows more closely the established structure and overall character of the symphony, Beethoven dramatically altered the expected form and impact. Easily followed melodies and phrases by Eberl are contrasted with complex melodic structures and fragmented phrases by Beethoven. Consider, for example, the opening themes of the Eberl symphony and Beethoven symphony. Eberl uses rests and instrumentation changes to guide the listener’s understanding of how he develops the theme, while Beethoven challenges the listener’s assumptions from the start, particularly with off-beat rhythms and melodic move to the non-tonal pitch C-sharp. Beethoven’s first movement, and indeed the entire symphony, is also significantly longer than Eberl’s. In fact, Beethoven’s first movement is longer than some entire Haydn symphonies, with an enormous development section containing surprising modulations and new thematic material, preventing a new listener from instantly discerning how the work was put together (see above essay Significance and Structure). It is through this length, complexity, and layered surprises created by dissonances of all musical elements that Beethoven’s symphony is experienced as more of a Sublime aesthetic, as compared to Eberl’s Beautiful work. Music theorist Scott Burnham remarked this movement “single handedly altered the fate of sonata form, the defining form of the classical style, not to mention that of the symphony” (Beethoven Hero, xvi).

The differences, and similarities, between Beethoven’s and Eberl’s second movements are also instructive. They share the same key, the same meter, and some of the same musical motives (such as triplet upbeats, which can be heard in Beethoven here and in Eberl here). While Eberl’s second movement has melancholy characteristics, it can still be largely understood as a pastoral contrast to his arresting first movement, especially with its major-key ending. With many of the same building blocks, Beethoven created a very different experience. Marked explicitly as a funeral march, Beethoven’s second movement is a furor of emotional activity, referred to by composer Hector Berlioz as “a drama in itself” (Lockwood, Beethoven’s Symphonies, 70), suggesting that Beethoven demanded more attention and concentration from his listeners than previously expected. It was even recommended that the public would be best served by taking a break before starting the third movement:  “Since the scherzo that follows this march contrasts with it almost too sharply, and since surely every listener will want to let that sweet, melancholic feeling into which he has been placed at the end of the march fade away… the reviewer finds it highly advisable that this march be followed, not perhaps by something else that is perhaps easier to grasp (may heaven protect every theater director from such an idea), but rather by a completely silent, solemn pause of a few minutes” (AMZ 9, February 18, 1807).

Beethoven’s and Eberl’s symphonies diverge most dramatically in their fourth movements; Eberl stays with the expected sonata-form construction while Beethoven moves to a theme and variations. The theme and variations form was used frequently in symphonies of this era (it was a favorite of Haydn’s second movements), but it was unusual for a final movement. Furthermore, Beethoven builds the theme slowly, in an almost improvisatory fashion, creating the “fantasia” elements mentioned in the initial review. (See above essay Significance and Structure for details.) This approach brings the listener into the process of composition, creating the experience of development central to notions of the Sublime, and attached to the heroic ideal.

Such tension between the lure of Beethoven’s sublime daring and the comfort of Eberl’s beauty created multiple reactions from the public, which are nicely characterized in another review from a few months later: 

“Likewise a new symphony in E-flat by Beethoven was performed here, over which the musical connoisseurs and amateurs were divided into several parties. One group, Beethoven’s very special friends, maintains that precisely this symphony is a masterpiece, that it is in exactly the true style for more elevated music, and that if it does not please at present, it is because the public is not sufficiently educated in art to be able to grasp all of these elevated beauties… The other group utterly denies this work any artistic value and feels that it manifests a completely unbounded striving for distinction and oddity, which, however, has produced neither beauty nor true sublimity and power… The third, very small group stands in the middle; they admit that the symphony contains many beautiful qualities, but admit that the context often seems completely disjointed, and that the endless duration of this longest and perhaps also most difficult of all symphonies exhausts even connoisseurs, becoming unbearable to the mere amateur…” (Der Freymüthige 3, April 17, 1805).

The dam had burst and the musical world was soon awash in the revolutionary soundscape of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. Regardless of even his most pessimistic critics, Beethoven was undeterred. Replying to one in 1806, he wrote: “If you fancy you can injure me by publishing articles of that kind, you are very much mistaken. On the contrary, by so doing you merely bring your journal into disrepute.” (Anderson, Beethoven Letters, no. 132.)

Contributors: JM, MC, MER


Topics and readings for further inquiry

Comprehensive discussions of the Eroica
November, Nancy, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Eroica Symphony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
For further information and analysis of the “Eroica” symphony including historical reception, political context, heroic ideal, and critical studies of its influence. 

Downs, Philip G. “Beethoven’s ‘New Way’ and the ‘Eroica.’” The Musical Quarterly 56, no. 4 (1970): 585604. JStor linkProvides context for Beethoven’s “new way” quote and describes how Beethoven uses his new style of writing in the Eroica.

Senner, Wayne M.; Wallace, Robin; and Meredith, William, The Critical Reception of Beethoven’s Compositions by His German Contemporaries, volume 2 (2001). University of Nebraska Press — Sample Books and Chapter 5.

Characteristic Symphony in the Classical era
Will, Richard.  The Characteristic Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Beethoven. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Chapter 3 is dedicated to the Erioca Symphony.

Beethoven and Napoleon
Video by BBC Music Magazine on the topic of Beethoven and Napoleon, with a brief musical analysis 

George, Christopher T. “The Eroica Riddle: Did Napoleon Remain Beethoven’s Hero?” The Napoleon Series. Accessed July 15, 2020. 

Classical Notes: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”   A dubious link to Napoleon, revolutionary structure, performance challenges it presents, and surveys the nine first recordings, significant recordings in the German tradition, and trends in modern recordings. 

Beethoven and the horn
Gregory, Robin. “The Horn in Beethoven’s Symphonies.” Music & Letters 33/4 (1952): 303-10. Accessed July 11, 2020.

Beethoven, the Heroic, and Music for Stage works
From Prometheus to the Eroica: Beethoven’s Heroic Ideal.  All Things Beethoven

Chicago Symphony Orchestra brief description of Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43.

Cleveland Orchestra Prometheus Project.

Phillip Huscher, Chicago Symphony Orchestra program notes to Egmont, Op. 84.

The Heiligenstadt Testament
Beethoven, Ludwig van. 2001-2013. “The Heiligenstadt Testament.” Ludwig van Beethoven. Accessed 07/07/2020. 

Beethoven and Genius
Video Beethoven and the Romantic Genius, by Craig Wright (Yale University).  
6.5-minute video that introduces the idea of Beethoven as a Genius. The video is available via Coursera, and the lecture is part of Yale University’s The Introduction to Classical Music course.

Lowinsky, Edward E. “Musical GeniusEvolution and Origins of a Concept.” The Musical Quarterly 50, no. 3 (1964): 321-40. JStor link

The Sublime and Beautiful
Youtube video:  Burke on the Sublime.

 Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. London, 1757.  Of particular help are Part I, Part II, and Part IV

 “18th Century German Aesthetics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jan. 16, 2007, rev. July 13, 2020.  Accessed 07/15/2020.

Tymoczko, Dmitry. “Arts in Society: The Sublime in Beethoven.” Boston Review 1 Dec. 1999. Accessed 07/15/2020. Somewhat more concise and accessible than the Stanford Encyclopedia. Burnham, Scott. Beethoven Hero. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Eroica Sketches
Beethoven, Ludwig van. Beethoven’s “Eroica” sketchbook: a critical edition. Transcribed, edited, and with a commentary by Lewis Lockwood and Alan Gosman.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013.      


Online resources

Early Editions of scores and parts
First edition of the Score in 1809 on imslp. (Huang) First Edition (1809)

Later edition of the Score by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1862 (Huang) Score (1862 Version)


Modern editions
Dover edition of Symphony No. 3

New York Philharmonic score, includes annotations from Leonard Bernstein

Online recordings
Period/HIP recordings—
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (“Eroica”), Gardiner, ORR
The performance on period instruments performed by Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

London Chamber Players, Roger Norrington conducting
Conducted by Sir Roger Norrington in 1989. 

Beethoven: Symphony No.3 “Eroica”/ Brüggen Orchestra of the 18th Century
Performed by Brüggen Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century on Period Instruments with a discussion by Frans Brüggen to introduce the period instrument performance. 

Orchestra of the 18th Century, Brüggen
1st movement, 2nd movement, 3rd movement, 4th movement
Complete Set of Beethoven Symphonies by Orchestra of the 18th Century and Brüggen

Modern orchestra recordings—
The Second earliest public recording, conducted by Oskar Fried, Berlin Staatsoper.

London Symphony Orchestra- Albert Coates (1926)
Early public recording, Conducted by Albert Coates, London Symphony Orchestra, with several tapes for one movement. (Huang)

Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E flat major, ‘Eroica’ – BBC Proms 2012, Daniel Barenboim, conducting
A live performance of BBC Proms that begins with commentary on the basic background information of the symphony. 

Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conducting
1st movement, 2nd movement, 3rd movement, 4th movement 

“Ludwig van Beethoven: Eroica” (Documentary and Concert) from the Keep Score Series by Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony 

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, conducting


Descriptions available online (videos, program notes, etc.,)
Grove, George. Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies. London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1898.  Reprint New York: Dover Publications, 1962. 

Berlioz, Hector. A Critical Study of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies. Translated by Edwin Evans. London: W.M. Reeves, n.d. Hector Berlioz describes his dramatic reading of the symphony and contemplates its mixed public reception (pp. 41-50).

Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’: Heroism & shock tactics | Gardiner and the ORR on Beethoven’s Symphonies

Leonard Bernstein Discusses the Eroica Symphony

BBC Film: “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 Eroica (Genius creation of the Eroica – 9 June 1804 )” . A dramatized reenactment of the premiere of the third symphony at the Lobkowicz Palace. An entertaining look at the personality, struggles and genius of Beethoven. Performed by Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique on period instruments.

Christopher Gibbs, Notes from NPR: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” 
Discusses the Heiligenstadt  Testament, the symphony as a turning point for Beethoven’s symphonies, its reception, and a general musical overview.

Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Program Notes .

Phillip Huscher, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Program Notes.