Beethoven – Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major Op. 55 “Eroica”

by Max Derrickson

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827)

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major  Op. 55 “Eroica”
I. Allegro con brio
II. Marche funebre
III. Scherzo
IV. Allegro molto


Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770 of an alcoholic and difficult father.  His childhood bore hardship, but early he excelled at music, was tutored in the great works of Bach, met the King of music, Mozart, and studied with Josef Haydn.  His skills as a pianist and improviser were virtuosic, and as a young man his gifts at composition matured quickly.  His unique style as performer and composer made a strong impression on the elite circles in Vienna (where he studied with Haydn and made his home for the rest of his life), and thus was privileged to gain ample patronage as a musician and composer.

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One cannot study the life and works of Beethoven without learning of the Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802, written by Beethoven at the age thirty-one after he learned of his progressive hearing loss.   In this we read “If death should come before I have had the opportunity to develop all my artistic powers, he will, despite my severe lot, arrive too soon for me, I would have wished to encounter him hereafter; yet even so, I am content: does he not free me from endless suffering?  Come, whenever you wish: I approach you with a resolute heart.”

The Third Symphony was completed in 1804, and premiered in 1805.  It is, by any analysis, a symphony that changed the course of Western music.  This for several reasons: [. . .]

The finale is, then, what would have to be: the crowning achievement of the whole work, balancing the massive first movement, stating its heroic theme in a grand way, pushing harmonics and structural form to another level of brilliance, and gathering in all of what has been given us so far in emotional intensity and high rhythmic temperature.

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