Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony

9 02 2009


I find Beethoven in general to be tiresome to listen to. Indeed, I lay the blame for the largely unlistenable music of the nineteenth century at his compositional feet. Apparently, however, the embattled Bishop Richard Williamson loves Beethoven, and his latest post on his blog is a description of one of his favorite pieces, the first romanticist shot across the bow of musical history, the Third Symphony, or the “Eroica”. Here is an excerpt:

The first movement of the “Eroica” was unprecedentedly long in Beethoven’s own day – over 600 bars, lasting in performance anywhere around a quarter of an hour. Yet from first bar to last, the varied wealth and dynamic force of the musical ideas owe their tight unity and overarching control to the classical sonata form which Beethoven had inherited from the 18th century: Exposition, Development and Recapitulation (ABA), with a Coda mighty enough (innovation of Beethoven) to balance the Development (ABAC).

Leaping into action with two E flat major chords, the hero strides forth with his main theme, the first subject, built solidly out of that chord. The theme goes to war. A valiant re-statement precedes several new ideas of varying rhythms, keys and moods until moments of calm come with the classically more quiet second subject. But war soon returns, with off-beat rhythms and violent struggle, culminating in six hammering chords in two-time cutting right across the movement’s three-time. A few vigorous bars close the Exposition.

Yuck! I feel so dirty. Where is some Rameau when you need him…

That’s better.



12 responses

3 06 2010
scott stambler

Was this just written as a shock piece? You seriously don’t like Beethoven’s Eroica?

The Eroica is one of my favorites. (And I think I’m in pretty good company with a few composers, conductors, scholars, and colleagues in the field.)

May I suggest you find the Bernstein recording where, in additional tracks, he discusses the perfection of the composition?


10 03 2009

If you can bear a listen to the Emperor Concerto (along the same lines, at least as far as nomenclature) – it may surprise you. It contains what is probvably the first Tango in Classical music, for one thing.

23 02 2009


“Yuck! I feel so dirty.”

Do you really feel the same way even with Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis?

14 02 2009

Some of Beethoven is neoclassical, but he ushered in the Romantic period with his 7th Symphony, which mixed elements of the two periods. I remember reading that the audience at its performance was polarized, with the older and younger generations disagreeing impolitely regarding the newer elements.

I’ve always liked the 3rd Symphony, and I’ve always liked the 1st movement better than the others. In fact, I’ve always liked his romanticism, as it’s seemed a fitting accompaniment to the revolutionary fervor of the time.

13 02 2009
Andrea Elizabeth

(OK, one more) So what are you saying, Arturo, if it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it? (HT to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)

12 02 2009
The Scylding

Alas, my dear Arturo, I have to confess that Beethoven is very much to my taste, and Rameau (yes, I own him too) leaves my dissatisfied. If mathematical imagery could be used, Rameau is Descartes, and Beethoven is Leibniz.

I can only guess at your thoughts on some of my other favourites (Dvorak, Sibelius, Vaughn-Williams…..).

10 02 2009
Sam Urfer

I must admit, I am a fan of Romantic music in general, and Beethoven in particular. As much as it pains me to say, I have to agree with Williamson *blech*.

10 02 2009

I’ve never been much of a Beethoven fan. I don’t why. Maybe it’s because he seems to have one foot in the Classical camp and another in the Romantic and I just want one or the other. I do have to admit that I like Wagner (walks away in shame).

9 02 2009

I’m certainly no musicologist, but…

I agree with you about most of the music of the 19th century, but I see a definite break between Beethoven and later composers. To me, he represents the height of the classical period, the last and the best (rivaled only, perhaps, by Mozart), followed by an extremely steep decline.

Anyway, so Vladyka Dickie likes Beethoven, does he? I did not know that. Perhaps he should have pursued musicology instead of divinity.

9 02 2009

(oops.. I forgot this one.. sorry for the double-posting)

Enjoy! 🙂

9 02 2009

Emma Shapplin – Concert in Caesarea

Goran Bregovic – Istanbul Concert:

9 02 2009

Also Les Cyclopes: Ulysses vs. Polyphemus!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: