Week32: beethoven’s symphony #3


It changed the world’s sense of what a symphony could be, and to a degree the sense of what music could be: more intense, more emotional, more complex, more individual, with more violent contrasts and unprecedented challenges to the listener. Haydn and Mozart had made the symphony the king of instrumental genre; the Third Symphony confirmed that, and carried the genre still further in ambition. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

by the end of this symphony the audience, too, deserves an applause. to have sustained one’s attention through the incessant tension and leavened expansion of the last two movements (and the busy buzz of the Scherzo) is a feature of a near olympic effort of concentration.  yet this is not some densely cerebral work for the vivisection of musicologists and the myopic like, there is an ebullience in the character of the whole piece from the opening Allegro to its Finale, “a burgeoning unruly enough to pitch my five queenly wits into vulgar motley”.

despite the punches delivered all throughout on timpanis and reverberated on cellos, it is a very quiet symphony with many spotlights on the less spectacular members of the woodwind section, oboe and bassoon especially.

then there is the equally compelling phenomena of leonard bernstein in full form, on the vinyl and Youtube recordings, it is bernstein at his best: an absolute diva when he’s massaging the tortuous contours of the score, and at other instances a sweating and laboured athlete trying to keep pace with the marathonian excesses of beethoven’s Third.

As it turned out, the Third would not go into the world with the name “Bonaparte.” Soon after it was finished, Beethoven learned that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor of France, and realized instantly what that meant: his hero was not going to end the tyrannies of crowned head. In a fit of rage he ripped up the title page. He finally published the Third with the title “Eroica” (Heroic), “in memory of a great man.: That man was the hero Beethoven had once believed Napoleon to be. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit



Columbia Masterworks Recording // Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) // Symphony No.3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, “Eroica”

New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein

O humanity, if you should ever read this, then think that you have done me an injustice.  “” ludwig van beethoven, Heiligenstadt Testament, 6 October 1802

Symphony No.3

  • Allegro con brio

  • Marcia funebre: Adagio assai

  • Scherzo: Allegro vivace; Trio

  • Finale: Allegro molto; Poco andante