Beethoven commented on his symphony in 1806:
Inspiration for the "Eroica"
The inspiration to write a symphony about Napoleon Bonaparte probably came from General Bernadotte, the then French Ambassador in Vienna. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte (1763 - 1844), Napoleonís brother-in-law, General in the French Revolutionary Wars, was made Prince of Pontecorvo by Napoleon I (in 1806), elected Crown Prince by the Swedish Diet and adopted by the Swedish King Charles XIII. It was he who made Sweden join the adversaries of Napoleon and commanded the Northern army during the Wars of Liberation. Beethoven was enthusiastic about Napoleonís personality and saw in him the political figure that would implement the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity throughout Europe. He considered him a successor to those Roman consuls who had once brought freedom to Rome and founded the Roman Empire.
Bernadotte offered to hand the finished score to Bonaparte. The title-page already bore the note "intitolata Bonaparte" by "Luigi van Beethoven", when the news arrived that Napoleon had himself proclaimed Emperor of the French. The vote of the Senate about the transformation of France into a hereditary Empire was approved in a referendum. After Pope Pius VII had anointed him, Napoleon crowned himself and his wife Josephine Beauharnais in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Beethovenís reaction to this news has come down to us through his pupil and confidant Ferdinand Ries.
The work was published in 1806 under the title "Sinfonia eroica, composita per festiggiare il sovvenire di un grand Ďuomo" (Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man). From the ideal, Napoleon, the "memory of a great man" is all that was left.
With the "Eroica" Beethoven succeeded in taking the decisive step from the "classical" symphony of the 18th century to the "great" symphony of the 19th century: the new elements are the unusual dimensions, the bold instrumentation and harmony and the new cosmopolitan musical language.
History of the opus
From an Eroica sketchbook (1802/04) it can be proved that the first rough drafts date from 1801. From May to November 1803 the most important parts were finished at Baden near Vienna and in Oberdöbling (Döblinger Hauptstraße 92). The score was finished at the beginning of 1804 and bore the title "Symphonie grande, intitolata Bonaparte."
The first public performance under Beethovenís direction took place at the Theater an der Wien, on April 7th, 1805.
The original score has been lost, but a preserved sketchbook (to be seen in Moscow) illustrates the progress of the work. Beethoven seems to have worked only at the "Eroica" during the summer of 1803; there are no proofs that he also composed other material. (Cf. Beethovenís way of lodging in Vienna).
The "Eroica" is the first large-scale symphony of musical history. Beethovenís 3rd symphony is a break-away from the sound effects of other contemporary symphonies.
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