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Beethoven Symphony no.3, E-flat major; op.55, "Eroica"
Ludwig van Beethoven

Duration of performance: c. 52 minutes
First performance: January 3rd, 1805
Dedicated to: Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz (cf. "Österreich-Lexikon")
Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, drums, strings.

History of dedication

Originally it was intended for Napoleon Bonaparte, but on hearing about his proclamation as Emperor, Beethoven withdrew the dedication.

First performance

It took place on Jan.3rd, 1805, in a private performance for Prince Lobkowitz in his palace, todayís Palais Lobkowitz, in the first district of Vienna. The hall is now called "Eroica Hall". In a small circle another performance had already taken place in August 1804. Prince Lobkowitz had reserved half a yearís performing rights for himself. The orchestra was a small private one, the audience a small circle of invited guests.

The first public performance took place on April 7th, 1805 at the Theater an der Wien.


1st movement: Allegro con brio
2nd movement: Marcia funebre (Adagio assai)
3rd movement: Scherzo
4th movement: Finale (Allegro molto-Poco Andante-Presto)

Beethoven commented on his symphony in 1806:

"This symphony, extended beyond the customary measure, had better be played soon after the beginning, rather than at the end of a musical performance, e.g. after an overture, an aria or a concert. Otherwise it would lose some of its effect when the listener is already tired from the previous music." (Beethovenís comments in the first edition of the score, 1806, published by the firm "Verlag für Kunst und Industrie")
Before beginning to work at the Eroica, Beethoven was already certain of his approaching deafness.

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.

"Is he, too, nothing but an ordinary human? Now he will trample upon all human rights, indulge in his ambition, will put himself above all others and become a tyrant!"
So he changed his dedication - to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz, in whose palace the first performance took place.

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).

New elements

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.

  • expansion of the form
  • harmonic novelties
  • rhythmic boldness (misplaced accents)
  • a new passionate sound language
  • expansion of the Coda into a second development
  • introduction of new themes into the development
  • insertion of funeral march
  • the simultaneous use of tonic and dominant before the recapitulation in the 1st movement ("misplacement")
  • the weight of the Scherzo movement

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