Scratched Into Our Souls

Beethoven’s Third Symphony, ‘Eroica’ | July 30, 2010

Last night, I had the wonderful pleasure of witnessing a concert of Beethoven’s music at the famous Hollywood Bowl, performed by the immensely talented Los Angeles philharmonic orchestra with explosive conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The orchestra performed one of Beethoven’s lesser known piano concertos, Concerto No. 3, with one of the most talented piano players I have ever had the privilege of seeing. But the real magic happened in the second half of the evening, when the orchestra performed Beethoven’s flawless Third Symphony, perhaps better known as the Eroica

Beethoven certainly needs no introduction. Arguably the most important composer of all time, Beethoven had as big an affect on culture during and after his lifetime as anybody ever has in the Western canon, and for good reason. While he lacked Mozart’s capacity to create powerful and transcendent melodies, Beethoven more than made up for it with his compositional prowess. While I am by no means a Beethoven expert or an expert at the in depth analysis required to prove Beethoven’s exceptional skills, all anybody really needs to appreciate Beethoven is fresh ears and an interest in music.

Beethoven composed the Eroica as he was beginning to lose his hearing and in the throws of a personal crisis when he was torn over the actions of somebody he once believed to have been a hero, the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. The title Eroica actually refers to this idealism, as it translates not to eroticism like many have wrongly guessed in the past, but to ‘heroic.’ The piece lends its name to the beginning of Beethoven’s middle period, referred to by historians as his “heroic” period. It is also my favorite Beethoven composition and arguably the finest piece of music ever composed.

The Eroica has been analyzed to death and written about in more books than could fill a library. The hermeneutical approach focuses on the growth of the main theme, invoking a bildungs roman narrative structure that many find appealing to this day. After all, the rags-to-riches sort of story of overcoming hardship seems to be informed by the music itself. As crashing chords seem violent in nature, the music often feels like it is on the verge of utter collapse, and Beethoven’s little-theme-that-could must struggle for survival, ending up on the other side as a strong, successful individual who has overcome extraordinary circumstances.

Not just this, but the harmonic language that Beethoven uses is also immense. To explain it simply, Classical period music was often limited in its harmonic language, but Beethoven extended the techniques of his predecessors Hadyn and Mozart, exploring new key areas that were distant from the tonic key (the ‘home’ key), in this case E-flat major. Don’t let this technical language scare you away from classical music – it’s hardly necessary for appreciation of this magnificent work, which marked the beginning of the end for the Classical Era while signaling the beginning of the Romantic period, from which a large majority of modern day concert repertoire is drawn from. Written and premiered in 1803, the piece has withstood the test of time (two hundred and seven years counts as standing the test of time, doesn’t it?) and managed to change the history of music forever, and there was no turning back.

It’s an incredible piece of music, and worth every minute you can invest in it. If you’re new to Beethoven’s music, might I suggest starting here, with one of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies, one of the most important pieces of music ever written in the Western classical repertoire. It’s an absolute triumph, one of the greatest artistic achievements of mankind. Don’t miss it.

Listen: Ludwig van Beethoven – “Symphony No.3 In E Flat Major, First Movement”


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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

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    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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