Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”
In 1792, when twenty-two year old Ludwig von Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna, the cultural capital was buzzing with the political stirrings of the populist uprising in France.
The young Beethoven saw the French Revolution as a struggle for humanist principles he believed in; and Napoleon Bonaparte, later First Consul, as a hero for his leadership in the fight for freedom and equality. He determined to compose a third symphony and dedicate it to the man he saw as a champion of the human spirit.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony “Eroica” is monumental in scope and range of expression– an epic work unlike any other. In the opening movement, by deftly playing with variations on a few simple themes, the composer takes the listener on a wild emotional ride. In the devastating funeral march that follows, Beethoven breaks free of compositional norms established by Mozart and Haydn–catapulting between passages comforting and terrifying, violent and serene. The third movement, arguably the most personal, finds Beethoven confidently scaling the no-boundaries terrain of his fertile imagination. During fourth and final movement, ingenious thematic variations grow, in turn, playful and stormy. When the final variation culminates in an exhilarating brass fanfare, we experience the transformative power of music. It’s hardly a stretch to envision heroic troops marching in step with the common man.
Performing on period instruments, ACO invites the listener to revel in the full sonic palette of Beethoven’s time: the blaze of military trumpets and rat-a-tat drums, the resonant friction of gut strings, the profound interplay of furious brass and wooden winds. The natural blend of these organic instruments makes the listening to “Eroica” all the more moving – and transcendent.
In May, 1804, as Beethoven was completing his Third Symphony, Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France. With the Napoleonic Wars under way, the bitterly disappointed composer – now seeing his hero as a military despot -- crossed out his dedication (some have him ripping up the title page in a rage), replacing it with Sinfonia Eroica … composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grande Uomo (Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.) The following year, Napoleon took Vienna without a battle.
Along with Symphony No. 3, the ACO will perform Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, another spirited venture that broke new compositional ground. An early example of program music, or music in illustration of a narrative, the overture is based on Heinrich Joseph von Collins’s tragedy Coriolan, the story of semi-legendary Roman leader Gaius Marius Coriolanus and the inner struggle that led him from despotic brutality to human tenderness.
At the beginning of each Alice Tully Hall performance, Maestro Thomas Crawford will deliver a lively Concert Preview with the full orchestra on stage. Crawford’s engaging narratives, along with excerpts performed by the musicians, give audiences greater insight into the music they are about to hear. Concert previews are free to all ticket holders and begin at 8 pm.