Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, also known as the Eroica, is a four-movement work that represents Beethoven’s influence on both the Romantic and Classical eras of music. The Eroica developed during a period in Beethoven’s life that came after the Heiligenstadt Testament. This testament detailed his contemplations of suicide due to his increasing deafness and physical illness and his decision to continue living only to continue creating music.
The years following the 1802 composition of his Testament were full of increased creativity and productivity for Beethoven. He composed several pieces along with the Eroica at this time, including the Moonlight Sonata and his Third Piano Concerto. Beethoven intended for the symphony to serve as a dedication to the Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte, who — at the time — Beethoven viewed as the epitome of humanism. When Napoleon appointed himself Emperor of France, however, Beethoven furiously erased his dedication to the man and replaced it with “Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The Eroica was meant to be a testament to the humanist movement and ideals that it represented, but in the end, was a rejection of all Napoleon was as an Emperor.
The Eroica is a rigorous piece and one that was written with great emotional depth. This symphony highlights Beethoven’s development of the Heroic style. The influence of Bonaparte, the French Revolution, and the German enlightenment were dominant figures in influencing the composer during this period. The Eroica is a milestone in the development of this style which is characterized by driving rhythms and dynamic changes throughout the piece. Through this piece we see the dramatic depth and deep orchestration that will come to characterize Beethoven’s break with earlier periods of Western Music.
Beethoven 101: Explore the Series
Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life
Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica
Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto
Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis