Tags

, , , ,

On April 7, 1805, some lucky Viennese were in attendance for the premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, better know as the “Eroica.”

To commemorate this momentous day in music history, A Superfluous Man presents the Wiener Philharmoniker, under the baton of Leonard Bernstein, performing the Eroica in its entirety via YouTube.

Start your day off properly by at least listening to the first movement:

Most should be familiar with the famous story of Beethoven’s abortive dedication of the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. As retold by Paul Johnson, in his Napoleon: A Life (reviewed here):

The German intelligentsia, almost in its entirety, initially hailed Bonaparte as a hero. He was seen not only as the epitome of the romantic spirit of high adventure, in the eyes of the poets, but as the embodiment of the enlightened, all-powerful state, an ideal that appealed strongly to, among others, the young philosopher Hegel, whose exultation of the state opened the road to Bismarck’s blood-and-iron Prussia and, still more disastrously, the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler. Hegel stood in the street, bareheaded, to see the triumphant Bonaparte pass, and sycophantically continued to applaud him even after French soldiers made off with his possessions.

By contrast, there was Beethoven, working on his Third Symphony, the huge work that would break the mold of the old symphonic form forever. A friend and eyewitness, Ferdinand Ries, testified:

In this symphony, Beethoven had Bonaparte in his mind, but as he was when he was First Consul. Beethoven esteemed him greatly at the time [1804] and likened him to the great Roman consuls. I . . . saw a copy of the score lying on his table with the word ‘Bonaparte’ at the extreme top of the title page, and at the extreme bottom ‘Luigi van Beethoven,’ but not another word. . . . I was the first to bring him the intelligence that Bonaparte had proclaimed himself emperor, whereupon he flew into a rage and cried out: ‘Is he then also nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he too will trample on all the rights of men and indulge only his ambition. He will exalt himself above all the others and become a tyrant.’ Beethoven went to the table, took hold of the title page by the top, tore it in two and threw it on the floor.