Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 in E flat major

1804 was a bad PR year for Napoleon Bonaparte.  In March, he had sent French Dragoons across the Rhine into sovereign German territory to kidnap Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien, bringing him to Paris to be tried on trumped up charges of conspiracy and then executed.  A European aristocracy who had breathed a sigh of relief that Napoleon had leashed the French Revolutionary Terror instantly became implacably opposed to his rule.  While he was able to conquer for a while, he was unable to hold his gains in the face of their continuing resistance.  As Talleyrand is said to have explained, It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.

And then on this day in 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor.  Pope Pius had traveled all the way from Rome to Paris to crown l'Empereur and was forced to watch, humiliated, as Bonaparte set the crown on his own head.  And in an instant he alienated Europe's  Republicans - those who had hoped that the Rights Of Man as enshrined in the French Revolution would sweep all before it on their continent.

Napoleon had basically alienated an entire continent in the space of a few months.  Beethoven was one of those alienated.

The maestro had just composed a new symphony, one that he had proudly entitled Bonaparte.  When he heard of Napoleon's Coup d'Etat, he erased Bonaparte's name and instead entitled the work the Eroica Symphony.  In the blink of the eye it went from Geschriben auf Bonaparte to composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo (composed to celebrate the memory of a great man).

Erased from musical history.

Beethoven's Third Symphony is the first of his truly great works (along with the Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth).  It is unmistakeably Beethoven, deeply romantic and emphasizing that musical style had changed from the old ordered compositions of Bach and Mozart.  Hector Berlioz (best known for his Symphonie Fatastique) used the Third Symphony as a major part of his wildly influential Treatise on Instrumentation.  That influenced composers like Mussorgsky, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

I remember the boxed LP set of Beethoven symphonies as a kid.  I noticed the difference between the Third and the previous two symphonies: the First and Second each took one side of one LP record; the Third took both sides of the next.  Earlier Classical symphonies were much shorter, and Beethoven entirely changed the format - effectively doubling the length and complexity of the score.  The second movement is perhaps the bright dividing line between the the older Classical style and the new Romantic one.  It is so emotional that it is often played as a funeral march.  The finale is much more elaborate than past pieces, with what is essentially a fugue and variation on a theme repeated and echoed back.

Actually quite a lot that Napoleon gave up, although he literally went to his grave saying that he would have sent troops after the poor Duc d'Enghien.

Unusual for Youtube, this is the entire Third Symphony.  Usually recordings cut off after ten minutes, but this is Beethoven, and it is the bright dividing line between the Classical and the Romantic.  Very nice recording by the Sydney Youth Orchestra.


Ed Skinner said...

Bravo! Wonderful performance!
It brought back memories of playing once, years ago, in a city-level ensemble and what a joy it was to be with so many talented musicians of exceptional caliber.
And thank you for the wonderful Sunday morning entertainment not to mention the history lesson.
Accolades all around!

Phyllis (N/W Jersey) said...

Thank you - perfect for this Sunday morning!

libertyman said...

Good class this morning!