By 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte, thanks to his military exploits and delicious layers of puff pastry and jam, had achieved enough popularity in France to declare himself Emperor. 700 miles away in Vienna, Ludwig van Beethoven had achieved enough bitterness from Napoleon’s power move that he grabbed the title page to a new symphony dedicated to Bonaparte, scratched out the Emperor’s name with a knife vigorously enough to tear a hole clean through the paper, ripped it in half and threw it on the floor in disgust. When a new title page was published in 1806, it was inscribed “Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man,” presumably pre-Emperor Napoleon.
Such is the legendary story behind the music, now ubiquitous enough to be called simply “Eroica” as if it were on the Brazilian soccer team. But what of the music itself? Far, far more than simple “program” music, it is virtually the foundation upon which orchestral music continues to build itself to this day. If any hero emerges from the pages of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony, it is the composer himself. In 50 or so minutes, Beethoven almost singlehandedly ushered in the Romantic period and stretched the symphony so far it needed to apply cocoa butter. Continue reading