The title page of the Eroica Symphony, showing the erased dedication to Napoleon
Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, also known as the Eroica(Italian for “heroic”), is a musical work marking the full arrival of the composer’s “middle-period,” a series of unprecedented large scale works of emotional depth and structural rigor.
The symphony is widely regarded as a mature expression of the classical style of the late eighteenth century that also exhibits defining features of the romantic style that would hold sway in the nineteenth century. The Third was begun immediately after the Second, completed in August 1804, and first performed 7 April 1805.
Dedication and premiere
Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. The biographerMaynard Solomon relates that Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and viewed Napoleon as their embodiment. In the autumn the composer began to have second thoughts about that dedication. It would have deprived him of a fee that he would receive if he instead dedicated the symphony to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowitz. Nevertheless, he still gave the work the title ofBonaparte.
According to Beethoven’s pupil and assistant, Ferdinand Ries, when Napoleon proclaimed himselfEmperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and tore it up in rage. This is the account of the scene as told by Ries:
In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven’s closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Buonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title-page and “Ludwig van Beethoven” at the very bottom. … I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be recopied and it was only now that the symphony received the title “Sinfonia eroica.”