Monday, April 06, 2009

The Debut of 'Eroica'

It may not seem significant to those who aren't particularly interested in classical music, but Tuesday is the 204th anniversary of the first public performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony, which is also known as "Eroica."

That first public performance was held in Vienna, and the symphony was conducted by Beethoven himself. It is often cited as the end of the Classical Era and the start of Romanticism.

Originally, Beethoven intended to dedicate the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven was an admirer of both the French Revolution and Bonaparte. But Beethoven's admiration for Bonaparte apparently had its limits. When he was informed that Bonaparte had been proclaimed emperor of France, Beethoven reportedly said, "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!"

And Beethoven changed the title from one bearing Bonaparte's name to "Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d'un grand'uomo," which, in Italian, means "heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man."

In the clip above, legendary Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan conducts the symphony. Karajan died 20 years ago. His birthday, ironically, was Sunday. He would have been 101.