On May 18, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was declared Emperor of France. The legendary story of Beethoven hearing the news and tearing up the title page of his Third Symphony is something we often remember when we think of the Symphony, which we now know as the “Eroica.” As Music Director Michael Christie explains, the story may not be that simple.

It’s often these types of stories about the life and character of composers that influence the way musicians and conductors perform their music. While we have an image of the youthful and vigorous Beethoven, we also think of him as the moody and sullen man suffering over his hearing loss later in life. When contrasting portraits of Beethoven inform the same piece of music, we get very different results, which may even feel like completely different pieces of music! Notice how choices in tempo, articulation, and dynamics totally transform Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

I. Allegro con brio

Let’s listen to a “youthful fire” performance and compare it to a “brooding anguish” performance, movement by movement. Be sure to leave your comments about these wildly different interpretations below!

For the first, here is the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen conducted by Paavo Jarvi:

 

 

And here’s our “brooding anguish” performance, if you will. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra led by Claudio Abbado:

 

 

II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai

 

 

 

III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace

 

 

 

IV. Finale: molto allegro – Poco andande – Presto

 

 

 

 

 

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