About this Recording
8.553475 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8 (Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Drahos)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’

Symphony No.8 in F major, Op. 93


Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding the new century, in 1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made few changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense change and turbulence. To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original, but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an intimidating extent.


The initial inspiration for Beethoven's third symphony seems to have come from the French envoy, Count Bernadotte, who had been sent to Vienna in 1798, taking with him in his entourage the virtuoso violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer, to whom Beethoven was later to dedicate his most famous violin sonata. Bernadotte spent some time in Beethoven's company and seems to have given him the notion of composing a heroic symphony in honour of General Bonaparte. The French had, by force of arms, established a number of republics and had compelled Austria to unfavourable peace terms at the treaty of Campo Formio. As First Consul it seemed that Napoleon embodied the virtues of the republic of classical Rome, an ideal that had a strong attraction for Beethoven.


The score of the completed symphony was seen by Beethoven's friends early in 1804, bearing on its title page the name Buonaparte at the top and the subscription Ludwig van Beethoven. At the news that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven tore the page up, leaving on his own copy the words Sinfonia grande, with the added note in pencil Geschrieben auf Bonaparte. The completed work was in the end dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who payed 400 ducats for the privilege. A recent biographer has pointed out that Beethoven had expressed disillusion with Napoleon before he wrote the Eroica Symphony, but that at the time of its composition he was considering moving to Paris. There was, at the very least, a certain ambivalence in Beethoven's attitude to the greatness of Napoleon's achievement and to his apparent betrayal of republican ideals.


The Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Opus 55, has a number of original features, including the substitution of a funeral march for the slow movement, a Scherzo for the Minuet, as in the D major Symphony, and a set of variations based on a theme from the ballet Prometheus, which appears first in skeletal form, for the finale. It is, besides, on a heroic scale, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with three French horns and the customary strings.


Beethoven made his first sketches for his eighth symphony in 1811 and completed the work in October the following year, during the course of a visit to Linz. The summer had taken him to the spa town of Teplitz, where he was to meet the great German poet and polymath Goethe, to little effect, while the subsequent journey to Linz was undertaken for the officious purpose of forcing his younger brother Johann, an apothecary in the town, to break off his irregular liaison with Therese Obermeyer, a woman that Johann married in November of the same year. Whatever anxieties he may have entertained at the time about his health or about members of his family, he created in the Eighth Symphony a work of clear optimism.


The Symphony No.8 in F major, Opus 93, is scored for the usual orchestra of strings, with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani. Of its four movements three are in sonata form, with its tripartite division of exposition, development and recapitulation, while the third movement Minuet is in a form that had long been traditional.


The Eighth Symphony was given its first performance, together with the Seventh Symphony and other works, at a concert on 27th February, 1814. To Beethoven's chagrin it was greeted relatively coolly, the audience favouring in particular the Allegretto to the Seventh Symphony. He himself set higher store by the Eighth.

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