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Hyperion Records

LSO0580 - Beethoven: Symphony No 3
LSO0580
Recording details: November 2005
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Produced by James Mallinson
Engineered by Jonathan Stokes & Neil Hutchinson
Release date: June 2006
Total duration: 64 minutes 11 seconds

Symphony No 3
Allegro con brio  [17'49]

Beethoven took a massive stride forward in the development of the symphonic form with the 'Eroica'. Not only is the work written on an unprecedented scale, it also lays the very foundations of Romanticism in music.The symphony mirrors Beethoven's own emergence from despair and he used it to symbolize mankind's capacity for greatness. He initially dedicated the score to Napoleon whom embodied his view of greatness. However, when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, Beethoven furiously removed the dedication from the score.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Beethoven showed early musical promise and the boy pianist attracted the support of the Prince-Archbishop Maximilian Franz, who supported his studies with leading musicians at the Bonn court. By the early 1780s Beethoven had completed his first compositions, all of which were for keyboard. With the decline of his alcoholic father, Ludwig became the family breadwinner as a musician at court. Encouraged by the Prince-Archbishop, Beethoven travelled to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn. He fell out with his renowned mentor when the latter discovered Beethoven was secretly taking lessons from several other teachers. Although Maximilian Franz withdrew payments for Beethoven’s Viennese education, the talented musician had already attracted support from some of the city’s wealthiest arts patrons. His public performances in 1795 were well received, and he shrewdly negotiated a contract with Artaria & Co, the largest music publisher in Vienna. He was soon able to devote his time to composition or the performance of his own works.

In 1800 Beethoven began to complain bitterly of deafness, but despite suffering the distress and pain of tinnitus, chronic stomach ailments, liver problems and an embittered legal case for the guardianship of his nephew, he created a series of remarkable new works, including the Missa solemnis and his late symphonies, string quartets and piano sonatas. It is thought that around 10,000 people followed his funeral procession on 29 March 1827. Certainly, his posthumous reputation developed to influence successive generations of composers and other artists inspired by the heroic aspects of Beethoven’s character and the profound humanity of his music.

Only a year separates the completion of Beethoven’s Second Symphony from that of his Third, yet in that time the composer made an enormous leap forward that left his contemporaries gasping in his wake. It was not just that the ‘Eroica’ (’Heroic’) expanded the physical size of the symphony to hitherto unknown dimensions; it also imbued the genre with a new and gigantic message, turning it into an artistic and philosophical statement that transcended any of its previously accepted functions. For here Beethoven used the symphony to express nothing less than his abiding faith in mankind’s capacity for greatness.

The figure with whom he most associated greatness when he wrote the work in 1803 was Napoleon. At that time Napoleon seemed to embody the republican ideals of many of Europe’s intellectuals, but when he crowned himself Emperor in 1804 Beethoven angrily deleted his name from the title-page of the score, where he had been cited as dedicatee. Yet heroism – personal and idealistic – did not lose its significance for the composer. His own claim to artistic heroic status could hardly be doubted after his emergence from the near suicidal despair of 1802 with creativity unimpaired, and the spiritual rebirth this represented is outlined in the four movements of the ‘Eroica’: the first a titanic struggle; the second a tragic funeral march; the third a joyous renewal of life; and the last a confident and triumphant affirmation of the power of Man. It was with this realisation of the extra-musical autobiographical potential of the symphony that Beethoven was to set the ideological tone for the next hundred years of symphonic writing.

As in the Second Symphony, Beethoven’s expansion of the genre’s dimensions here makes use of the conventional building blocks, but in the ‘Eroica’ the familiar is made to sound impressively different. The opening chords are almost startlingly terse, while in its smooth spaciousness the main theme is like no main theme ever written before. The central development section is a long and brutal battle, but leads to a return to the main theme that is hushed and mysterious. After all this, the movement’s long, gently developmental coda is nothing less than a structural necessity.

The second movement – the funeral march – makes large-scale use of what is basically a simple design. Three immensely slow, grief-stricken outer sections frame a vainly hopeful major-key ‘trio’, a solemn double fugue and a cataclysmic orchestral upheaval. There is another long coda, at the end of which, in one of the symphony’s most radical gestures, the music literally disintegrates, seemingly incapable of consolation.

But all is not lost. The Scherzo now steals in almost imperceptibly on the woodwind and strings, to be joined eventually by the full orchestra. The Trio does not do much to calm the celebrations, though it is less frantic, and the repeat of the first section is no mere formal nicety but a winding-up of the euphoria, with the orchestra at one point almost falling over itself with glee.

The Finale is one movement in which Beethoven did create a new formal design – a unique combination of variation form, passacaglia and rondo. After a noisy orchestral opening, the movement’s early progress from stark bass-line to dance-like tune is borrowed from an earlier set of piano variations on a theme from Beethoven’s music for the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. The theme itself does not appear until the third variation, where it is played by the oboe, but by then the music has already begun to acquire an unstoppable feel. Eventually a slower variation brings the movement a dignity more befitting of the work’s heroic subject, before a return of the orchestral introduction sweeps the music into a joyful coda.

The story of the Prometheus ballet had concerned a figure who creates two beings with the aid of fire stolen from the gods and then instructs them in human arts and passions. As a representation of the creative artist’s role as educator and civilising influence, it could hardly have failed to appeal to Beethoven; by making such direct reference to it, how better could he have concluded this masterly symphonic self-portrait?

Beethoven composed only one opera, yet he revised it twice and wrote four different overtures for it. The first production of Fidelio, in Vienna on 20 November 1805 ran to only three performances, and the following spring a shortened version renamed Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (Leonora, or The Triumph of Conjugal Love) was performed just twice. It was not until 1814 that it next appeared, this time in the form in which it has become familiar and with Fidelio restored as its title.

The four versions of the overture are sufficiently different to suggest that Beethoven’s doubts were not so much with musical quality as with function. His original intention was clearly to provide a programmatic prelude that would foreshadow the ensuing drama and its music in the manner of the overtures of contemporary French opera. That to the 1805 version (known as Leonore No 2) is grand and dramatic but architecturally loose, and for the 1806 revision Beethoven produced Leonore No 3 which, while retaining much of the material of the original, was more concise and formally directed. Both the subsequent Leonore No 1 and Fidelio overtures, however, are shorter and in lighter, more independent vein, and while we may therefore assume that Beethoven found Nos 2 and 3 overbearing in their operatic settings, it is precisely the balance these closely related works strike between forceful dramatic suggestion and structural clarity that has made them the more popular of the Leonore/Fidelio overtures in the concert hall. As such, they are effectively the ancestors of the nineteenth century tone poem.

The opera is based on a true incident which occurred during the French Revolution: Florestan, a political prisoner, is aided in his escape by his wife Leonore, who has courageously taken a job as a prison guard while disguised as a man named Fidelio. Leonore No 2 suggests these events with powerful simplicity. A slow, harmonically groping introduction shows us the dungeon, with Florestan’s presence indicated by a reference on clarinets, horns and bassoons to his despairing aria from the beginning of Act 2. When the fast section arrives, it is with a leaping, heroic tune for Leonore which then leads to a warmly romantic transformation of Florestan’s aria. Later Beethoven imports a dramatic stroke directly from the opera: two off-stage trumpet calls signalling the pair’s imminent rescue, before the overture ends in a mood of emphatic joy.

Lindsay Kemp & Andrew Stewart © 2005

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