I hope you all took the opportunity to listen to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, the Eroica. As you recall, a link was provided in last week’s blog. How well I remember as a very young boy visiting my Aunt Ruth’s and Uncle Jim’s house. Wonder of wonders! They had a modest record player and a small collection of 78 rpm discs. I would say my hellos and disappear to listen and be absorbed for hours. I was but a fledgling musician then, but hopelessly in love with music. How captured I was by the liner notes of the Eroica Symphony. I struggled to hear all of the specific items the annotator described, very often unsuccessfully. My relatively unsophisticated ear and the poor fidelity of the the old 78 system made it so difficult for me to keep my place in this very complicated movement. So what did I glean? Wow! What a long piece of music this first movement was! How beautiful, powerful, strange at times! I certainly affirmed my love for classical music.
I remember being an undergraduate student in one of the Indiana University School of Music’s orchestras. The Eroica was on the program. For the first time I learned how arduous it could be to rehearse and perform this masterpiece. The first movement alone is about 18 minutes long, as long as many entire 4 movement classical period symphonies! How seemingly angular it was. Loud and brusque followed by beautiful and gentle. Those accents creating unstable rhythmic patterns. Huge emotional juxtapositions that were beyond my ken. It was also technically difficult for me then. How inspirational it was however. I couldn’t talk after the performance. The power of Beethoven!
Many years later, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded all 9 Beethoven symphonies with Sir Georg Solti. We then toured both Europe and the United States playing them. Needless to say, I got to know the Eroica very well through this process perforce. One might think or wonder if a musician would get tired or bored playing music over and over. With lesser music, maybe, but with music like this, never! Its power and grandeur with its broad emotional sweep captures the spirit forever. When technical issues disappear with one’s playing, new vistas appear. How lucky I was. My spirit was forever enriched.
I’m now in phase 4 as it were, retired from performance, but not from music. I live it daily. The Eroica reaches me as never before. Its message is so profound. It’s as if Beethoven was and is showing me who he was. His struggles and anger with his deafness, his loneliness, his wanting a life of love and matrimony, his belief in the people as opposed to nobility, his belief in his God, his sense of a higher spirituality and the beauty of life, all shine through to me now. It’s an experience more and more profound and I trust it will be for you.
Rather than my trying to explain and analyze the first movement, listen to the great Leonard Bernstein’s explanation. Please listen to this first movement talk. We’ll move on next week to the rest.