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Symphony No. 3 (Beethoven)

Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, known as the Eroica, was completed in 1803.

It was to be dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, until he appointed himself emperor. Beethoven reportedly tore up the dedication in a rage upon hearing the news, and gave it the existing title, Sinfonia eroica (Heroic Symphony).

The piece, like most symphonies, is in four movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  4. Finale: Allegro molto

The work is considered a milestone in the history of classical music for a number of reasons. In terms of sheer scale, the piece is about twice as long as any symphony that came before - the first movement alone is as long as the entirity of many Classical symphonies. The work also covers greater emotional ground than earlier works had - indeed, it is often considered to mark the beginning of the Romantic period in music. The second movement, in particular, displays a great range of emotion, from the misery of the main funeral march theme, to the relative solace of happier, major key episodes. The finale of the symphony shows a similar range, and is given an importance in the overall scheme which was virtually unheard of previously - whereas in earlier symphonies, the finale was a quick and breezy finishing off, here it is a lengthy set of variations and fugue on a theme Beethoven had originally written for his ballet music The Creatures of Prometheus.

Music critic W.N. Sullivan writes that the first movement is an expression of Beethoven's courage in confronting his deafness, the second, slow and dirgelike, depicting the overwhelming despair he felt, the third, the scherzo, an "indomitable uprising of creative energy" and the fourth an exuberant outpouring of creative energy.