Eroica - Music As a Metaphor
Music as a Metaphor:
“The uniqueness of human experience”
The orchestra churns and coils for A 440.
Tutti marcato at full volume shrills through the dark heavy air above the audience. It
recedes, then settles down into the fabric of the red velvet chairs in the amphitheater.
The human experience is unique. Joy, love lost, freedom and oppression
are intangibles beyond the comprehension and use of ordinary language. Music acts as a conduit
for our commonalities. New life, one’s calling is found, grief.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s distinct individual experiences shine clearly through his music.
Notably, it seems that he reserves his most intense sentiments for expression through the vast
compositional medium: the orchestra. By the completion of his third symphony, “Eroica,”
Beethoven’s music had begun to carve itself into Time as an archetype for generations of
composers, performers and listeners.
Thematic development; the living breath of an orchestral work rests upon it. Beethoven
was able to execute this concept in an immaculate, spiritual manner. His use of phrase syntax
driven by harmony as well as orchestration and timbral color were revolutionary. Theme B for
example; he achieves a punctuated effect, through the use of register and texture. The audience
experiences agitation, defiance.
Theme A is the clearest statement of the motive, with regard to the architecture of the
work. Yet, it is adjoined to a more ambiguous consequent clause. In measure 8, a responsive
melodic statement appears with perpetual motion. This is driven by the arpeggiando figure in the
second violin, with melodic content peaking over the top of the texture.
The entirety of the first phrase rings overtones of defiance and hope. These two
cavernous emotions inherent in each parent phrase interact with one another seamlessly.
Theme B1 is structurally significant. It is the first re-appearance of the B clause since the
opening statement. A series of melodic duets and trios enhanced by subtle chromatic motion
precede this strong punctuated statement. The interconnectivity between respective clauses A1
and B1 demonstrates his ability to carve out his cadences.
A young Beethoven is seated at the piano. The room is dim, with sheets of coarse manila
staff paper scattered about. The smell of black coffee and fresh ink sting the air. His hands recoil
after they hammer down an eight note blocked chord, at forte. The percussive nature of the piano
translates clearly into Beethoven’s orchestral writing.
Another compositional device used to build tension is the hemiola. In measure 25, he
begins a series percussive statements, offsetting the beat in unstable almost jarring manner. He
then employs carefully crafted passage work highlighted by contrary motion to transition. The
audience experiences a sense of unrest then adherence.
Theme C is the birth of Beethoven’s first truly combinatorial phrase, borrowing texture
and orchestration from theme B, while maintaining the melodic contour of theme A. He
punctuates this structurally significant cadence with a clear, decisive statement. This allows a
sort of “cleansing” of the pallet, to set the stage for development in the following two periods.
At the onset of period two, Beethoven uses chromaticism to explore a new key area, F
Major. This key change is the furthest he strays from the Tonic up to this point. The genesis of
Theme A1 is derived from this harmonic lift.
A new melody emerges first in the oboe, then is enhanced by a series of responsive
duets in the wood winds. Theme A1 appears novel in nature, yet recollective. He achieves this
effect through the juxtaposition of elements from prior thematic material. This is one way a
composer is able to reinvent the work, while maintaing a sense of continuity.
The arpeggiando figure in the second violin and viola appears in measure 45, and points
towards a textural cadence in measure 55. This figuration is a clearly stated fragment of the
parent theme A. He intertwines the perpetual nature of this figure with new melodic content. It is
like a cherished memory, simultaneously enhanced by a new musical experience.
Cadenza passages driven by articulation serve as the connective tissue between themes.
Beethoven’s technical facility and craft allow for their successful execution. Yet, this
compositional device appears outside the normal realm thematic development. These sections are
more of a culmination, or spiraling out.
For example, new melodic content appears in C1. After its initial presentation and
development, it evolves into an agitated tremolo passage in the strings. The texture fills at the
cadence, and guides the listener into theme A1a.
The final three periods are steeped heavily in Bb Major and it’s subordinate harmonic
components. He begins the first 8 measure clause with mode mixture on the new tonic, followed
by a harmonic stamping on the new dominant. This, paired with a multitude of musical
occurrences along the way helps to set a false expectation for the listener, with regard to the final
cadence in m 148.
In theme A1a, a series of four voice choruses trade fours between the woodwinds and
strings. Through the use of orchestration, he is able to recall and expand on all previous
The importance of the consequent phrase is at the core of this work. The 8 measure
clause at the onset allows breathing room, with regard to interplay and development. Beethoven
stretches, truncates and re-orchestrates this clause throughout the work.
Hours spent by candlelight. The perseverance it takes to finish a work of this magnitude
is a gift. Admiration aside, it takes depth. To reach into the audience, and touch the marrow of
common human experience. Oppression, war. Hope.
Measure 56. A beam of yellow light. It peaks through a reading glass, staring up and out
the window into the white, midday sun.