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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Wednesday, April 7

Beethoven's Eroica premiere

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1805, Ludwig van Beethoven conducted the first public performance of his Symphony No. 3, subtitled the “Eroica” at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. It was a symphony bolder, louder, and twice as long as any Mozart or Haydn ever wrote and must have been a real challenge for the musicians and audiences of Beethoven’s day.

Prior to the first public performance, several private rehearsals and performances had taken place at the palace of Beethoven’s patron, Prince Lobkowitz, and apparently the Prince had to add 22 extra musicians to his court orchestra, including a third French horn player that Beethoven requests.

Speaking of French horns, at one point in the symphony’s first movement, one of them seems to come in early, intoning the main theme. It’s what Beethoven intended, but even Beethoven’s secretary, Ferdinard Ries, attending the first rehearsal of the new work, assumed it was a mistake, and said so to Beethoven–who was NOT amused–as Ries recalled in his memoir:

"’That damned hornist!,’ [I said.] ‘Can't he count? It sounds frightfully wrong.’ I nearly got my ears boxed, and Beethoven did not forgive me for a long time.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1828) Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG 429 036

Additional Information

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