Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beethoven Symphony No.3

Title page of the third symphony
in Beethoven's hand showing the erased
dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte
"What is the union of the contingent (creation) and the necessary (the Creator)? What are near and far, more and less?"

This is the third of the nine questions listed by Iqbal in 'The New Garden of Mystery' in Persian Psalms (1927). The answer we gather from his writings is that the universe may be constantly expanding and therefore boundless. It still has boundary, which lies within because at the centre of the universe is the Reality that never changes. Therefore, anyone who gets connected with the Ultimate Reality, i.e. God, may also grasp the entire universe including parts yet to be born.

Beethoven composed his third symphony at a time when his deafness was increasing. The symphony was originally meant to honour Napoleon Bonaparte as saviour of democracy but the dedication was famously erased when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. It was first performed in 1805. Personally, for me, it is a useful tool for reflecting on the third question of Iqbal.

The third symphony, also called Eroica, happens to be among the most well-analysed of Beethoven's symphonies along with the fifth and the ninth. Einstein famously commented about it, " Alfred Einstein commented, "Why are there a dozen or more programmatic interpretations for the Eroica -none of which is right or even convincing?" (See Beethoven's Eroica Website: 'historical overview'). Usually, the analysis tends to be centre on observations such as those recorded at one of the websites dedicated exclusively to this symphony: "When the Eroica first appeared, one of the criticisms leveled at it was it's 'colossal piling of ideas'. Among the 'ideas' and methods that distinguish the Eroica from its forerunners is the bold use of harmony, ambiguous meters, rhythmic emphasis, liberal use of counterpoint and increasing the role of the winds, all within an architecture that stresses expansion and shifting of balance." (See Beethoven's Eroica: 'Musical Analysis')

"Turning tradition upside down" and embodying a "sense of human potential and freedom" unprecedented in music, the symphony is usually regarded as the commencement of the Age of Romanticism in music. In the career of Beethoven himself it was a landmark almost in the same way as The Call of the Marching Bell would later be in the career of Allama Iqbal: a work marking "the full arrival" of the artist's middle-period, "a series of unprecedented large scale works of emotional depth and structural rigour." (See Wikipedia).

Video: Symphony No.3 - Complete
Movement 1. Starts at 00:01 - Allegro con brio
Movement 2. Starts at 17:10 - Marcia funebre: Adagio assai in C minor
Movement 3. Starts at 31:05 - Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Movement 4. Starts at 37:20 - Finale: Allegro molto
The performance ends at 48:40


  1. Greetings,

    This is an amazing post. Thank you for it.

    I sense that Beethoven's increasing deafness plunged him in an utterly new direction, with one door slowly closing while another was opening

    All good wishes,


  2. This is thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing. I agree with Robert's remark that this period of Beethoven's life seems to mark a distinct turning point.