For the second movement of the Eroica, Beethoven took the bold step of employing a funeral march (marcia funèbre). Though unique for a symphony, funeral marches were common in French revolutionary music of the period thus not unfamiliar to Beethoven's audiences. This is not to say it didn't raise a brow or two and, to some extent, the Eroica even came to be identified by the funeral march such as in England where it was billed as "Sinfonia Eroica (containing the Funeral March)".
The question for interpreters has always been, why? If it was a portrait of Napoleon, and he was alive and well, what purpose did it serve? Bolder interpretations such as Floros' Prometheus or Sipes' Achilles accomodate the death of a hero but these scenarios are speculative. It could be argued, it is the very existance of the funeral march that has tempted so many to conceive hero-warrior interpretations.
This marcia funèbre is one of those rare instances in Beethoven where we find tragedy without redemption. Clearly the suffering portrayed here transcends the simple mourning of a lost friend. This loss cuts to the very soul. Viewing the Eroica as the birth of heroism in art, this could represent the death of the previous age. On a more personal level, viewing the Eroica as an extension of the Heiligenstadt Testament this could represent 'lebwoll' to the life Beethoven would never know again.
|The movement opens with a solemn funeral procession in c-minor. This theme forms the core of the movement and will recur at various stages during its development.|