Page 3

Ex. 2

The opening chords are immediately unfolded by the cellos to reveal the main subject (Ex.2).  As with any Beethoven work, the entire structure of this movement is based on the simplest of components.  Throughout the movement Beethoven will frequently divide this subject into two motives and treat them separately.  This division is shown in Ex 2 as part (a) which I will refer to as the heroic motive and (b) a subsidiary motive which will be referred to as the rising motive.  In the initial presentation of this subject, there is nothing intrinsically heroic.  It is only through development and the eventual fortissimo statement in bar 37 that it will rise to the heroic.

The purity of this theme is derived from the tones of the E triad.  Triadic intervals are the basic building blocks of melody.  So basic in fact, there are numerous parallels to be found with this theme.  One is the Overture to 'Bastien et Bastienne', an operetta written by Mozart at the age of twelve.  Another of the many analogous examples is the prelude to Das Rheingold with it's undulating arpeggios.  It is interesting that both Beethoven and Wagner chose this simple interval not just as a melodic sequence but as a fundamental symbol to their principle idea.  For Wagner - it was nature, for Beethoven - heroic struggle.

Beethoven's Eroica

Mozart's Bastien et Bastienne

Wagner's Das Rheingold

Sir George Grove, in his The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven listed the following works as being melodically similar to the Eroica:  Brahms' Symphony in D, Brahms' Violin Concerto, the scherzo of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, and Beethoven's own Piano Sonata Op.106.  Thomas Sipes cites the second German dance in Breitkopf's Terpsichore.  This multitude of parallels serves to illustrate the simplicity and purity of the first subject.

As the main subject flows from the cellos we find that this movement is in 3/4 time, a meter reserved generally for dance.  Innovative use of rhythm and accent were used to great effect by Beethoven in all of his works and especially in this movement of the Eroica.  The choice of a gentle triple meter was not arbitrary.  The Maestro has plans.

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