The composer, a champion of liberty and equality, intended to dedicate his Third Symphony
to Napoleon, whom he saw as the standard-bearer of the republican movement. But when he learned that Bonaparte had proclaimed himself Emperor, he rubbed out the dedication. When the symphony was premièred in 1805, the audience found it too bold but for present-day listeners, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica
’ is one of the finest musical manifestations of the Romantic movement, looking forward to later programmatic works.
Beethoven’s overtures represent a turning point in the history of the genre: although written to introduce stage-works, they were often divorced from that concrete context even during their composer’s lifetime and performed on their own in the concert hall. Written in close collaboration with the choreographer Salvatore Viganò, the ballet music for The Creatures of Prometheus
dates from 1800-01 and was premièred in 1801. The ideas behind Beethoven’s Prometheus
are summed up in a review of the first performance: ‘Prometheus
banishes the state of ignorance, civilising men through science and art and inculcating a sense of morality’.
Beethoven wrote four overtures for Leonore
ensuring that his only opera occupies a unique position among the world’s great classics. The definitive version of the opera was finally unveiled in 1814, encountering an enthusiastic response, in part, perhaps, because Viennese audiences saw a link between the opera’s plot and their own deliverance from Napoleon’s tyranny. There are four different overtures to go with three different versions of the opera. The Leonore Overture No.3
was written for the 1806 revival. It is often heard today in the concert hall.