Beethoven Symphony No. 3, Eroica
Mozart's Symphony No. 40
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San Francisco Symphony Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt leads Beethoven's monumental Eroica Symphony. Originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte in commemoration of his opposition to tyranny, Beethoven crossed out the dedication after Bonaparte became a tyrant himself. Heralding a new era of classical music that showcases the orchestra's expressive range, Beethoven's Third is an epic struggle that culminates in a glorious finale celebrating the undying heroic spirit.
The Thursday Matinee concerts are endowed by a gift in memory of Rhoda Goldman.
At a Glance
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550 1788/91 | 29 mins
The decline in Mozart’s fortunes that so darkened the last years of his life was well under way in the summer of 1788 when he composed this symphony. The fact that it is one of his last symphonies tells its own tale. The first movement raises questions, posits instabilities, opens abysses. Mozart’s mastery of harmonic architecture is evident in the somber—and so sensual—Andante, in the pathos and powerful polyphony (multiple melodic lines) of the Minuet, and in the dizzying journeys of the Finale. LISTEN FOR: Indeed, the Finale has the most explosive music Mozart ever wrote—listen for the eight measures of rude octaves and frozen silences. For all of the anguish Mozart still feels, this closing movement is a force that ultimately stabilizes, seeks to close wounds, that brings the voyager safely into port.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55, Eroica 1804 | 50 mins
In May 1804, Napoleon, who had been acceptable to Beethoven as a military dictator as long as he called himself First Consul, had himself crowned Emperor, and the disappointed and angry composer scratched out the words “intitolata Bonaparte” (“titled Bonaparte”) on the cover page of his newly completed Third Symphony. The score that was printed in October 1806 instead indicates that this is a sinfonia eroica, a “heroic symphony . . . composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The first performances were met with conflicting sentiment, with some shocked at the piece’s “lawlessness.” LISTEN FOR: Beethoven had given his audience plenty to be upset about—among which included a symphony half again as long as any they would have expected, one unprecedented in demands on orchestral virtuosity as well in the complexity of its polyphony, the unbridled force of its rhetoric, and the weirdness of details like the famous “wrong” horn entrance in the first movement (the horn has reached the home chord of E flat while the violins are still preparing its arrival). Another newness in the Eroica is the shift of the center of gravity from the first movement to the Finale. As the music hurdles to the end, we experience Beethoven fulfilling his “heroic symphony” triumphantly in the affirmative.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.
Inside Music, an informative talk by Scott Foglesong, begins one hour prior to concerts. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.
The Prelude Series: A Pre-Concert Discussion
An engaging new way to enhance your classical music experience at Davies Symphony Hall. Join us 45 minutes before the performance in the First Tier Lobby to take part in a free pre-concert discussion.
Discussion topic: "Seeing" in the Digital Age.
“Leonard Bernstein and the San Francisco Symphony”
A Special Exhibit
The San Francisco Symphony continues their celebration of the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with this special exhibit, on display January 18 through February 28. Located on the First Tier Lobby, the exhibit examines the unique relationship between the Symphony and Bernstein as a conductor, composer, educator, activist, and friend.