Why I Love the "Eroica"

the title page, with the dedication to Napoleon famously crossed out

When attempting to concretize our visceral reactions to great music, we often start out by outlining the big picture—the novel concepts or structures that enthrall us.  But an equally tantalizing component of those indescribable stirrings in our core is the “great moment”, a passage or bar or even one single note that haunts or pains or thrills.  So, instead of a comprehensive declaration, today I’ll just enumerate a few places in the score that I wouldn’t trade for the entire empire of Napoleon (and, in honour of the  that finally defeated the Emperor of Elba, I’ll limit myself to the first seven places that catch my eye in a sequential review of the score).

● 1st movement:  the climax of the development (bars 248-283). The quintessence of Beethovenian defiance.  Arresting even visually—nothing but sforzandos up and down the score, hundreds of them.

● the final preparation of the recap (bars 382-397).  Exquisitely poised on the vanishing remnants of the dominant pedal point, time virtually halts until the mind-bogglingly out-of-place E-flat arpeggio of the second horn unleashes a glorious surrender to the tonic.

● bar 557:  not even Schubert—or Bruckner after him—would contemplate this brazen apparition of D-flat major, then amplify the faux pas by immediately asserting it was nothing but a passing chord.

● funeral march:  the consolatory, redemptive oboe, set against gently lapping violins (bars 69-70).  What tenderness, what purity.  Sublime.

● bars 114-134:  if ever was penned a more tragic fugue, I’d like to know it.

● the inverted pedal point in the brass (bars 159-165) just before the final return.  For sheer blood-curdling dread, this is as good as it gets.

● bar 238:  the solitary timpani note that seems to enfold all the world’s accumulated wisdom.  Music not as philosophy, but as revelation.

The performances are this Sunday and Monday.