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Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55

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Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest musical virtuosos to step foot on earth, left us with some of today’s most mesmerizing pieces of work. Born in Germany, Beethoven was taught to play piano and violin from a very young age. By the age of twelve, the musical genius had gained enough practice to consider himself a promising pianist. It was not too soon before Beethoven’s remarkable talents were acknowledged by Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein. With Waldstein’s help, young Beethoven was able to travel to Vienna, where his career ultimately took off. During this time, he began to lose his hearing, eventually resulting in deafness. Despite this tragedy, Beethoven was able to compose the highest quality of music possible, including the famous Symphony No. 3, Op. 55.

Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, was first performed in August 1804. At the time it was released, this piece was seen as a challenge toward symphonies. It required composers to rethink what they thought they knew about symphonies. The complexity of the musical piece was beyond a simple work of art to the audience; it was the work of a genius and could not have been done without utter talent. Being as it has stirred up much conflict in the music world, this piece has been performed by various orchestras all around. One such performance was presented by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on March 2009 with conductor Christian Thielemann at the Musikverein in Austria.

With a triple meter, the first movement is full of energy from the start, its liveliness is what captures the attention of the audience. This first movement is also known as “allegro con brio” because it holds a rather fast tempo. It opens with two striking E flat major chords, following the sound of cellos that calm the music before entering a chromatic note, C sharp, and ultimately building up; creating emotional intensity and conflict in the song as it progresses. The melody finishes with a series of G’s played by violins before the change to the key of B flat appears. A rapid change from upward and downward scales is continued with the violins before leading the audience into a second theme of a louder, almost climactic melody. This moment is brought through the six consecutive sforzarndo chords, sounding much like the way one can go through an emotional rollercoaster, happy and sad. Following the concluding chords, the main theme returns briefly before transitioning into the repeat. The rest of the first movement is illustrated by harmonic and rhythmic tension due to harsh chords and measures of stressed rhythm. The music eventually breaks into bars of sforzando chords including both 2-beat and 3-beat counts and ending in frighteningly loud forte chords. A new theme in E minor is introduced as the orchestra nears the end where a horn appears with the famous E flat and the strings continue on with this dominant chord.

The second movement has a much slower tempo or “Adagio assai”. It is a simple duple meter and drags in a dullness to the room. Played in C minor with sprinkles of C major, this transition from the first movement brings down the lively energy to a gloomy one. It opens the theme with the gentle strings and continues with the angry winds. Soon after, relative E flat major quickly returns to a minor tone, which is developed throughout the rest of the section. At this point the first theme in C minor begins changing, leading to F minor. The first theme reappears briefly in G minor in the strings, followed by a sudden plunge into fortissimo. A full replay of the first theme in the original key then begins in the oboe. In the last few minutes, a coda begins with a marching feel in the strings that was earlier heard in the major section and softly finishes with a final statement of the main theme that fades into short phrases spread apart with silences in between.

With the third movement coming into play, the original lively feel of the song returns back to the stage, also known as “Allegro vivace”. It follows a rapid triple meter throughout and gradually grows from pianissimo in the key of B flat, to piano in F, back to pianissimo in B flat and finally a full fortissimo in the tonic key of E flat. Later, a downward arpeggio with sforzandos on the second beat are being played twice in unison, first by the strings and then by the full orchestra. This is followed by descending fourths, leading to the repeat. There is a feature of three horns in which the playfulness of the piece is repeated in shortened form, and there is a clear change from triple to duple meter. The movement ends with a da coda that swiftly shapes from pianissimo to fortissimo, capturing the pattern of the movement as a whole.

And finally, the fourth movement consisted of altering themes that were presented in all previous movements. After focus on the main theme the orchestra pauses on the dominant of the home key and the theme is further developed in a new section. The symphony ends with a presto coda which recalls the opening of the fourth movement and ends in a flood of sforzandos, mainly used to intensify the effects of the piece as a whole.

These four movements come together to form the breathtaking piece that is Symphony No. 3 in E flat major. The clash of dramatic and sweet sounds is what creates the unique sound of Beethoven’s mind. It is almost as if this piece unifies opposite sounds and frames human drama for what it must sound like. The curiosity for what could possibly come next, builds the never-ending tension and growing energy. Even as the symphony softens for a moment, the audience never knows when the next strike of lightning will hit. Listening to this piece keeps a person on their toes ultimately creating a meaning beyond human understanding towards emotion and how messy it can be.

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