Ludwig Van Beethoven – Eroica Symphony – Over 200 Years Old, But Still New

Ludwig Van Beethoven – Eroica Symphony – Over 200 Years Old, But Still New

Note: I have made references throughout this blog to timings for certain highlighted moments (e.g 0:06 of track 1) – this is in relation to a recording of the work I will link to below (follow along should you so desire)

Beethoven’s Eroica (heroic) Symphony – already the title tells us something, this is a work about heroism. Instrumental music had not really ever been about things in this way before this point. True, there had for a long time been programme music, but never before had a work become so embroiled in the world of ideas, politics and philosophy as this one became from its inception. The “Eroica” of course was not the original title. This was a symphony to be dedicated to a specific hero: Napoleon. It was to be Beethoven’s “Bonaparte Symphony”. Well that was until the former crowned himself emperor, and in response the composer angrily crossed out the dedication on the score. There were other heroes too in the composer’s mind when writing. Consider, for example, that the theme from the final movement is taken from his earlier music for the Ballet: ‘the Creatures of Prometheus’, and that this theme is in fact related to the opening heroic theme of the symphony. Could this then be a Promethean symphony, dedicated to the titan Prometheus who brought fire to mankind? The question to whom this symphony is really dedicated remains to a large extent unanswered, but is a question that I should wish to return to at the end. For now, though, I will focus on the heroic accomplishments of the music.

 Image from the manuscript of the Eroica, with Bonaparte angrily crossed out

The symphony begins with two great thundering chords of E-Flat major (0:06 of track 1), so familiar yet each time sounding so thrillingly new. An introductory staccato statement of chords such as this was not an uncommon device at that time, a kind of call to attention for the listener. In Haydn’s first quartet of his Opus 76 set, for example, he begins with three sharp chords, a kind of wake-up call to his aristocratic patrons that now was the time to stop chatting and start listening. But in this case, it feels different. It sounds more like a call to action. Then there begins a theme in the cellos (0:09 of track 1). It is a theme of utmost simplicity built to large extent from intervals of a third. It is in essence rather like a bugle call, but do not be deceived, this is the heroic theme upon which Beethoven will build an immense structure. The key is significant. From the first chords onward up till this point, we have been firmly in the symphony’s home key of E-Flat major. E-flat major was seen at the time as a noble key, a key associated with the enlightenment and works like Mozart’s Singspiel ‘Die Zauberfloete’. The choice was almost certainly deliberate.

Illustration of the opening heroic theme, taken from a website offering an analysis of the work

https://www.beethovenseroica.com/Pg3_anal/1mov/1m03.htm 

We are not, however, allowed to dwell in this safe home territory for too long, the music moves down through D-natural to rest at C-sharp (0:13 of track 1). A false note, not within the E-flat major scale. In this short passage, then, already we see a microcosm of the whole movement, a movement which will evolve to become a titanic struggle. Although, we are reassuringly brought back to our home key by the strings and woodwind, the message is already clear: this symphony’s beauty will be built from conflict. It is not long before we encounter our second conflict, this time one rhythmical in nature (from around 0:30 to 0:42 of track 1). So far, the movement has kept unambiguously to its 3/4-time signature. This means there has been a natural accent on the first beat (123, 123, 123), but Beethoven now adds accents or sforzandi on alternating beats so that the meter becomes ambiguous (123, 123, 123, 123, and then, 123, 123). The listener will feel the violence in the music from these forceful sforzandi accents that intrude on the flow of the 3/4 meter.

From the start onward, then, the movement is full of struggle. It is also grand in size and scope. Beethoven expands the sonata-allegro form that Haydn and Mozart had utilised to suit his titanic designs, in particular, he enlarges the development section and coda greatly. The development section of the Eroica is extraordinary, it includes a passage of immense intensity in which dissonant chord is followed by even more dissonant chord (7:23 – 7:56 of track 1), and afterwards the composer shockingly introduces a new theme in E-minor (8:06 of track 1). The coda is developmental to a greater extent than ever before heard in a symphony, but also crucially to the drama of the whole work, it refrains from bringing the tension to a final close. That will have to wait until the very last movement (13:05 to the end of track 1).

First movement proportions in comparison to works by Mozart (taken from the same website), Mozart’s last three symphonies = A, Eroica = B

Red: exposition, yellow: development, blue: recapitulation, green: coda

The Second movement is a funeral march, something never before included in a symphony (though there is a funeral march in Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 12 published in 1801). By using a funeral march Beethoven was making a reference to the public ceremonial music of the French Revolution, and thereby associating the work with the radical politics of his day. Significantly, this movement can be used to refute any simplistic interpretation of the work as a programmatic piece about Napoleon, since the French general was still very much alive and on the scene at the time. The limited space I have here compels me to focus on one particular moment of this movement and that is the fugue around the mid-point of the movement (from 5:51 of track 2). This is a moment of such sublime, impassioned beauty that it simply demands to be highlighted. With the third movement the audience is to some extent offered a respite from the intensity of the music, though the musicians are certainly not let off from the challenges of the score. I am thinking particularly of the trio section (the middle part of this movement), in which the first horn must play music towards the high end of its register while the two lower horns must execute a difficult passage towards their lower end (2:35 – 3:57 of track 3).

Painting of the procession at Beethoven’s own funeral in Vienna (1827)

As I briefly mentioned above, the main melody from the last movement is found in the composer’s earlier Ballet music for ‘the Creatures of Prometheus’. This meant that Beethoven probably envisaged this final movement first, though the work of musicologists has shown he composed it last. We do not begin, however, with the tune, but instead after an initial burst from the strings (0:00 of track 4), the orchestra outlines the bass line of this theme (0:12 of track 4). This is a theme and variations movement, in which the melody of the theme is heard for the first time only in the third variation (1:51 of track 4). The theme metamorphoses before our eyes through a variety of guises, at times light-hearted, at times serious and grand, and Beethoven demonstrates profoundly his contrapuntal mastery at several points. Towards the end, we have what is for me a truly glorious moment in which the horns take up an augmented version of the melody (7:47 of track 4). A fog of doubt prepares us brilliantly for the final orchestral eruption leading to a triumphant finish for the movement and the symphony.

An image from a staging of the Ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus”

But a triumph for whom? We are, again, confronted with the same question all these years later, who is the hero to which this heroic symphony is ultimately dedicated. Is it Napoleon, dubbed the World-Spirit on horseback by Hegel, who ultimately disappointed so many liberals in Europe including Beethoven? Or is it Prometheus, the mythical Titan and benefactor to mankind, who appeared to be the archetypal hero for the enlightenment. I myself am more attracted by other interpretations. Wagner suggested it was the artist and Beethoven in particular who was the hero. This man who lost that sense most dear to him: his hearing, but who nonetheless struggled through it all anyway, despite the immense pains of illness, the personal strife, the unending setbacks. Without a doubt Beethoven  seems to be a very suitable choice. But I would go a step further and caste us all in the role of hero. In the end, every life involves struggle, all life includes sacrifice, those that can take it upon themselves to face the challenges of the world and who choose to live and to live life to its fullest extent can consider themselves heroes.

Here is the recording upon which the timings are based, you are more than welcome to choose your own performance but please note the timings could be very different if you do:

The Goodmanham Arms – Glory of the Wold

The Goodmanham Arms – Glory of the Wold

Lad from the Pub: Don’t tell anyone about this place.

Me: ok.

(scene from the Goodmanham Arms circa 2020 AD)

I fear I may be breaking the sacred pledge of a pub promise here, but my duty as a reviewer on the hallowed web-pages of ‘Cedric Suggests’ must, I feel, take precedence, and as such I am obliged to speak of the incredible things I have seen and tasted at the Goodmanham Arms (“the GA”).The above-quoted lad from the pub, being a decent and worthy sort of a chap, was probably conscious of the danger of gems like the GA becoming spoilt by the influx of newcomers. I sympathise with this position but would encourage any interested party to examine Cedric’s blog more closely before calling foul play on this review. You see, the chances of any of Cedric’s readers actually going to this pub are very low indeed. I imagine Cedric’s readership largely comprises of his extended Albanian family and the various good-looking trendy-types he has picked up through a life of cider-drinking and making an effort with his appearance. As such not the sort of people that would be interested in going to an old-fashioned pub in the middle of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Anyway, on with the review. I had been cycling before I got to the GA, in rather inclement weather I might add, so the first thing that struck me about the place was the wood-fires. A very nice touch, and certainly useful to heat up one’s soggy clothes. Once seated and heated, I soon became aware of the superb décor. Slightly cluttered perhaps, but in the tradition of a gothic cathedral, not a student dorm room. Selecting the correct pub knick-knackery is a fine art, but I think the owners of the GA have got it down to a tee. Traditional, tasteful, and not at all off-putting.

My attention was very quickly drawn away from these more trivial matters when I ordered my first pint and tasted one of their ales. The GA has a fine selection of real ales. I had two different bitters (the stallion, and a guest ale called Bass), but I also saw a porter there. Both bitters were very excellent indeed, the best I think I have drunk in the East Riding, and certainly a rival to ‘Pave’ and ‘the Whalebone’ in Hull. A good ale is perhaps not a work of art, but it certainly is a comfort and consolation in a world full of cider-drinkers.

“The landlord of the Goodmanham Arms is Vito Logozzi, who comes from Bari in southern Italy…. Vito looks after the pub, while Abbie [the other side of this husband and wife team] manages a microbrewery across the yard [currently not brewing]. Her brews include Peg Fyfe, named after a 17th-century witch who is now reincarnated in the form of a 3.6% mild, and an elderflower ale called, almost inevitably, Elder & Wiser. The pub’s generous portions and modest prices can attract a big crowd. “I’ve seen the beef run out at 10 past 12 on a Sunday,” one regular recalled. Get there early.” – Christopher Hirst, Daily Telegraph

The food came quickly, I ordered the steak (rare). It came with peppers, chips, a black pudding, and a tomato. The chips were chunky (to my enlightened mind a disappointment), but certainly very respectable. On final reflection I think the pairing of steak and peppers was a very good one. While the food perhaps did not quite live up to the quality of the beer, it certainly was a wonderful accompaniment. The gypsy pot, which I didn’t go for, was supposedly a particular speciality, and it certainly looked like hearty comfort food. Please see below for the full menu.

Overall this was a model pub, a pub to which other pubs should aspire to be like. I think the owners must have sat and said to themselves let’s not just make something adequate that churns out money, let’s make this the best pub it can be. It rightly has a place in CAMRA’S Good Beer Guide 2020, although remember to bring plenty of fasht cash as they don’t take card. It was a real pleasure to dine there, just as it is a pleasure once again to contribute to Cedric’s weblog. I am ever grateful for his friendship, something I particularly noticed during my post-university move to Hull, and as always appreciative of his humour, loyalty and great kindness. I am mindful of the fact that I am the exception to the rule, that people take exception to, especially when it comes to his friends. I hope that I shall continue to be able to contribute reviews to this excellent blog. So, until next time, fair thee well.

 

Aiolos – Dining Excellence, Napflio Greece

Aiolos – Dining Excellence, Napflio Greece

And now, a piece from the Saint Mother, Mrs St Nick

We arrived at the Aiolos restaurant after dark on a balmy evening during our stay in Nafplio, on the East coast of the Peloponnese. It‘s one of the most popular restaurants on the Odos Vasilissis Olga, a lovely marble paved street typical of the old town, with bright blossoms climbing up the sides of the houses.

We ordered a local red wine, from nearby Nemea, dry but very smooth. Our starter, following an amuse bouche of home made hummus, was called Bougiourdi, a piquant combination of baked feta cheese with sliced tomatoes, onions and peppers.

We had Beef Stifado to follow and one of the specials, Chicken Mavrodafni (featured image). Both were served with fried potatoes.

Stifado is a favourite of the Greek menu – a casserole of slow cooked beef in a tomato based sauce with whole small onions. The onions created a sweet taste complementing the tender meat.

The Mavrodafni consisted of chicken breast cooked in the eponymous red wine with cream, perhaps more inspired by french cuisine but equally delicious and tender.

We ordered two Greek coffees, medium sweet which were the best we had on our trip – strong but not too sludgy at the bottom! The restaurant gave us a small complementary bottle of grappa and desert – ravani, which is a sponge made with semolina soaked in an orange flavoured syrup. To make it well you need to let it soak up all the syrup slowly until it is completely and evenly absorbed. I wonder if they guessed we were doing a review! The desert was delicious and just the right side of something sweet to end the meal.

All in all a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere- including traditional musicians to entertain. The price was very reasonable. I would definitely recommend a visit if you are passing through Nafplio.

 

The Heuriger – Authentically Austrian, Grinzing

The Heuriger – Authentically Austrian, Grinzing

The Heuriger is an institution in Vienna. The idea is simple: serve new wines, locally sourced, together with a largely cold buffet, add some traditional Viennese songs in the background for some extra Gemütlichkeit, and watch the paying public come rolling on in. It’s easy to see why these wine taverns are so successful, especially the one dad and I visited in Grinzing, a suburb north of the city centre.

Heuriger translates to “this year’s wine” in Austrian and Bavarian dialects of German. The tradition of serving new wines like this dates back to the reign of enlightened Habsburg emperor Joseph II who decreed that his subjects could sell wine from their own properties without a special permit. Enlightened indeed! Grinzing itself has its own fair share of history. In Beethoven’s day it was a village outside the city walls, and the great composer visited here often to recover from his many illnesses, as well as famously nearby Heiligenstadt. Franz Schubert, too, came here often and I believe Einstein may have lived here briefly. Gustav Mahler is buried in the local cemetery.

Anyhow, I think that’s enough mention of dead people and cemeteries for one food review, let’s give some thought to the cuisine. Starting with the drinks. Pater and I enjoyed the local wines greatly, but the particular highlights were the Veltliner and Riesling (from Nussberg). No doubt a distinguished wine critic like Cedric would be able to tell you the various different flavours of fruit and vegetables these hinted at, but I also distinctly tasted wine alongside these.

The food is a kind of walk up to the stout waiter and ask for a plateful kind of affair, which suits me wonderfully because of my enormous gluttony. To start with we opted for a couple of small dishes, a variety of local cheeses, a salad of sliced carrots and sauerkraut, a tasty quiche and a dish of Speck accompanied by a rather long sausage.

For what I suppose might be described as the mains, dad and I went our separate culinary ways, himself opting for the mushroom goulash, yours truly judiciously choosing the Braten (roast pork). Both came with a big dumpling which soaked up the alcohol nicely.

The atmosphere is key to the success of this place. It’s convivial, and very Austrian. It’s the sort place you could see Brahms (the North German interloper to Vienna) turning up to, cigar in hand, to admire some of the Grinzing Fräulein or Schubert, rocking up with his circle of friends, drinking their wistful melancholy away.

I am pleased to say a storm interrupted proceedings halfway through, as if in homage to Beethoven’s sixth symphony. This was a quite a joy for dad and I as we appreciated mother nature’s knowing reference. The heavens soon cleared as well, and the two of us left this charming spot, with “Freude” in our hearts and wine in our guts.

 

Hotel zur Post – Culinary Bliss in Melk, Austria

Hotel zur Post – Culinary Bliss in Melk, Austria

Many people have inquired from me how to go about life without being blown-over with awed appreciation. To this I invariably reply that one should start by not asking for restaurant recommendations from Cedric Conboy. You see this mutual friend of ours has an extraordinary knack of finding eateries that make one’s jaw hang open. I don’t suppose that Cedric has ever visited Melk, yet when Dad and I turned to him for a place to have dinner in the charming little town during our recent cycle ride along the Danube, he came up with the goods as if he were a lederhosen-wearing local named Friedl.

Hotel zur Post is a delightful little haunt with a stunning view of  the Benedictine  monastery. It’s traditional, family run, with excellent quality to match. Father and I kicked off the proceedings with a glass of the local beer which went down very nicely after a long day’s cycling, believe me. After this we ordered a bottle of Veltliner  and eagerly awaited our mains.

The Paterfamilias had ordered a sumptuous dish of chicken breast with a tomato, basil and mushroom sauce complete with small dumplings. By the look of things he enjoyed this greatly. Which is the least that can be said of what I thought about my exquisite main: taglioni in a truffle sauce with Danube crayfish.

 

If I had any great knowledge of food, cooking or indeed even the most basic insight into either, I could tell you why I found it so delicious. But as I don’t, I can only say it was tasty. In fact, it was bloody tasty.

On to the deserts,  Pop Jenkins opted for a gooseberry tart for reasons unbeknownst to me. I, on the other hand, judiciously selected the Topfenstrudel, cream cheese strudel, which was very nice. Presumably this had something to do with how the chef prepared it, but I haven’t the foggiest.

We ended the evening with a drop of Apricot Schnapps, or Marillenschnapps, and parted ways with Hotel zur Post on the most cordial of terms. Praise must be heaped on this worthy establishment, as it must be on the man who recommended it.