Beethoven’s Eroica and Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 have earned their unique places in classical music history. The pieces signify bold and new ways of presenting this genre of music and they are both firmly rooted in the history of their times.
Comparison of the pieces
The Eroica is significantly different from the 1812 Overture although both of them have the ability to invoke some of the deepest emotions. While the Eroica starts with an objectionable (contrary to most symphonies) E flat chord which is intended at grabbing the attention of its listeners, the Overture commences with a Russian folk song of heartfelt prayer (Matz, 2006). Therefore, the introductions of both these types of music are quite divergent because the artists had different intentions.
As one listens on, one is taken through a very tumultuous melodious journey in the Eroica. Several keys are switched in the piece and at the second movement; the melody first begins with a very slow and sad melody. He then builds up the fugue to a climax and then includes some blaring horns towards the end of that part.
Trumpets and strings are struck in one accord until this high comes to a halt and it is again replaced by the first melody. One is overcome by extreme emotions as one moves through these pieces; indeed even the thought of death occurs because it is as though at one point the symphony destroys its melody.
The Eroica allows one to think and to go to places that one desires since a lot of room for interpretation is given. This piece spoke to me in a manner that I had not imagined because I was taken through a journey of self discovery. It was powerful, extra ordinary and everything else in between. Beethoven therefore granted me the opportunity to create my own story as I was listening to his timeless masterpiece.
Conversely, the 1812 Overture first starts with a prayer by the Russians, this is then followed by some elements of the French national anthem in the background. As the music proceeds, one can hear the latter anthem getting louder.
Eventually, this is interrupted by a Russian folk song interlude. All these interchanges continue into the song as the music gets punctuated with other additional features such as shots, wind blowing and the like. These additions were designed to place each piece in context; when the folk songs are at par with the French national anthem; this denotes that both armies have confronted one another.
When one part it louder than the other then this signifies that the loud side is winning. Indeed this is the reason why the piece ends with triumphant church bells and gun shots. To me, the Overture was trying to relieve this experience of war. The Battle of Borodino became so real to me as I listened to the Overture. I was going through the same, dread, desperation, tension and exhilaration that the Russians went through during that Battle. I felt like I had been taken right back into 1812.
History of the music
The 1812 Overture was written regarding a time when the French Army (Led by Napoleon Bonaparte) was seen as invincible. It is a commemoration of the events surrounding the Battle of Borodino where Russians were brave enough to confront the French Army.
Although the battle did not result in victory by the Russian or the French side, it was still a landmark because it put an end to the monotonous victories experienced by the French (Zamoyski, 2004). Most of these aspects of the invasion and confrontations with the French were included in the Orchestra hence explaining why this musical piece was one of a kind.
On the other hand, Beethoven’s Eroica was written at a time in French History (1803) when Napoleon Bonaparte was revolutionizing the way armies were run. In fact, Beethoven was an admirer of the French leader and his ways.
There was strong evidence to suggest that Beethoven wanted to dedicate the piece to Napoleon initially. In fact, the initial composition had the name of Bonaparte at the top. Some critics have asserted that in the same way that Bonaparte was upsetting traditions, Beethoven was transforming the way symphonic music was written (Churgin, 1998).
It can be argued that he was getting bold just like his much admired leader and that he was initiating a revolution just like the then French consul Bonaparte. In this light, it can be said that the two pieces of music had both been influenced by the same French leader although in the Eroica, this influence was positive while in the 1812 Overture, it was more of a campaign against the said leader.
On a more personal level though, both pieces were written by composers who were going against the grain. Tchaikovsky was told to compose a piece for festivities surrounding Moscow’s commemoration (Tchaikovsky, 1996). Instead of writing something full of warmth, he gave his audience something loud and a little piercing.
In other words, this artist was not afraid to be defiant and bold. Beethoven’s personal history was even more influential than the political situation during the writing of the Eroica. At that time, he was going through a very trying time. Beethoven was in ill health and was also going deaf.
He even contemplated suicide at some point but chose not to do so given the repercussions of such actions. Furthermore, he had just written his will and was looking for a way of redefining his genre of music (George, 1998). So given these trying times, Beethoven chose to break the rules and go contrary to what his teachers had taught. This bold new piece marked a new phase in the classical era and was a sign of better things to come.
Both pieces are timeless, bold, emotional and unexpected. However, Beethoven lets the audience create their stories for themselves and only provides them with the background. On the other hand, Tchaikovsky takes the audience to a specific time and place in history; his piece is less subtle in terms of its message.
Tchaikovsky, P. (1996). 1812 Overture. London: Courier Dover
Zamoyski, A. (2004). Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s fatal march. London: Harper Collins
Churgin, B. (1998). Exploring the Eroica; Aspects of the new critical edition. Oxford: OUP
George, C. (1998). Beethoven: Letters, journals and conversations. Journal of International Napoleonic Society, 1(2), 45-98
Matz, C. (2006). A night at the symphony. NY: Alfred publishing