Eroica intro

Severance Hall
January 19 – Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Introducing the Concert


Heroes & MythMusic & Meaning

This evening’s concert presents a strong dose of Beethoven, comprised of two symphonies and an overture. Here, Beethoven’s message of human worth and betterment, of freedom and justice, melds musical voice with meaning and substance.

Beethoven was famously a grumpy man. Despite many successes, he’d gone from a challenging childhood (with an alcoholic father) to a superstar career as a performer whose hearing disappeared. Most importantly, however, as everyday sounds evaporated, Beethoven did not lose himself or his place in the world. And his musical voice continued, filled with strength and determination.

The concert opens with an Overture to a ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus. This mythological storyline appealed directly to Beethoven’s view of life as a “fight for good.” Prometheus breathed life into human form, and gave fire to humanity as a gift (defying orders not to) — thus advancing civilization and understanding. In this overture, Beethoven himself shows daring, courage, and character.

Beethoven’s First Symphony, from 1801, is often overlooked as an early (and “perfectly fine”) attempt at what Mozart and Haydn had already done. In fact, here he is already pushing boundaries and resetting expectations — and moving musical language forward.

The concert closes with one of Beethoven’s biggest battle-works, the Third Symphony, nicknamed “Heroic.” This mighty piece, born from alternating thoughts of admiration and disgust for Napoleon Bonaparte, and conceived simultaneously as the composer wrestled fate’s choice of stealing his hearing away to deafness, did much to launch Beethoven’s greatness for posterity — and solidified his own resolve to fight for good through his music. Here politics and philosophy, heroics and will, might and right, are blended together into one of the greatest symphonies ever written. This is music filled with joy and heartache, fun and confrontation — and pure genius.

—Eric Sellen