top of page

Beethoven Symphonies Three and Five

Beethoven wrote nine symphonies which influenced composers for the rest of time. There are so many excellent learning opportunities in each of the symphonies. Here are a few of them in the 3rd and the 5th.

Symphony Number Three

The Third Symphony has a special name given to it by Beethoven. "The Eroica" or "Heroic" Symphony.  This symphony was the beginning of Beethoven's change from a Classical style composer to a Romantic style composer. He started to use sound to tell us how he felt, and what being alive meant to him. The piece caused a sensation and changed the idea of what a symphony could be.

Beethoven originally dedicated this symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was a French general who Beethoven admired. Beethoven thought Napoleon was a self-made man who fought for freedom, justice and equality… at least in the early years. Here are two short videos about Napoleon.

Beethoven uses each movement of the symphony to describe a particular moment in the Napoleon's life. The first movement tells about Napoleon's heroism. The second movement is a funeral march, describing the sadness when a soldier is killed. Some people think that Beethoven was also mourning for his hearing which he was beginning to lose. The third and fourth movements are upbeat and happy -  a prediction of how Napoleon’s legacy and spirit would continue. Some people think that these movements also show Beethoven's hope that he would continue to compose, even if his hearing got worse.

The symphony was originally titled "Bonaparte" but as you know from the videos above, Napoleon eventually betrayed the ideas he originally stood for. Instead of helping the people to rule themselves, he became emperor. The story is told that when Beethoven heard that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, he wanted to rip up the symphony! Luckily for us, he just changed the title and the dedication and the Eroica Symphony went on to be one of his greatest hits. Here are some videos of the Eroica.

Symphony Number Five

The Fifth Symphony is a great example of Beethoven's use of motif.  A motif is a short musical idea. Beethoven was the master of the motif and he wrote the most famous motif ever the fate motif of his Symphony Number 5. 

Beethoven said that his "short short short long" motif was fate (things that you can't control) knocking at his door. Beethoven was probably talking about the fact that he was going deaf and that was the fate he couldn't escape or control.

The fate motif is easy to hear and you can identify it by singing the words "Beethoven's Fifth" whenever you hear it. In the first minute of the symphony the motif is repeated 46 times!

In the second movement, which is slower, it's a little harder to hear but it's there.

In the third movement, which is a dance, it's very easy to hear again. The motif now feels like a march.

The fourth movement follows the third directly (without stopping for the audience to cough or the musicians to rest). It is in a major key which some people think is happier but it definitely sounds triumphant. You can still hear the motif but you're left wondering if Beethoven thought he might overcome his fate and his hearing might come back.

There are many videos that you can watch of this symphony. Here are a few of our favorites.

bottom of page