BSO tackles Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ in upcoming concert

Posted Nov. 01, 2012, at 2:56 p.m.

The name of the next concert in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks series is “Heroic Beethoven,” which can mean only one thing: the legendary German composer’s Third Symphony, best known as the “Eroica,” will be performed. This will be the third season in a row music director Lucas Richman has conducted a Beethoven symphony, with the Second performed last season and the Fifth in the one before that.

Though there are two other pieces to be performed — Mozart’s “Magic Flute” overture and Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto” with soloist Alon Goldstein — it’s the “Eroica” that is the centerpiece of this program. Beethoven’s works haven’t lost their appeal, even after 200 years — though the man himself remains a mystery. He left behind many letters, and there were lots of things written about him by his contemporaries, but separating truth from fiction is hard to do. We’ve collected some facts — and some long-held legends — about the great composer, and listed them here.

“Heroic Beethoven” is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts. Tickets are $19-$43 and are available at the CCA box office, by calling 581-1755 and online at collinscenterforthearts.com.

1. Beethoven originally dedicated his third symphony, the “Eroica,” to Napoleon Bonaparte. But when Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France in 1804, Beethoven reportedly flew into a rage and scratched his name out of the score with such force that it tore the paper. Beethoven felt that Bonaparte calling himself Emperor made the leader of the French revolution into a tyrant who thought himself above his subjects. The symphony was, instead, dedicated to his patron, Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz.

2. According to legend, Beethoven would dip his head in ice cold water before composing. He apparently thought it would clear his mind and make him focus on the task at hand. There is no known connection between pouring ice water on your head and mental acuity.

3. Beethoven was 5 feet, 3 inches tall. He also apparently had some kind of skin deformity on his face, though most portraits of him edit that fact out.

4. The identity of the “Immortal Beloved” to whom Beethoven wrote his famously mysterious love letter in 1812 will never be known conclusively. Scholars have named a number of candidates over the years, but the overall consensus seems to be Josephine Brunsvik, a Hungarian countess who had Beethoven as a piano teacher in the late 1790s. Her aristocratic family would not let her be with Beethoven, a commoner.

5. No one really knows exactly what caused Beethoven’s death, at age 56 in 1827. There’s speculation that he had alcoholic cirrhosis due to his heavy drinking; it’s also been claimed he had either syphilis or hepatitis. One theory is that he died from lead poisoning, as it was not known in the early 19th century that lead was toxic. It is also believed he may have had lupus, and some scholars claim he also had bipolar disorder.

6. On the Voyager Golden Record, the collection of recordings put aboard the Voyager space probe in 1977, included two Beethoven compositions; the first movement from his Fifth Symphony and the Cavatina from the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130.

7. Though he had a lifelong dislike of authority, Beethoven nevertheless spelled his name as “von Beethoven,” using the aristocratic “von” instead of “van,” the peasant’s prefix that he was actually christened with. He insisted all his life that that was how his named was spelled.

8. The legend goes that Beethoven died in the midst of a huge thunderstorm, and that as lightning struck, he raised his fist towards the sky and then fell dead. Between 20 and 30,000 people reportedly came to his funeral; he remains now lie at Zentralfriedhof Cemetery in Vienna, side by side with Franz Schubert.

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