(The title page of Beethoven’s manuscript of his third symphony, with the dedication scratched out.)
In October 1803, Beethoven’s friend, student, and acolyte Ferdinand Ries wrote to the music publisher Simrock:
[Beethoven] wants to sell you [his new] Symphony for 100 gulden. In his own opinion it is the greatest work he has yet written. Beethoven played it for me recently, and I believe that heaven and earth will tremble when it is performed. He is very much inclined to dedicate it to [Napoleon] Bonaparte, but because [Beethoven’s patron Prince] Lobkowitz [will have sole rights to it] for half a year and will give 400 gulden [for that privilege, after that time period Beethoven] will entitle it “Bonaparte.”
The scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell proposed the existence of a universal “mono-myth” that transcends time, place, and culture: the hero’s journey. According to his theory, every culture in human history has a core story: that of a hero — usually, at first, someone who appears unlikely and ill-equipped for the task — who is called to a quest, goes on a journey, undergoes a crisis, wins a decisive victory, and returns transformed.
Do you think that this template can be applied to the symphony Ries refers to above, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, the “Eroica” (Heroic)?
Who is the hero of the Eroica?
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Addendum, April 2020: The Hero’s Journey updated for the coronavirus pandemic.