The Eroica is considered by most musicologists to be the very first romantic symphony. Beethoven stands between the late classical period and the early romantic. He is the first to indulge himself with those pesky feelings in music. In studying Beethovens music you can clearly hear this change.
This symphony was originally called “Sinfonia grande, intitolata Bonaparte”, so Bonaparte. Referring of course to Napoleon, who in that time had his first big successes, but was called Consul, like the Roman consuls of old. Supposedly when the famous composer heard of Napoleon’s claiming of the title of Emperor, he renamed it “Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo”, dedicating it to Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz instead.
Never mind that! He still was calling it Bonaparte in a letter to his publisher. It would go down in history as the Eroica though.
In a time when symphonies were still used as fillers, as short pieces to be played at the background of civilised conversation, this was considered a huge and difficult work. It didn’t make Beethoven very popular. It was twice as long as what people were commonly hearing at those occasions, and it was probably demanding more attention because of its emotional reach.
For the famous American conductor Leonard Bernstein the first two parts of this symphony might be ‘the greatest movements in all symphonic music‘. That said, this performance didn’t make an impression on me. I found it a bit flat. Maybe I’m just used to very high standards with all the nice recordings out there.