Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ("Eroica"), Op. 55

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Beethoven completed this work in 1804; it was introduced privately in Vienna, chez Prince Lobkowitz, to whom it is dedicated. Beethoven also conducted the public premiere on April 7, 1805, in the Theater-an-der-Wien. Despite everything written to the contrary, the Sinfonia eroica was never a "portrait" of Napoleon Bonaparte, although Beethoven did plan to dedicate it to the charismatic Corsican "First Consul of France." He went into a rage, however, when a pupil, Ferdinand Ries, brought news in May 1804 that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor. According to Ries, Beethoven shouted that the General was only "an ordinary human being, [and] went to the table, took hold of the title page, tore it in two, and threw it on the floor."

    A different story posits that Beethoven erased the Napoleonic dedication from a copy made in August 1804 and entitled Sinfonia grande. In fact, Sinfonia eroica did not appear as the work's title until publication in 1806.

    What Beethoven never told Ries was that Prince Lobkowitz, before May 1804, had proffered a handsome fee in exchange for the dedication, which Napoleon's subsequent arrogance made possible. Or that Beethoven realized the advantage in bringing with him a Sinfonia Bonaparte when a Parisian trip was proposed later on (but never materialized). It was conductor Arturo Toscanini who put everything into perspective 50-odd years ago: "Some say Napoleon, some say Hitler, some say Mussolini; for me it is Allegro con brio."

    The sheer length of the Eroica's first movement was revolutionary -- an opening movement of 691 measures, plus an exposition repeat of 151 measures. No less revolutionary was Beethoven's jarring C sharp at the end of a main theme in E flat major -- indeed it is an E flat arpeggio. Not until the recapitulation does that C sharp become D flat enharmonically. It is in this movement that the long-range harmonic connections explored over the course of the Romantic era have their real start; the movement is heroic mainly in the vastness of its reach.

    A "Funeral March" slow movement was hardly revolutionary, but the span of his C minor slow movement, in rondo form, was unprecedented, and so was its range of emotions from outright grief to C major solace. Although "hunt" music in the third-movement Trio may have startled the Eroica's first audience after funerary tragedy on an unprecedented scale, hunting music in Beethoven's time was even more modish than funeral marches. However, he used it for more than mere surprise in the midst of an onrushing and sometimes raucous scherzo (thereby banishing minuets and Ländlers until the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler). Psychologically he needed sunshine after so much weighty, solemn music.

    He was also setting up a racy finale -- a set of variations including a fugue that detractors ever since have called a falling-off of inspiration. This kind of argument ignores, however, not only what preceded the Eroica historically -- Bach's Goldberg Variations for example -- but also Beethoven's own ennoblement of the form. He had already used the legato second theme of his Eroica finale in The Creatures of Prometheus (ballet music of 1800), in an 1802 Contredanse, and as the subject of 15 keyboard variations that same year (Op. 35), subtitled Eroica once the symphony had been published. A never-ending wonder is the viability of this subject after so much use. Beethoven's range of invention in the symphonic finale of 1804 -- from hymnody to humor, from fugue to dance, culminating in a Presto coda -- successfully freed the listener from the gripping, even shocking drama that has stalked his first and second movements.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro con brio
    2. Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
    3. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
    4. Finale. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2021
    RCO Live
    RCO 19005
    2021
    Avi-Music / CAvi-music
    AVI 8553025
    2020
    Pentatone / PentaTone Classics
    PTC 5186860
    2020
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
    19439706502
    2020
    Signum Classics
    SIGCD 616
    2020
    Ondine
    ODE 13485Q
    2020
    SWR Music
    SWR 19525CD
    2020
    Alia Vox
    9937
    2020
    Beau Fleuve Records
    605996-998548
    2019
    Deutsche Grammophon
    B003111960
    2019
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 18066
    2019
    Naxos
    8574039
    2019
    LPO
    LPO 0112
    2019
    LPO
    LPO 0112D
    2019
    Warner Classics
    9029539882
    2019
    Naxos
    8505251
    2019
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 15050
    2019
    NKB Record
    NBK 206
    2018
    Edition Taschenphilharmonie
    ETP 010
    2018
    Alpha
    380
    2018
    Münchner Philharmoniker
    793052112523
    2018
    Helicon Records
    HEL 029678
    2018
    Reference Recordings
    FR 728
    2018
    Decca
    2018
    Warner Classics
    566897
    2018
    Warner Classics
    2018
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 290890419
    2018
    Capriccio Records
    C 7275
    2018
    Warner Classics
    2018
    Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    4798418
    2018
    Audite
    AUD 91441
    2018
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    19075861862
    2017
    Warner Classics
    0190295886691
    2017
    Alto
    1353
    2017
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    0300926 BC
    2017
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    TMK 1034CD
    2017
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    WS 013
    2017
    Solo Musica
    ETP 006
    2017
    Decca / London
    2017
    LPO
    LPO 0096
    2017
    Rubicon / Rubicon Classics
    RCD 1020
    2017
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    88985408842
    2017
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    0190295824600
    2017
    Accentus
    ACC 80322
    2017
    Nimbus Records
    NI 1713
    2017
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    PH 17004
    2017
    Dynamic
    DYNCDS 7771
    2017
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    PH 16022
    2017
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    23441
    2017
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    2017
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    4798196
    2016
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    C 901162B
    2016
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    AVSA 9916
    2016
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    OPK 2115
    2016
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    MDG 9371966
    2016
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    0190295975098
    2016
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    4795977
    2016
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    88875169792
    2016
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    4796314
    2016
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    BPHR 160091
    2016
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    TACET 974
    2016
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    474
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    4795553
    2015
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    2015
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    AN 291505
    2015
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    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 14026
    2015
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    DGCD 21088
    2015
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    88875112822
    2015
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    900134
    2015
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    88875123912
    2015
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    ORC 100045
    2015
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    FCS 39
    2015
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    ANDRCD 9079
    2014
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    2014
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    5099999356521
    2014
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    2564627829
    2014
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    2014
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    2014
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    2014
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    2564633735
    2014
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    545117
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    T 2CD2013027
    2014
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    4758147
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    WS 121178
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    88843014642
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    ICAB 5132
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    2014
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    94630
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    175708
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    60034
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    900119
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    TAH 763
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    OC 090
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    8501204
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    4791046
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    4783511
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    94289
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    4783616
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    5099963655
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    4783494
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    4790250
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    61890
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    2011
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    4779830
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    MC199
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    94052
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    2011
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    5099909794
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    V 5258
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    CC 72532
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    88697857372
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    SU40512
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    88697927172
    2011
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    CD1252
    2011
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    UCGG 9012
    2011
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    2011
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    63779
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    2011
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    2011
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    PTC 5186312
    2011
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    8802077
    2011
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    2011
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    4782721
    2011
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    2564698905
    2011
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    6610
    2011
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    233373
    2011
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    21408
    2010
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    2010
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    2010
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    2010
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    2010
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    2010
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    2010
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    28160
    2010
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    22402
    2010
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    8219360031
    2010
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    88697711442
    2010
    Archiv Produktion
    477 864-3
    2010
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    2010
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    4778643
    2010
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    8869768365
    2010
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    SBT 20107
    2010
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    2010
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    2894778840
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    DA Records / Zebralution
    2009
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    2009
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    2009
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    2009
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    2009
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    2009
    Denon Records
    00795041941428
    2009
    Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2009
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    23414
    2009
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    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Decca
    4263332
    2009
    Decca / Universal Classics & Jazz / Universal Music
    2009
    Signum UK
    169
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Medici Arts
    37
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    BIS
    1825/26
    2009
    Tahra
    673674
    2009
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    9068
    2009
    Audite
    21403
    2008
    RCO Live
    08005
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4777578
    2008
    Berlin Classics
    0184442
    2008
    Landscape Classics
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4777157
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921763
    2008
    PentaTone Classics
    5186313
    2008
    Berlin Classics
    0115022
    2008
    Audite
    23404
    2008
    Sony Music Distribution
    719252
    2008
    Col Legno Classics
    60003
    2008
    ZYX Music
    10321
    2008
    Zig Zag Territoires
    80402
    2008
    Berlin Classics / Corona Classic Collection
    00762CCC
    2008
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    807470
    2008
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    42392
    2008
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    5099951586
    2008
    Col Legno
    60006
    2008
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    2008
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    4630882
    2008
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    4775864
    2008
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    231884
    2008
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    80730
    2008
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    2008
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    0002672CCC
    2008
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    30802
    2008
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    774083
    2008
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    5099951203
    2007
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    004400734325
    2007
    Disques XXI
    1489
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    41007
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    1203
    2007
    Cascade Records
    2200
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    93525
    2007
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    6431454
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    367530
    2007
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    108026
    2007
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    2007
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    0013922
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    Ambroisie
    9993
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    0185902
    2007
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    2007
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    8869713066
    2007
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    621
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    MELCD 1001106
    2007
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    7026
    2007
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    365465
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    5185082
    2007
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    3777672
    2007
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    87739
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    000966502
    2007
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    4759090
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    1403
    2007
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    704077
    2007
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    1201
    2007
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    001050702
    2007
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    44301
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    93178
    2007
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    CD753
    2006
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    1281
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    41424
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    51
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    224051
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    598
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    2006
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    88697006552
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    63779
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    82876886872
    2006
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    0138
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    580
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    80
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    CD1185
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    1516
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    52319
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    7751
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    5017
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    Weitblick
    54
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    522
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    92766
    2005
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    2005
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    1191
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    2005
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    0012512
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    592140
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    8551
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    5186144
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    5866142
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    0259
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    284220
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    38032
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    4756883
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    4618902
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    221790
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    AN 2130
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    90658
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    4775838
    2005
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    4770002
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    47700
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    99793
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    474602
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    000251636
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    85821
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    000217402
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    0212
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    60858
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    CD1134
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    5186159
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    8508007
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    92387
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    575751
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    504
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    4752722
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    92480
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    221543
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    1023
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    6600
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    409048
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    50000
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    57445
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    57564
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    1463
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    2039
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    80090
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    0262
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    474018
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    40031
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    205229
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    99927
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    19
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    1283
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    471488
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    1063
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    87885
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    89832
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    8573830602
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    7816
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    67741
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    5677402
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    1055
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    1270
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    70616
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    6361
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    CD1112
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    75109
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    587022
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    AN 2966
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    66656
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    1016
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    9959
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    4681052
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    1020
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    467679
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    1
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    7807
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    538011
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    1054-1057
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    1065
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    70708
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    203133
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    CD1072
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    89750
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    204573
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    205241
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    28144
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    469000
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    102
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    467125
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    026
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    27838
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    73895
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    1917
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    1008-1009
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    70527
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    0074
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    469109
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    97015
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    1751
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    65097
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    65410
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    72846
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    55835
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    78897
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