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Beethoven

The very start of this concerto is remarkable - the piano opens softly and unaccompanied with a 5 bar phrase of the utmost quality, combining rhythmic and melodic interest. [Only on one occasion had Mozart attempted such a concerto opening (K.271) but the effect is much less striking]. The orchestra then take up the theme, not in the tonic key (G major) but a 3rd higher in B major - the effect is magical. The rhythmic cell of 4 repeated quavers is emphasised throughout the exposition on different instruments. The second subject is delightful and constantly changes key as it is passed to different instruments - in the space of 12 bars, the music has flirted with six different keys. At the end of the piano exposition, there are 4 bars of trills - but instead of the expected tutti, Beethoven delays this a few bars by presenting a beautiful melody on the piano. The development is dramatic with powerful piano figurations - there can be a problem of balance here though as the woodwind struggle to be heard above so much that is going on in the orchestra and piano. The movement ends triumphantly with a cascade of scales and arpeggios from the piano. Possibly Liszt was the first to suggest a programmatic basis for the slow movement, at any rate it is obvious that a dialogue is taking place between the piano and strings. The movement is scored for just piano and strings and the strings play in unison a disturbed and striking theme which is answered by a soothing and tender piano. Gradually the strings are subdued and the calmness of the piano wins the day. The Rondo picks up the last E from the slow movement and begins a lively pianissimo theme in the wrong key - C, only coming round to the tonic G a few bars later. Haydn had done the same in the 'Surprise' symphony and Beethoven began the finale to the Razumovsky quartet no.2 in the same way. In keeping with the rest of this concerto the Rondo is full of striking inventiveness and originality - it is a thoroughly exhilarating and uplifting experience !

VIOLIN CONCERTO in D Op.61

Composed : 1806 Published by Clementi 1808, Dedicated to Stephan Von Breuning, First Performed 23rd Dec 1806 by Franz Clement.

Background details

Beethoven wrote this wonderful concerto (perhaps the greatest of all Violin concertos) for the virtuoso Franz Clement (26 yr old leader of the orchestra at the Theater an der Wien) Several revisions were made of the solo part at Clement's suggestion. At the publisher Clementi's request, Beethoven arranged this concerto for the piano - he did not change the orchestration, but added a highly original cadenza for piano and timpani.

Musical outline

The concerto opens with 5 repeated crotchets on the timpani followed by a gentle melody in the woodwind. The timpani crotchets provide a rhythmic cell that unifies the whole movement. This rhythmic cell accompanies the glorious second subject - a tune of divine simplicity, which Beethoven repeats in the minor key ( a favourite device of Schubert). The soloist enters with a few improvisatory bars taking the violin to the top of its register to sing out the first theme. In the development there is a remarkable passage in G minor where the horns repeat the opening rhythmic cell against some romantic and poignant music for the violin - most soloists usually drop the tempo here, but no such indication is written in the score. The recapitulation begins with full orchestra stating the main theme fortissimo. The slow movement is breathtakingly beautiful and creates an atmosphere of calm and contemplation - again this movement is often taken slower than the Larghetto marking would imply. Beethoven asks the soloist to link this movement to the finale with a short cadenza. The rondo finale is pure joy and begins with the soloist stating the famous theme twice, then it bursts out in the whole orchestra . There is a fine moment for the Bassoon in the second episode in the minor , where it has the theme and is accompanied by the soloist. After the cadenza, the main theme appears in a magical key change in Ab. The sudden loud and adbrupt ending after a few soft solo violin notes is a delightful surprise.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.5 in Eb 'Emperor' Op.73

Date of composition : 1809, Published by Breitkopf and Hartel in Feb 1811, Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph . First performed Nov 28th 1811 in the Gewandhaus Leipzig - F.Schneider soloist .

Background details

The 'Emperor' is the grandest and most spectacular of all the concertos and it is written in Eb - a key often associated with Beethoven's heroic music. e.g 'Eroica' Symphony. Written during 1809 - this was the year the French bombarded Vienna on 11th-12th May and shortly after (31st May) Haydn died. This is the only one of the five concertos for piano that Beethoven never performed, due to his increasing deafness. The first Vienna performance took place with Carl Czerny as soloist on 11th Feb 1812.

Musical outline

The work opens in a striking and highly original manner with a grand cadenza for the piano punctuated by 3 powerful chords in the orchestra. The main theme is one of the most positive in any of the concertos. As in the Violin concerto, the second theme is presented in both the major and minor keys - the contrast in mood is striking. In the development, the music builds to a powerful climax of chords and octaves in the piano. There is the briefest of cadenzas, fully written out by Beethoven that leads into the coda, which is much the longest in any Beethoven concerto and ends with a powerful and energetic display. The glorious slow movement is fairly brief as in all the later concertos. In the seemingly unrelated key of Bmajor (enharmonically Cb - a third below Eb) It opens with muted strings presenting the serene melody. Then there follows two variations on this theme, the piano accompanies the woodwind in the second of these. The final note B slips down a semitone to Bb ( the dominant of Eb) and a short coda leads into the finale by tantalisingly hinting very slowly at the rondo - then it suddenly bursts into the powerful main theme of the Rondo. This movement is full of energy and vitality, with a very interesting development section that passes through many keys. The coda is highly original, with a marvellous passage for piano and timpani where the pace slows bringing the music to a complete halt - then there is a sudden and rapid scale passage rising in the piano which leads into the closing orchestral bars and 3 sudden adbrupt chords.

Miscellaneous

Apart from the 7 well known Concertos by Beethoven, there were some early attempts by Beethoven in this genre, dating mainly from his Bonn years

The following are compositions for orchestra and solo instruments completed by Beethoven in his youth but were not published and laid undiscovered until after his death. The completed scores have been partially or totally lost, some existing only in the form of musical fragments.

Piano Concerto in E flat, WoO 4.

Period of composition: 1784.

Background details:

The music for this piece survives in the form of a hand-written (though unsigned) 32pp manuscript, with corrections by the author. The solo piano part is totally complete and also includes a piano transcription of the orchestral parts. The orchestral score itself, for flutes, horns and strings, is lost. This was a time before Beethoven had heard the likes of Mozart or Haydn, but instead had been exposed to J S Bach, the Mannheim school and no doubt the many local 'masters' residing around Bonn at this time. The music was found in 1890 in the archives of the Artaria Fund and was from there taken to the Berlin State library. It was published in the same year by Breitkopf und Hartel. Later, the famous Beethoven scholar Willy Hess took to the task of restoring the orchestral parts based on the piano score material. The result is an intelligent and disciplined assessment that manages to sound sufficiently 'Beethovenish' as a whole to be taken seriously. This version was first performed (last movement only) in 1934 in Oslo. The first performance of the complete concerto was in 1968 at the London Queen Elizabeth Hall. There are numerous recordings of the piece to be found on CD today.

Musical outline:

Despite its early origins the music bristles with originality and contains many touching moments. The first movement is a substantial Allegro Moderato, and opens with a march like theme on the flutes and horns that is then taken up by the remainder of the orchestra. The piano then takes up the theme, which is then followed by a varied selection of more melodic material. Beethoven's capacity for grand and serious is evident in the development. The piano part itself is of considerable virtuosity and the original cadenza survives. Then follows a Larghetto of considerable beauty that contains some haunting passages. The central episode where the first theme is taken to dark and unforeseen vistas. The movement is quite unlike the slow movements of the 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos, indeed in many respects one could say the present movement is more original than those of these more mature works. The final Rondo is light hearted and entertaining but which also contains a contrasting intermezzo in the minor key 'all ungherese'.

Oboe Concerto in F major, Hess 12.

Period of composition: Circa early 1790's.

Background details:

The first indication of the existence of this piece was found in a letter from Haydn, then Beethoven's teacher, to the Elector in Bonn. Here Haydn wrote that he was sending the Elector, amongst other pieces of music by Beethoven, an oboe concerto, as evidence of his pupil's great potential as a composer. There is also a story relating to the Concerto manuscript being in the hands of publisher Diabelli after Beethoven's death. However, the story also relates that the manuscript was destroyed in a fire in Diabelli's store. Fragments from all three movements were found by Elliot Forbes in the Beethoven Music Archives in Bonn and are printed in his edition of Thayer's Life of Beethoven. In 1970 a collection of musical manuscripts by Beethoven, known as the Kafka Sketchbook, was published by the British Museum. Within this book was found a draft for the second movement of the Oboe Concerto. As far as this writer is aware, there has been no reconstruction of the whole concerto, although the complete second movement was written by Charles Amherst in 1981. I have not seen a recording of this piece.

Musical outline:

Given the lack of material available only the vaguest musical outline can be given. The Bonn fragments reveal an orchestra of two oboes, two bassoons and strings, with the first movement being Allegro moderato, a slow movement in B flat major and a final Rondo - Allegretto. Given the 'undynamic' nature of the oboe from a Beethovenian perspective, one can assume that the music would have been very melodic in content without too much conflict. For evidence of this from elsewhere one need only look at Beethoven's other early compositions involving the oboe - the quintet for oboe, three horns and bassoon Hess 19, and the Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn Op.87.

Violin Concerto in C WoO 5

Period of composition: Circa 1790/92.

Background details:

Only a 259-measure fragment of the first movement exists in the author's hand. This fragment reveals an orchestral introduction, a solo passage, a further orchestral tutti followed by a solo fantasia. It ends with a new transitional theme which has led to the belief that the movement was actually completed and that the remainder of the piece has been lost. The fragment is stored in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

Romance for Piano, Flute and Bassoon Concertante in E minor, Hess 13.

Period of composition: Circa early 1790's.

Background details:

All the writer knows regarding this piece is that a fragment of the autograph is housed in the British Museum.

Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in B flat, WoO6

Period of composition: Circa 1794.

Background details:

The score for this piece was found among Beethoven's papers after his death and published by Diabelli and Co. in 1829. The circumstances surrounding the composition of the piece have been the subject of some debate amongst scholars. The principle argument suggests that the piece was the original finale to an early incantation of the Concerto in B flat Op.19 and then rejected upon its revision into the form we know it today. There is no conclusive evidence for this but it would be unlikely for Beethoven to compose the Rondo as an independent one-movement piece. The score is incomplete but was published by Carl Czerny in 1829 who completed the orchestration and, extended the piano passages and added a cadenza. Czerny's taste for indulging the higher register if the piano (for which he was criticised by Beethoven) is evident, however, in his reconstruction. Otherwise, the piece is light, joyful and with no pretensions. There are numerous recordings of the Rondo available on CD.

PIANO CONCERTO no.6 in D Hess.15 - Incomplete

Period of composition 1814/15.

Click here for MIDI FILE

Supplied by the Unheard Beethoven Site. Thanks to Mark S. Zimmer and Willem . Performing edition by Prof. Nicholas Cook.

Background details

In late 1814 and early 1815, Beethoven sketched the first movement of a piano concerto. There are 70 pages of sketches and he even started writing out a full score which runs as far as the middle of the soloists exposition. The scoring becomes more patchy as the movement proceeds but it still represents one of the most substantial of the incomplete works. Beethoven may have abandoned the work as the material is of a Symphonic nature and not really suited to a piano concerto - the piano part seems merely to decorate the themes rather than challenge the orchestra in its own right. A reconstruction of the movement was completed in 1987 by Nicholas Cook and Kelina Kwan - The music is Beethoven up as far as a point shortly after the 2nd subject in the soloists exposition (though orchestral and other parts have been added in places).

Beethoven Reference Site  © 2010

PIANO CONCERTO NO.4 in G Op.58

Composed 1805/6 . Published Aug 1808 by the Bureau d'arts et d'industrie. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph. First performed in March 1807 at Lobkowitz palace Vienna (Beethoven soloist).

Background details

The previous Piano concertos had belonged to Beethoven's first or early period - with this concerto we are in his 'middle period'. It was written at a time of intense creativity for Beethoven, with work on the Symphony no.5 and the Opera Fidelio in progress at the same time. Along with his next and last piano concerto (no.5) it represents the summit of his achievement in this medium. It is one of his most poetic works. The technical requirements of the piano part are quite daunting - Beethoven referred to it himself as being very difficult and it was only performed in Vienna twice during his lifetime. Beethoven was the soloist on both occasions ! The timpani and trumpets are not used until the last movement, which is unusual for Beethoven.

Musical outline

TRIPLE CONCERTO in C for Piano, Violin & 'Cello Op.56

Date of composition : 1803-4. Published by Bureau d'Arts et d'industrie 1807. Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.

Background details

Written just after the completion of the 'Eroica' Symphony and laid aside whilst the 'Waldstein' sonata was finished and work on Fidelio begun. The triple concerto was the first of a number of works Beethoven wrote for his pupil Archduke Rudolph, and it is fairly certain that he would have played it at its first performance, along with the violinist Seidler and the 'cellist Anton Kraft who had been Haydn's main cellist at Esterhaz. Perhaps owing to Beethoven's admiration for Kraft, the 'cello is given special prominence in this work. It is not known when the first performance took place, but the first public performance was in May 1808.

Musical Outline

The Concerto begins very softly with just the 'cellos and basses and builds up using a crescendo over a repeated quaver bass - (a favourite device of the Mannheim composers in the 1750's). The 'cello is the first solo to enter, lightly accompanied by discords and the effect is quite satisfying. The whole of the soloists exposition is magnificent with expansive themes and unconventional tonality; the second subject comes not in the dominant but in the more striking key of A. The development sounds like a piano trio, but the woodwind accompaniment is not very effective. There is no cadenza, perhaps Beethoven thought it would be impratical for 3 soloists. The slow movement is a gem - it is a short theme and variations - very beautiful. The coda leads without a break into the finale marked 'rondo alla polacca'. It is this movement that has suffered from most criticism ( particularly the Coda which appears to have been rather casually written and is not of the quality of the material that preceeds it) - however there are many fine passages in this movement, particularly the polonaise episode which anticipates those of Chopin a few years later.

The work opens softly in the strings with a theme of subdued tension which is answered by the woodwind. Within a few bars, Beethoven plunges the theme triumphantly into the relative major, where the music stays for the attractive second subject. The Orchestral exposition ends with three hammerblows on the tonic note C - then the piano enters dramatically with 3 rising C minor scales and then states the main theme in powerful octaves. The piano writing in this concerto is technically more difficult than the earlier concertos although it is more restrained in the development section. The coda is very interesting and effective with the rhythmic use of the timpani and the pianist being kept playing till the very end . In the slow movement, as Beethoven uses a 3/8 time signature, the music looks formidable on the page - as it is covered in large quantities of hemidemisemiquavers and worse ! The piano opens very softly, presenting a beautiful theme which after modulating to the dominant, magically and unexpectedly turns to G major. After the orchestral statement of the theme, Beethoven breaks new ground in the middle section by using the piano as mere accompaniment to a bassoon and flute duet. Having chosen the extroadinary key (for a C minor work) of E major for this movement, in the Rondo Beethoven performs a wonder stroke by enharmonically using the notes of the last E major chord of the slow movement - he emphasises the notes B and Ab (the same on the piano as G#) in his Rondo theme. The mood of this energetic movement contains a certain desperation behind the high spirits. After the main theme, a new joyful theme appears first on the piano and then in the orchestra. The middle section is in Ab and a lovely melody is presented on the clarinet and then taken up by the piano. Beethoven's inventiveness is now in full swing, and he brings the main theme in as a fugue which leads into another of his enharmonic masterstrokes - repeated octave Ab quavers are then turned into G# with E in the bass, changing the Key to E major (same as the slow movement - so he has performed his original trick in reverse !) - surprise modulations continue almost up to the end. For the Coda, Beethoven provides a jubilant and rousing conclusion to the concerto in the major key.

The Concerto opens forte with 1 bar of full orchestra stating the common chord of Bb in a dotted rhythm figuration - this is followed by a gentle phrase in the violins. From these opening 4 bars Beethoven constructs most of the material used in the movement. Like Mozart, he introduces the piano with a few improvisatory bars. Also like Mozart, he saves his most memorable 2nd subject for the piano exposition. The fine cadenza for this movement was written much later (1809) . The slow movement opens in the rhythm Haydn frequently used when setting the words 'Agnus Dei' in his masses - indeed he also used it in the slow movement of Symphony no.98, a work Beethoven almost certainly would have known. The practice of the day with slow movements when the theme was repeated was for the soloist to add their own embellishments and decorations - a typical example of this is Mozart's A major concerto where there is a passage of very sparse piano writing - Beethoven however was not prepared to risk other pianists ruining his music and wrote down exactly what he intended. The final rondo has an unusual rhythm which may have only evolved during the 1798 revision, for the sketch books reveal that a tamer rhythm was originally intended. Beethoven may have got the idea for this more energetic and piquant rhythm from Mozart's Bb concerto (K.595) where it occurs also in the third movement.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.3 in C minor Op.37

Preliminary sketches : 1797/1800 completed 1800. Published by Bureau d'Arts et d'industrie, Vienna, 1804. First Performed : 5th April 1803 Theater an Der Wien, Beethoven Soloist. Dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia.

Background details

This concerto is another example of a deceptively high opus number owing to Beethoven delaying publication. At the first performance which included the 1st Symphony, and the first performances of the Symphony no.2 and the Oratorio 'Christ on the Mount of Olives' (a mammoth programme by any standards !) - Beethoven played the piano part largely from memory as it had not yet been fully written out. Beethoven thought more highly of this concerto than its two predecessors, and it is indeed a superior work. C minor was a key of particular emotional significance for Beethoven and he may have had Mozart's great C minor Concerto in mind ( a work he was known to admire tremendously).

Musical outline

This work is a more positive and impressive achievement than its predecessor. The First movement starts with a theme of little interest in itself which however is given impact by being played quietly - a device Beethoven was to use with the opening of most of his Concertos. The second theme surprises us by being in the remote key of Eb - but not for long as woodwind chords interrupt the tender, rather feminine theme. Then Beethoven repeats the same effect a tone higher. After a passage where the two main themes are combined, a new military style theme is introduced by the horns and trumpets. The piano now enters with a few soft and gentle bars which lead into the 2nd exposition. The momentum is increased by a triplet passage in the piano (left hand) punctuated with off beat accents and then comes a wonderful chromatically shifting passage for the piano. Near the end of the usual orchestral tutti, Beethoven employs a favourite device, which he learnt from Haydn, of side stepping key changes, from G up a semitone to Ab. The 3rd cadenza Beethoven wrote for this movement is the finest, being full of many surprises -The slow movement is the longest in any Beethoven concerto. The piano presents the glorious theme which is later taken up by the clarinet. The piano writing is lyrical and nocturne like and the main theme appears with more elaborate decorations as the movement progresses. The final Rondo is really the most succesful movement of the three. Beethoven marks it allegro scherzando to indicate the humorous nature of the movement. Some of the thematic material was taken from an earlier piano trio in Eb (1791) that was not intended for publication - the tranformation is quite miraculous. The music is lively, full of fun and invention, with startling modulations in places - the music rising by semitones along the lines of the 'minuet' from the first Symphony. After bringing the music to a virtual stop with 2 adagio bars, Beethoven suddenly brings the Concerto to a rousing conclusion.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.2 in Bb Op.19

Date of composition : 1794/5 (revised 1798). Published Dec 1801 by Hoffmeister, first performed Mar 29 1795 at Vienna.(Beethoven soloist) Dedicated to Karl Von Nikelsberg.

Background details

Arguably the most Haydnesque of the concertos - the only major Beethoven orchestral work not to use clarinets, an instrument that Haydn was curiously averse to. Beethoven may also have used Mozart's last piano concerto (K.595) as a model, as both Concertos are scored for the same orchestra. Beethoven later described this concerto and the previous one as 'not among my best compositions' - it is however full of interest and very enjoyable. Beethoven substanially revised this work for his 1798 Prague concerts; this is the version that survives today.

Musical outline

This Concerto was actually composed after the Concerto known as no.2 in Bb (Op.19), and is therefore the 3rd piano concerto in order of composition (taking into account WoO.4); the confusion arises owing to its being published 9 months earlier than no.2 and consequently receiving a lower Opus number. Beethoven first performed the work at a concert in Prague (1798). At a later date (1807/8) Beethoven wrote 3 Cadenzas for this Concerto. The original manuscript is in the Prussian State Library, Berlin.

Musical Outline

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PIANO CONCERTO NO.1 in C Major Op.15

Preliminary sketches 1795/6 . Completed 1798 . Published March 1801 by Mollo &Co. First performed at Prague in Oct 1798 (Beethoven Soloist).

Background details

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