Polish classical pianist Krystian Zimerman plays Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Wiener Philharmoniker) conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
The concerto was composed in 1800 and was first performed on 5 April 1803, and as was the custom with most of Beethoven’s works for piano, the composer himself performed as soloist on the night of the premiere. His Piano Concerto No. 3 was premiered alongside the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Symphony No. 2 and, never one known for his organisational skills, Beethoven performed most of the concerto from memory – not through choice, but because he’d run out of time to transcribe the piano part!
The concerto is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in E-flat, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, strings and piano soloist.
As is standard for Classical/Romantic-era concertos, the work is in three movements:
- Allegro con brio This movement is known to make forceful use of the theme (direct and indirect) throughout. It is constructed like a sonata and the themes, bringing a feeling of force and confidence. Orchestral exposition: In the orchestral exposition, the theme is introduced by the strings, and used throughout the movement. It is developed several times. In the third section (second subject), the clarinet introduces the second main theme, which is in the relative major key, E-flat major. Second exposition: The piano enters with an ascending scale motif. The structure of the exposition in the piano solo is similar to that of the orchestral exposition. Development: The piano enters, playing similar scales used in the beginning of the second exposition, this time in D major rather than C minor. The music is generally quiet. Recapitulation: The orchestra restates the theme in fortissimo, with the wind instruments responding by building up a minor ninth chord as in the exposition. For the return of the second subject, Beethoven modulates to the tonic major, C major. A dark transition to the cadenza occurs, immediately switching from C major to C minor. Cadenza: Beethoven wrote one cadenza for this movement. The cadenza Beethoven wrote is at times stormy and ends on a series of trills that calm down to pianissimo. Many other composers and pianists have written alternative cadenzas. Coda: Beethoven subverts the expectation of a return to the tonic at the end of the cadenza by prolonging the final trill and eventually arriving on a dominant seventh. The piano plays a series of arpeggios before the music settles into the home key of C minor. Then the music intensifies before a full tutti occurs, followed by the piano playing descending arpeggios, the ascending scale from the second exposition, and finally a resolute ending on C.
- Largo introduces a musical theme that expresses re-position and meditation. The second movement is in the key of E major, in this context a key relatively remote from the concerto’s opening key of C minor (another example being Brahms’s first symphony.). If the movement adhered to traditional form, its key would be E-flat major (the relative key) or A-flat major (the submediant key). The movement opens with the solo piano and the opening is marked with detailed pedaling instructions.
- Rondo. Allegro The finale is in sonata rondo form, and has a joyful and gracious theme, perfect for the closure of the opera. It begins in C minor with an agitated theme played only by the piano. The movement ends with a C major coda marked presto.