ierre-Laurent Aimard performs Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (Pierre-Laurent Aimard)

Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), French classical pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, popularly known as the “Emperor Concerto”. Conductor: David Afkham. Recorded at Alte Oper Frankfurt on 3 February 2017. Published by the hr-Sinfonieorchester channel.

Beethoven wrote this concerto, which is his last piano concerto between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, dedicated it to Archduke Rudolf (8 January 1788 – 24 July 1831, a Cardinal, an Archbishop of Olmütz, and a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine), his patron and pupil.

The concerto is scored for a solo piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B-flat (clarinet I playing clarinet in A in movement 2; flute II, clarinet II, both trumpets, and timpani are tacet during this movement), two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani in E-flat and B-flat, and strings.

There are three movements:

  1. Allegro in E-flat major Despite its use of simple chords, including a second theme constructed almost entirely out of tonic and dominant notes and chords, the first movement is full of complex thematic transformations. When the piano enters with the first theme, the expository material is repeated with variations, virtuoso figurations, and modified harmonies. The second theme enters in the unusual key of B minor before moving to B major and at last to the expected key of B-flat major several bars later. Following the opening flourish, the movement follows Beethoven’s trademark three-theme sonata structure for a concerto. The orchestral exposition is a typical two-theme sonata exposition, but the second exposition with the piano has a triumphant virtuoso third theme at the end that belongs solely to the solo instrument (Beethoven does this in many of his concertos). The coda at the end of the movement is quite long, and, again typical of Beethoven, uses the open-ended first theme and gives it closure to create a satisfying conclusion.
  2. Adagio un poco mosso in B major The second movement in B major is calmly paced and delicate, being a standard contrast to the first movement. It moves into the third movement without interruption when a lone bassoon note B drops a semitone to B-flat, the dominant note to the tonic key E-flat.
  3. Rondo. Allegro ma non troppo in E-flat major The final movement of the concerto is a seven-part rondo form (ABACABA), a typical concerto finale form. The piano begins the movement by playing its main theme, then followed by the full orchestra. The rondo’s B-section begins with piano scales, before the orchestra again responds. The C-section is much longer, presenting the theme from the A-section in three different keys before the piano performs a cadenza. Rather than finishing with a strong entrance from the orchestra, however, the trill ending the cadenza dies away until the introductory theme reappears, played first by the piano and then the orchestra. In the last section, the theme undergoes variation before the concerto ends with a short cadenza and robust orchestral response.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (born 9 September 1957) is a French pianist. He was born in Lyon, where he entered the conservatory. Later he studied with Yvonne Loriod and with Maria Curcio.

In 1973, he was awarded the chamber music prize of the Paris Conservatoire. In the same year, he won the first prize at the international Olivier Messiaen Competition. In 1977, at the invitation of Pierre Boulez, he became a founding member of the Ensemble InterContemporain. He made his American debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of twenty, performing the piano solo part in Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie.

Aimard is particularly committed to contemporary music. He was the soloist in several premieres of works such as Répons by Pierre Boulez, Klavierstück XIV by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the eleventh and thirteenth piano études of György Ligeti. One of his most notable recordings is that of the first two books of Ligeti’s piano études. He has also performed the work of contemporary composers such as George Benjamin and Marco Stroppa. In May 2012, he premiered Tristan Murail’s piano concerto Le Désenchantement du Monde.

In addition to his work with contemporary music, Aimard has recorded the five Beethoven piano concertos with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, at the invitation of Harnoncourt. Aimard has recorded for the Sony Classical and Teldec labels. In August 2007, he signed a new recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

In 2009, Aimard became the Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in England, for an initial contract of 3 years. Aimard is a visiting professor and an Honorary Member (2006) of the Royal Academy of Music. He appears in the 2007 film Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037.

Aimard was featured recording Bach’s The Art of Fugue in the 2009 award-winning German-Austrian documentary Pianomania, about Steinway & Sons’ piano technician Stefan Knüpfer, which was directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis. The film premiered theatrically in North America, where it was met with positive reviews by The New York Times, as well as in Asia and throughout Europe, and is a part of the Goethe-Institut catalogue.