Accompanied by the Wiener Philharmoniker (the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), Polish classical pianist Krystian Zimerman performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein. This performance was recorded at the Musikverein, Große Saal, Vienna, in September 1989.

Accompanied by the Wiener Philharmoniker, Krystian Zimerman performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein. This performance was recorded at the Musikverein, Große Saal, Vienna, in September 1989.

Zimerman is widely considered one of the finest living classical pianists. With the Wiener Philharmoniker, one of the world’s finest orchestras, and the great American conductor Leonard Bernstein, this performance is a treasure of classical music.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, marks a significant departure from the conventions of the classical concerto and is often celebrated as one of his most innovative and expressive works. Composed in 1805-1806, this concerto was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert in the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, with Beethoven himself as the soloist. The public premiere followed in December 1808, in a legendary concert that also included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Choral Fantasy.

The Fourth Piano Concerto is notable for its lyrical qualities, the intimate dialogue between the piano and orchestra, and its subtle departure from traditional concerto forms. Unlike the dramatic and forceful openings typical of concertos from this period, Beethoven begins with a gentle and introspective piano solo, immediately setting a tone of introspection and innovation. This opening gesture signals a new approach to the concerto form, emphasizing a more integrated and conversational relationship between the soloist and orchestra.

Throughout the concerto, Beethoven explores a wide range of emotions and textures, from the serene and contemplative to the vivacious and triumphant. The work is characterized by its lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, and intricate interplay between the piano and the orchestra. Beethoven’s writing for the piano is both virtuosic and expressive, requiring a soloist capable of both technical brilliance and deep musical sensitivity.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this concerto is the way in which Beethoven blurs the traditional boundaries between solo and ensemble, creating a sense of partnership rather than competition. The orchestra is not merely an accompaniment to the piano; rather, it engages in a dialogue with the solo instrument, contributing its own thematic material and emotional weight to the narrative.

The work is scored for solo piano and an orchestra consisting of a flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is also distinguished by its structural innovation. While adhering to the traditional three-movement format, Beethoven infuses each movement with distinctive character and developmental ingenuity, pushing the boundaries of the concerto form and influencing its evolution in the 19th century.


With start times in the video:

  1. Allegro moderato [00:00]
  2. Andante con moto [20:17]
  3. Rondo (Vivace) [26:04]

1. Allegro moderato

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, marks a significant departure from the concerto form as understood in the early 19th century, and its first movement, “Allegro moderato,” is a testament to Beethoven’s innovative spirit. Premiered in 1808, this concerto stands out for its lyrical qualities, structural innovations, and the intimate dialogue established between the solo piano and the orchestra. The opening of the first movement is revolutionary: rather than starting with the traditional orchestral exposition, Beethoven begins with a gentle, introspective piano solo, presenting the primary thematic material. This subtle beginning immediately sets the tone for a concerto that is more of a conversation than a confrontation between the soloist and the orchestra.

The thematic material introduced by the piano is then taken up and expanded by the orchestra, establishing a motif that recurs throughout the movement. The development section further explores these themes, showcasing Beethoven’s mastery of harmonic progression and thematic transformation. This section is marked by dramatic shifts in dynamics and key, creating a sense of tension and anticipation.

One of the hallmarks of this movement is the balance between the solo piano and the orchestra. Beethoven treats the piano not just as a virtuosic instrument but as an integral voice within the orchestral texture. The dialogue between the piano and the orchestra is nuanced, with the soloist sometimes leading and at other times blending into the ensemble. This interplay reflects the evolving role of the concerto soloist, moving away from mere display towards a more collaborative relationship with the orchestra.

The cadenza, typically an opportunity for the soloist to display technical prowess, is used by Beethoven to further develop the thematic material and integrate the solo piano part into the overall structure of the movement. Beethoven wrote several cadenzas for this concerto, allowing performers to choose one that best suits their interpretation of the work.

The movement concludes with a recapitulation of the main themes, followed by a coda that brings the movement to a graceful and satisfying close. The use of a coda to resolve the musical and emotional tensions of the movement is characteristic of Beethoven’s approach to form, providing a sense of closure and completeness.

2. Andante con moto

The second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, marked “Andante con moto,” is a profound dialogue between the solo piano and the orchestra, and it is often interpreted as a dramatic conversation or conflict. This movement is unique in its structure and emotional depth, standing out as one of the most distinctive in all of Beethoven’s concerto movements.

Unlike traditional concerto movements that might focus on lyrical beauty or virtuosic display, the Andante con moto delves into dramatic narrative, almost operatic in its expression. The movement opens with stark, unadorned chords from the strings, presenting a theme that is both simple and severe. These chords have been likened to stern utterances or commands, to which the piano responds with a more lyrical, pleading theme. The contrast between the sternness of the orchestra and the supplicating voice of the piano creates a powerful, almost theatrical tension.

Beethoven’s use of orchestration in this movement is masterful, with the strings often playing with a muted tone that adds to the sense of an intimate, yet intense, dialogue. The piano’s role is not just that of a soloist displaying technical skill but rather that of a protagonist in a drama, conveying a wide range of emotions through its responses to the orchestra.

The movement is relatively brief, but within its short span, Beethoven explores a remarkable depth of feeling. The dialogue between the piano and the orchestra progresses, with the piano’s lyrical lines becoming more expressive and impassioned, while the orchestra’s interventions remain firm, though not without moments of softening, suggesting a complex interplay of emotions.

The Andante con moto does not resolve its tensions in a traditional manner; instead, it concludes with a return to the solemn chords by the strings, while the piano’s final, gentle arpeggios seem to offer a sense of resigned acceptance or perhaps a tender lament. The movement then transitions seamlessly into the concerto’s final movement, leaving behind its dramatic intensity for a more jubilant conclusion.

This second movement is often seen as the emotional core of the concerto, showcasing Beethoven’s ability to convey deep and nuanced emotional narratives through instrumental music. Its innovative dialogue between soloist and orchestra would influence the development of the concerto form, demonstrating Beethoven’s enduring legacy as a composer who pushed the boundaries of musical expression.

3. Rondo (Vivace)

The third movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, marked “Rondo: Vivace,” serves as a jubilant and energetic conclusion to the concerto. This movement showcases Beethoven’s mastery of the rondo form, characterized by the return of a main theme (the refrain) interspersed with contrasting sections (episodes). The vivacity and brightness of this movement contrast sharply with the profound and introspective second movement, highlighting Beethoven’s ability to traverse a wide emotional range within a single work.

The movement begins with the piano introducing the main rondo theme, a lively and rhythmic melody that exudes cheerfulness and charm. This theme is memorable for its rhythmic vitality and melodic appeal, setting the tone for a movement full of spirited dialogue between the piano and orchestra. The orchestra soon takes up the theme, further embellishing and developing it, thereby reinforcing the collaborative spirit that pervades the concerto.

One of the hallmarks of this movement is its virtuosic piano writing. Beethoven demands a high level of technical prowess from the soloist, with passages that include rapid scales, trills, and arpeggios, all requiring precision and agility. Despite these technical demands, the movement is imbued with a sense of playfulness and joy, with the solo piano often engaging in call-and-response passages with various sections of the orchestra.

The episodes that alternate with the main rondo theme introduce new material and moods, providing contrast and variety. These sections allow Beethoven to explore different textures and harmonic areas, further enriching the movement’s musical landscape. However, it is the recurring rondo theme that unifies the movement, bringing a sense of cohesion and balance to the overall structure.

Beethoven’s use of orchestration in this movement is both effective and imaginative, with the orchestra providing a colorful and dynamic backdrop to the piano’s virtuosic display. The interplay between the soloist and the ensemble is a key feature, showcasing the composer’s skill in integrating the piano and orchestra into a coherent and compelling musical conversation.

The finale culminates in a brilliant coda, where Beethoven revisits the main theme with increased intensity and complexity. This leads to an exhilarating conclusion, with a final flourish from the piano and a robust orchestral tutti that brings the concerto to a triumphant close.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.