Accompanied by the Hochschule für Musik FRANZ LISZT Weimar (the Orchestra of the Liszt University), the Romanian classical pianist Alina Bercu performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, popularly known as the “Emperor”. Conductor: Nicolás Pasquet. Recorded at the Weimarhalle, Weimar on November 16, 2017.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor”
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, also known as the “Emperor Concerto,” is one of his most famous and widely performed works for piano and orchestra. It was composed between 1809 and 1811 and premiered on November 28, 1811, in Leipzig with the German pianist, composer, organist, and conductor Friedrich Schneider (1786-1853) as soloist, and the German pianist and composer Johann Philipp Christian Schulz (1773-1827) conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Beethoven, usually the soloist, could not perform due to declining hearing.
The popular name of the concerto, the “Emperor” dates from Beethoven’s time but was not given by Beethoven himself. Since the composer had little regard for emperors, he would be unlikely to name one of his own works for a class of people he disliked. While the evidence is not clear, it seems that the name was given by a close friend of Beethoven, the German composer Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858).
The “Emperor Concerto” is widely regarded as one of Beethoven’s greatest masterpieces and a pinnacle of the piano concerto repertoire. Its grandeur, technical demands, and emotional depth have made it a favorite of pianists and audiences alike for over two centuries.
There are three movements, with start times in the video:
- 0:00 Allego
- 20:45 Adagio un poco mosso
- 28:02 Rondo. Allegro
The first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 is constructed like a sonata and starts with a cadence of the piano, suggesting man’s heroism. Only later, the orchestra presents the first theme.
After the introduction of the second theme, a dialogue is built between the orchestra and the piano regarding the presented themes. The ending of the first movement renders the atmosphere given by the powerful rhythms and the ample sonorities of the ending of the first allegro in the composer’s Symphony No. 3.
2. Adagio un poco mosso
In the “Emperor Concerto,” the second movement creates a serene and peaceful nocturne-like atmosphere with the solo piano, muted strings, and wind instruments engaging in a dialogue. This movement briefly modulates to D major, which is a distant key from the concerto’s home key of E-flat major.
The third movement seamlessly follows the second movement, with a lone bassoon note dropping a semitone from B to B-flat, signaling the transition to the final movement in the E-flat major. Beethoven employs B major as an unexpected key to create sudden and dramatic changes in tonality, which ultimately resolves to B-flat in the transition to the last movement.
3. Rondo. Allegro
The finale of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 starts just before the end of the second part when the piano tunes the sounds of an arpeggio which will generate the theme of the rondo, so powerfully rendered by the solo instrument.
Similar to the Appassionata Sonata and the Violin Concerto, the score for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 uses “attacca” notation to indicate little to no break between movements that don’t end with complete closure. The final movement of the concerto follows a seven-part rondo form (ABACABA), with the solo piano introducing the main theme before the orchestra affirms the soloist’s statement.
During the B-section of the rondo, the piano performs a series of scales before the orchestra responds once again. The C-section is much longer and features the theme from the A-section in three different keys before the piano performs a passage of arpeggios. Rather than ending with a strong entrance from the orchestra, the cadenza concludes with a trill that fades away until the introductory theme reappears, first played by the piano and then the orchestra.
In the last section, the theme undergoes variation before the concerto concludes with a short cadenza and robust orchestral response. Overall, the final movement of the “Emperor Concerto” is a dazzling display of virtuosity and musical prowess, showcasing Beethoven’s innovative approach to form and his ability to create thrilling and emotionally resonant musical experiences.
- Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven) on Wikipedia
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