Accompanied by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia (Galicia Symphony Orchestra), Italian classical pianist Maurizio Pollini plays Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, the “Emperor”. Conductor: Daniele Pollini, the son of the pianist himself. Recorded live at the Palacio de la Ópera de A Coruña on November 14, 2014.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”
Beethoven wrote this concerto, which is his last piano concerto between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, and 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.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, often referred to as the “Emperor” Concerto, stands as a monumental work in the piano concerto repertoire. Composed between 1809 and 1811, during a tumultuous period marked by the Napoleonic Wars, this concerto was Beethoven’s last and is celebrated for its grandeur, boldness, and innovative approach.
The title “Emperor” was not given by Beethoven himself but was likely coined by Johann Baptist Cramer, an English publisher. Beethoven, living in Vienna at the time of its composition, was experiencing the invasion of the city by Napoleon’s forces, which profoundly impacted his life and work. Despite these challenges, the concerto exudes a sense of triumph and majesty, departing from the more intimate style of his earlier concertos.
The “Emperor” Concerto was a pioneering work in several respects. It further blurred the lines between soloist and orchestra, a trend Beethoven had been developing in his previous concertos. The concerto is known for its demanding technical requirements, requiring a high level of virtuosity from the soloist. It also expands the traditional structure and scope of the concerto form, featuring a broad, sweeping first movement, a lyrical second movement, and a vigorous, rhythmically complex final movement.
The premiere of the concerto took place in Leipzig in 1811, with the pianist Friedrich Schneider as the soloist, as Beethoven’s worsening deafness prevented him from performing it himself. The concerto was initially met with mixed reviews, with some critics overwhelmed by its scale and complexity. However, it has since become one of the most admired concertos in the piano repertoire, celebrated for its dramatic power, lyrical beauty, and the innovative way it showcases the piano’s capabilities.
The “Emperor” Concerto is a testament to Beethoven’s resilience and creative vision, reflecting both the personal struggles and the broader historical context of its creation. It remains a favorite among pianists and audiences alike, often performed in concert halls worldwide due to its emotional depth and technical brilliance.
There are three movements, with the starting times in the video:
- Allegro (0:35)
- Adagio un poco mosso (21:00)
- Rondo. Allegro (28:53)
The first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” is notable for its grandeur and innovative structure. Marked as “Allegro,” it opens in a unique and dramatic fashion, breaking from traditional concerto form. Instead of the typical orchestral exposition, the movement begins with a powerful and brief cadenza-like flourish from the piano, followed by a bold statement from the orchestra. This introduction sets the tone for the entire movement, characterized by a dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.
The movement is in a modified sonata form, which was typical of concertos at the time. However, Beethoven expands and transforms this structure in innovative ways. The development section is particularly notable for its complexity and length, featuring a rich exploration of themes and a display of virtuosity from the solo piano.
Throughout the movement, Beethoven employs a wide range of dynamics, articulations, and textures. The orchestration is robust, providing a lush backdrop against which the piano weaves intricate melodies and dramatic passages. The interplay between the piano and the orchestra is a key feature, with the piano often leading with thematic material that the orchestra then responds to and develops.
The movement is also remarkable for its lyrical themes, contrasted with more forceful, rhythmic sections. This juxtaposition creates a dynamic and emotionally charged atmosphere. The themes are memorable and are developed extensively throughout the movement, showcasing Beethoven’s mastery of thematic development.
The cadenza, typically an improvised or pre-composed solo passage in a concerto, is another highlight of the first movement. Beethoven wrote out the cadenza for this concerto, a practice he started with his fourth piano concerto. This written cadenza allows for a high level of integration with the thematic material of the movement, providing a cohesive and unified structure.
Concluding with a powerful and triumphant finale, the first movement of the “Emperor” Concerto is a brilliant display of Beethoven’s compositional skill. It combines technical brilliance, emotional depth, and innovative structuring, making it one of the most celebrated movements in the concerto repertoire.
2. Adagio un poco mosso
The second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” is a striking contrast to the first movement’s grandeur and dynamism. This movement, marked “Adagio un poco mosso,” is imbued with a serene, lyrical quality that showcases Beethoven’s profound expressiveness and depth of emotion.
Characterized by its gentle, introspective nature, the movement opens with soft, sustained chords in the strings, creating a calm and meditative atmosphere. The piano enters delicately, introducing a tender and melodic theme. This theme is one of sublime beauty, reflecting a sense of tranquility and introspection.
The interplay between the orchestra and the piano is more subdued in this movement, with the orchestra providing a soft, cushioned backdrop that allows the piano’s lyrical line to shine. The orchestration is sparse compared to the exuberant first movement, focusing more on creating a warm, intimate setting. The strings, in particular, play a crucial role in setting the mood, with their sustained, gentle accompaniment.
Throughout the movement, there is a sense of flowing, uninterrupted melody, almost akin to a peaceful reverie. The piano part, while not as technically demanding as in the other movements, requires a high level of expressiveness and control. The soloist must convey the nuances of the melody, bringing out its singing quality and emotional depth.
The movement is relatively short and serves as a bridge between the energetic first movement and the vigorous finale. It ends quietly, leading seamlessly into the third movement without a pause. This direct linkage to the final movement was a relatively novel approach at the time, further demonstrating Beethoven’s innovative spirit.
The second movement of the “Emperor” Concerto is often praised for its exquisite beauty and emotional depth. It stands as a testament to Beethoven’s ability to express a wide range of emotions within a single work, moving from the powerful and triumphant to the tender and introspective with masterful ease.
3. Rondo. Allegro
The third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” is a lively and spirited conclusion to the concerto. Marked “Rondo: Allegro,” this movement is characterized by its rhythmic vitality, joyful energy, and brilliant interplay between the piano and the orchestra.
The movement opens with the orchestra introducing the main rondo theme, a buoyant and catchy melody that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The piano soon enters, taking up the theme and adding its own flair and virtuosity. The rondo form, in which a principal theme alternates with contrasting episodes, allows for a playful and dynamic structure. Beethoven employs this form to great effect, creating a sense of forward momentum and continual development throughout the movement.
The piano part in this movement is particularly demanding, featuring rapid passages, intricate fingerwork, and bold, decisive playing. The soloist is given numerous opportunities to showcase their technical prowess and interpretative skills, with passages that demand both agility and expressive nuance.
Throughout the movement, Beethoven weaves together the rondo theme with contrasting episodes that vary in mood and character. These episodes include lyrical passages, dramatic flourishes, and moments of introspection, providing a rich tapestry of musical ideas. The orchestra complements and interacts with the piano, sometimes echoing the soloist’s themes, at other times providing a contrasting backdrop.
The joyful and exuberant nature of this movement is maintained throughout, culminating in a triumphant and exhilarating finale. The closing section features a culmination of the movement’s themes, with the piano and orchestra joining forces for a grandiose and jubilant conclusion.
The third movement of the “Emperor” Concerto exemplifies Beethoven’s ability to blend technical brilliance with expressive depth. It provides a fitting and uplifting end to the concerto, balancing the majestic grandeur of the first movement and the serene beauty of the second with its own vibrant and lively spirit. This movement, like the rest of the concerto, is a testament to Beethoven’s innovative approach to the concerto form and his mastery of musical expression.
Daniele Pollini was born in 1978. He made his debut as a pianist at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro in the summer of 1997. He also participated in the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhr Piano Festival and made his successful debut in Paris and in the United States.
He has appeared as a soloist with the Orchestra Regionale Toscana, with the Orchestra of the Musical Afternoons, and with the National Radio Symphony Orchestra In 2003 he performed at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the Zubin Mehta, and in 2004 he gave a concert at the Venice Biennale.
His interests also extend to electronic music. His training as a director is linked to the Accademia Musicale Chigiana conducting courses, taught by Gianluigi Gelmetti. In 2002 he made his debut at the Ravenna Festival with the RAI Symphony Orchestra, with a program including the IV and VII Symphony by Beethoven.
His repertoire ranges from classical and romantic authors to contemporary composers.
Maurizio Pollini was born in Milan in 1942 to the Italian rationalist architect Gino Pollini, who is said to have been the first to bring Modernist architecture to Italy in the 1930s. Pollini studied piano first with Carlo Lonati, until the age of 13, then with Carlo Vidusso, until he was 18. He received a diploma from the Milan Conservatory and won both the International Ettore Pozzoli Piano Competition in Seregno (Italy) in 1959 and the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960.
Arthur Rubinstein, who led the jury, declared Pollini the winner of the competition, allegedly saying: “That boy can play the piano better than any of us”. Soon afterward, for EMI he recorded Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the Polish conductor Paul Kletzki and taped performances of Chopin’s etudes. When Philharmonia offered Pollini a series of concerts, he experienced what EMI producer Peter Andry has called “an apparent crisis of confidence”.
After this, he studied with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, from whom he is said to have acquired “a precise technique and emotional restraint”, although some have expressed a concern that Michelangeli’s influence resulted in Pollini’s playing becoming “mannered and cold”. During the early 1960s, Pollini limited his concertizing, preferring to spend these years studying by himself and expanding his repertoire.
Since the mid-1960s, he has given recitals and appeared with major orchestras in Europe, the United States, and the Far East. He made his American debut in 1968 and his first tour of Japan in 1974.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Pollini was a left-wing political activist. He collaborated with Luigi Nono in such works as Como una ola fuerza y luz (1972), which was to mourn the assassination of Luciano Cruz, a leader of the Chilean Revolutionary Front. He performed with Claudio Abbado at La Scala in a cycle of concerts for students and workers, in an attempt to build a new public as they believed that art should be for everybody.
In 1985, on the occasion of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s tricentenary, he performed the complete first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier. In 1987 he played the complete piano concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven in New York with the Vienna Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado and received on this occasion the orchestra’s Honorary Ring. In 1993-94 he played his first complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycles in Berlin and Munich and later also in New York, Milan, Paris, London, and Vienna.
At the Salzburg Festival in 1995, he inaugurated the “Progetto Pollini”, a series of concerts in which old and new works are juxtaposed. An analogous series took place at Carnegie Hall in 2000-01 with “Perspectives: Maurizio Pollini” and at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2010-11 with the “Pollini Project”, a series of five concerts with programs ranging from Bach to Stockhausen.
In March 2012 it was announced that Pollini had cancelled all his forthcoming appearances in the USA for health reasons.
In 2014, Pollini played on a tour including the Salzburg Festival and his debut at the Rheingau Musik Festival, playing in the Kurhaus Wiesbaden Chopin’s Preludes (Op. 28) and Book 1 of Debussy’s Preludes.
Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia
Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia is a Spanish orchestra, created in 1992 and based in A Coruña, where it is the main orchestra in the city’s Mozart Festival. Its conductor is Dima Slobodeniouk.
- Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (Beethoven) on Wikipedia
- Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia on Wikipedia
- “Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto: a work ahead of its time” on the Classic FM website
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”) on the LA Philharmonic website
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