Accompanied by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), award-winning Polish-Swiss concert pianist Krystian Zimerman performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, popularly known as the “Emperor” concerto. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein. Recorded at the Musikverein, Große Saal, Vienna in September 1989.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, also known as the “Emperor” Concerto, is one of the composer’s most famous and beloved works. It was composed between 1809 and 1811, during a period in which Beethoven was also working on his Sixth and Seventh symphonies.
The concerto was premiered on 28 November 1811 in Leipzig, with the German pianist, composer, organist, and conductor Friedrich Schneider (1786-1853) as the soloist and the German composer and conductor Johann Philipp Christian Schulz (1773-1827) conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
It is uncertain how the nickname “Emperor” for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 came about, but it may have been coined by Johann Baptist Cramer, the concerto’s English publisher who might think the majestic nature of the piece evoked the image of an emperor.
Despite its moniker, the concerto has no connection to any emperor, and according to experts Donald Tovey and Betsy Schwarm, Beethoven would have disapproved of the association due to his opposition to Napoleon’s conquest. Despite this, the concerto remained a popular choice among pianists, including Franz Liszt who frequently included it in his performances. Since 1912, the concerto has been recorded numerous times by classical pianists.
The concerto is written for solo piano and orchestra, and is in three movements:
- Allegro: This movement begins with a grand, majestic theme played by the orchestra, which is then taken up by the piano. The movement features a number of virtuosic passages for the soloist, as well as some beautiful lyrical moments. 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 Symphony No. 3.
- Adagio un poco mosso: The second movement is a slow and introspective one, featuring a simple, but hauntingly beautiful melody that is passed back and forth between the piano and orchestra. It starts with a silent presentation by the string instruments of an expressive theme, of great openness, and is followed by the piano with an extraordinarily melodic segment.
- Rondo. Allegro ma non-troppo. The finale of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 is a lively and energetic rondo, with a catchy main theme that is passed between the piano and orchestra. The movement features a number of playful exchanges between the soloist and the orchestra, as well as some brilliant virtuosic passages for the piano. It is a seven-part rondo form (ABACABA), in which the solo piano introduces the main theme, followed by the affirmation of the orchestra. The B-section begins with piano scales and is followed by another response from the orchestra. The C-section is the longest and presents the A-section theme in three different keys before the piano delivers a series of arpeggios. Instead of a strong entrance from the orchestra, the trill ending the cadenza gradually fades away until the introductory theme returns, first played by the piano and then the orchestra. The final section features variations on the theme before the concerto concludes with a short cadenza and a robust orchestral response.
- Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven) on Wikipedia
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