Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op. 56, more commonly known as the Triple Concerto: Nicholas Angelich – piano, Gil Shaham – violin, Anne Gastinel – cello. hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) conducted by Paavo Järvi. Alte Oper Frankfurt, March 6, 2015.
There are relatively few concertos among the works of Beethoven and they all date from the period 1790-1815. The “Triple Concerto” was composed by the German composer in 1803 and later published in 1804 under Breitkopf & Härtel(1). The work remained unperformed for five years, until its outing at a summer music festival in Vienna in 1808.
The concerto is divided into three movements:
- Allegro The forces are both unusual and formidable, and the scale of the triple concerto is correspondingly grand. The first movement has over 530 bars (nearly half of them in C major), and the third is virtually as substantial, with just under 500 bars. The opening of the Allegro is spectacularly quiet and unobtrusive: six bars’ worth of cello and double bass provide the material for a vast paragraph before the cello, violin and piano appear successively in a tonic-dominant-tonic order respectively. The lion’s share of the development is initiated by the string soloists, the piano behaving obediently and without undue pomp. The technical problems of balance between resources (violin, cello, piano, orchestra) are solved here by an unusual paucity of chordal writing for the piano. The chords actually played by the piano can almost be counted on the fingers of two hands. There is much liberal use of unison semiquavers, or thirds, sixths and tenths, sometimes at the double or triple octave placed above or below the strings so as not to hinder their own tessitura. The very first entry is in octaves only (as is also the case in the two following movements) with only a little arpeggio work, and some thirds in broken octaves when the piano is flexing its muscles. Some of the stormiest passages contain triplet arpeggios in contrary motion, but the rest is virtually all two-part polyphony, in scale passages, or arpeggio work plus some discreet quasi Alberti-bass activity by way of varying the texture. The Violin and Cello Sonatas display similar restraint in their allegro movements, the texture being largely a two-part affair. In place of the usual cadenza just alter the recapitulation comes an animated dialogue between the piano trio members with unobtrusive support from the orchestra, and the movement closes with a brief coda. A similar formula is proposed in the third movement.
- Largo (attacca) The slow movement (Largo) is in the key of the flattened submediant (C-A flat-C), a relationship also encountered in the First Piano Concerto and the Emperor (E flat-B-E flat). The thematic material is presented shortly after the opening by the cello (playing in such a high register that it constitutes the soprano voice of the texture) accompanied by muted strings, while the piano joins in much later and provides extremely delicate and remarkably discreet unison arpeggio figuration most of the time. There is not a single chord in the entire movement, only four bars of broken chord patterns.
- Rondo alla polacca The lively Polacca theme is entrusted to the cello, playing on the treble stave and the accompaniment is provided by the strings at a lower pitch, exactly as in the largo. The piano is content to play in octaves, just as in the two previous movements. The rest is a model of clarity, with no more than three or four bars of cadential punctuation.
In addition to the violin, cello, and piano soloists, the concerto is scored for one flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. The flute, oboes, trumpets, and timpani are tacet during the second movement.
- Breitkopf & Härtel is the world’s oldest music publishing house. The firm was founded in 1719 in Leipzig by Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf.
The catalogue currently contains over 1,000 composers, 8,000 works and 15,000 music editions or books on music. The name “Härtel” was added when Gottfried Christoph Härtel took over the company in 1795. In 1807, Härtel began to manufacture pianos, an endeavour which lasted until 1870. The Breitkopf pianos were highly esteemed in the 19th century by pianists like Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. The company has consistently supported contemporary composers and had close editorial collaboration with Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner and Brahms. They also published the first complete works edition of Mozart, the so-called Alte Mozart-Ausgabe. This tradition continues today with prominent contemporary composers.