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8.550290 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Piano Sonata No. 15
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
Ludwig van Beethoven made an early reputation for himself as a keyboard player. At home he had had irregular and forcible instruction through his inadequate father, only son of the old Court Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Cologne and a singer under the same patron. The boy, who showed signs of neglect in other ways and who certainly failed to distinguish himself at school, had obvious musical talent, and this was ultimately to be fostered by lessons with the then court organist in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, whose deputy he became. In 1787 Beethoven set out for Vienna, with the support of the Archbishop, a younger son of the Empress, a nobleman who had been prevented from an intended military career by a certain weakness in the knees that proved no barrier to ecclesiastical promotion. Beethoven had hoped to study with Mozart, but the illness of his mother led to his immediate return, his aim apparently unaccomplished.
By 1791, the year of Mozart's death, Beethoven had already shown considerable proficiency as a performer on the newly developing pianoforte, a fact of which there is independent evidence in an account of a visit to Mergentheim undertaken by the Bonn court musicians. Beethoven was able to hear the playing of the Abbé Sterkel, a performance of unusual delicacy that immediately influenced his own style, and was given a chance to demonstrate his own virtuosity and his amazing powers of improvisation: By the end of the following year he was once again in Vienna, seeking lessons from Haydn, to be followed by instruction from the Court Composer Salieri and from Albrechtsberger.
Beethoven arrived in the imperial capital with useful introductions to a number of leading families. In particular Count Waldstein, a nobleman eight years his senior and a friend of the Archbishop, proved immensely helpful, both in instigating the journey and in providing immediate access to a circle of connoisseurs in Vienna. It was not long before Beethoven established himself as a performer of remarkable imagination and skill, a reputation that was to fade with the onset of deafness at the turn of the century, and a consequent abandonment of public performance and partial isolation from society.
At the age of fourteen Beethoven had attempted his first piano concerto, a work that now survives only in a piano score. The concerto that was to be known as his second piano concerto was probably started in Bonn and was to be re-written to emerge in published form in 1801, after what seems to have been the first performance of the concerto in 1795, followed by further revision.
The last of Beethoven's five piano concertos, popularly but mistakenly known as the Emperor Concerto, at least had imperial connections, and something about it that was both innovative and martial, a sign of the times. In May, 1809, Vienna was once again under attack from the forces of Napoleon. Haydn, now some years in retirement in the city, was to die at the end of the month, while most of the leading families, including the imperial family, had taken refuge elsewhere. In October there came what Beethoven was to describe as a "dead peace", but the year was altogether an unsettled one. During the French bombardment Beethoven had sheltered in the cellar of his unreliable brother Carl Caspar, covering his head with a pillow against the noise of the cannons. On 12th May, however, the city surrendered, the French occupation bringing with it hardship to householders, from whom a levy was exacted, coupled with a continued shortage of money and food.
It was in these circumstances that Beethoven, now 39 and increasingly deaf, worked on his new piano concerto, while spending part of the summer collecting material from various text-books for the instruction of his royal patron Archduke Rudolph. The work was probably completed in the following year and was given its first performance in Leipzig on 28th November, 1811, when the soloist was the Dessau pianist and organ virtuoso Friedrich Schneider. The concerto was later to be played in Vienna by Carl Czerny.
The Concerto in E Flat Major, Opus 73, dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, has been described by Alfred Einstein as "the apotheosis of the military concept" in the music of Beethoven, a reference to popular expectations at the time. The martial element in the work suggests comparison with the Eroica Symphony of 1803, a work that Beethoven conducted at a charity concert during the French occupation of Vienna in 1809.
The concerto opens with an impressively triumphant piano cadenza, an indication of the scale of what is to come. This is followed by the orchestral announcement of the principal theme, one of the expectedly strong character, to be miraculously extended by the soloist in a movement of imperial proportions.
The slow movement, in B Major, an unexpected key that has already been suggested indirectly in the first movement, is introduced by the strings, with a theme of great beauty that is only later to re-appear in aversion by the soloist. It is the latter who hints at what is to come, before launching into the final rondo, music of characteristic ebullience and necessary contrast, providing a brilliant conclusion of sufficient proportion to sustain what has gone before.
The 32 numbered piano sonatas of Beethoven provide a remarkable conspectus of his own style, ranging from the earliest, under the influence of Haydn, to whom they are dedicated, to the last, which explore a new world in their bold complexity. To those immediately following Beethoven, the sonatas, like the nine symphonies, offered both a challenge, in some ways a guide, and, at the same time, a field for varied speculation in a search for literary sources or parallels.
The so-called Pastoral Sonata, Opus 28 in D major, was completed in 1801 and published the following year, with a dedication to Monsieur Joseph Noble de Sonnenfels, former adviser to the Emperor Joseph II, a free-mason, Jewish by birth, and a leading figure in the Enlightenment from whom Beethoven might expect no particular material advantage. The title was, as so often, not Beethoven's, although the reason for it is obvious enough from the gentle opening of the first movement. Presumably a similar association of ideas led Arnold Schering to propose a literary source in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. There is a steady march in the slow movement, a scherzo and trio and a final rondo based on the rocking rhythm of its principal theme.
Stefan Vladar's subsequent career has brought him a busy schedule of engagements, with performances throughout Europe and appearances in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, as well as in the United States of America.
He is currently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano concertos for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
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