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8.553266 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major, Op. 58
Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 "Emperor Concerto"

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 young 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 Abbe 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 w hat seems to have been the first performance of the concerto in 1795, followed by further revision.

There were more extreme misjudgements of planning in the concert in 1808 at which the Piano Concerto in G was first played. The Burgtheater had been engaged for an important charity concert on the same evening, so that Beethoven made use once more of the suburban Theater-an-der-Wien, that had opened in 1801 under the management of Emanuel Schikaneder, author of The Magic Flute. Here the audience was obliged to sit in a bitterly cold auditorium - the month was December - from half-past six until half-past ten, and that at a time in the history of music when the patience of audiences had not yet been tried by the Gargantuan works of later nineteenth century symphonists. The programme included the Pastoral Symphony, an Italian scena, shivered through by a cold soprano, the Gloria from the Mass in C, the new piano concerto, the Fifth Symphony (described by a member of the audience as very elaborate and too long), the Sanctus from the Mass, a Fantasy for solo piano and the Choral Fantasia. The last item, as under-rehearsed as much of the rest of the programme, brought catastrophic confusion.

Johann Friedrich Reichardt, former Kapellmeister to Frederick the Great, whose opinion of the Fifth Symphony has already been quoted, described the piano concerto as terribly difficult, but allowed that Beethoven played astonishingly well, in the fastest possible tempi, praising in particular the singing tone that the composer elicited from the piano in the slow movement.

The concerto opens, contrary to the general practice of the time, with a brief statement of part of the first subject by the soloist. The orchestral exposition follows, after which the soloist is heard again, in a more elaborate role, which is maintained in a movement of imposing conception. The relatively short E minor slow movement, in which Liszt imagined Orpheus taming the Furies by this music, has all that deep serenity that Beethoven knew so well how to conjure. A brief introduction by the strings leads to the entry of the soloist, a pattern that is then repeated. The movement is scored only for piano and strings. The second movement is linked to the third by a brief passage of singular poignancy, allowing the discreet entry of the orchestra in the final rondo, quickly dispelling the previous mood with a principal theme of cunning harmonic originality. There are episodes of a more serious cast to come in a movement in which traditional optimism finally prevails.

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 thirty-nine 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 a1ready been suggested indirectly in the first movement, is introduced by the strings, with a theme of characteristic 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.

Stefan Vladar
The Austrian pianist Stefan Vladar was born in 1965 and started piano lessons at the age of six. From 1973 he studied at the Vienna University for Music and Arts with Renate Kramer-Preisenhammer and Hans Petermandl. After winning a number of awards in piano competitions in Austria, including the first prize in the Rudolf Heydner Piano Competition, he took the first prize in the 1985 Vienna International Beethoven Competition, the youngest of the 140 competitors.

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.

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Barry Wordsworth
Barry Wordsworth's career has been dominated by his work for the Royal Ballet which started when he played the solo part in Frank Martin's Harpsichord Concerto, a score used by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for his ballet, Las Hermanas. In 1973 he became Assistant Conductor of the Royal Ballet's Touring Orchestra and in 1974 Principal Conductor of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet.

In 1987 while retaining his connection with both Royal Ballet companies as guest conductor, Barry Wordsworth also worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC Concert and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. For the Naxos label Wordsworth has recorded a number of Mozart and Haydn symphonies, works by Smetana and Dvoř├ík and for the Marco Polo label works by Bax.

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