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8.550190 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Rondo in B-Flat Major

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major, Opus 15
Rondo in B Flat Major, WoO 6


Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in December, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, a singer in the service of the Archbishop of Cologne, and the grandson of Ludwig van Beethoven, Kapellmeister to the same patron, who died in 1773, but whose distinction lived on in the family, the possible cause of Johann van Beethoven's professional and parental inadequacy, his son finally forced to assume responsibility for his two younger brothers, a task he was to continue to discharge in a characteristically eccentric manner.

At home Beethoven had received erratic practical training in music, but was able to follow a more consistent course of study from 1781 with the court organist Neefe, whose unpaid deputy he became. In 1784 he entered the paid service of the Archbishop as deputy court organist and playing the cembalo or the viola in the court orchestra, as occasion demanded. In 1788 he was sent to Vienna, where he hoped to study with Mozart, but was recalled to Bonn by news of his mother's final illness. Four years later he went to Vienna once more, this time to study with Haydn. He remained there for the rest of his life.

Beethoven established himself in Vienna at first as a virtuoso keyboard-player, his virtuosity including improvisation at the keyboard and composition. From Albrechtsberger he took lessons in counterpoint and from the Court Composer Salieri in vocal and dramatic setting, but he claimed to find little help in his lessons from Haydn. Armed with suitable introductions, he was able to make influential friends among the aristocracy and it was with their support that he continued his career in Vienna, even when increasing deafness made performance at first difficult and eventually impossible.

It is a tribute to the discernment of Beethoven's patrons that they perceived his genius, in spite of his uncouthness and increasing eccentricities of character, in the face of which they exercised considerable restraint and generosity. In Vienna he lived through turbulent times, through the years of Napoleonic conquests and into the repressive age of Metternich. He died in March, 1827, his death the occasion for public mourning in Vienna at the passing of a long familiar figure whose like the city was not to see again.

Beethoven wrote his first piano concerto in 1784, at the age of fourteen and had attempted a violin concerto before he finally left Bonn. In Vienna he was to publish five piano concertos, the first, published as No.2, completed in a revised version in 1795 and the fifth, the so-called Emperor Concerto, published in 1811. The first decade of the century also saw the composition of the D major Violin Concerto, the Triple Concerto and the Choral Fantasia.

The Rondo in B Flat Major, WoO 6, was written some time before 1794 and was intended as the final movement of the concerto published as No.2 in 1801, but probably first sketched in Bonn. It was published after the composer's death, in 1829, the solo part completed by Carl Czerny.

The Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major was completed in 1795 and intended for the composer's own use. A revised version was published in 1801 with a dedication to Barbara von Keglevich, who that year had married Prince Odescalchi and moved to Pressburg (the modern Bratislava). Scored for an orchestra that includes clarinets, trumpets and drums, it opens with a sparkling first movement, leading to an A flat major Largo of particular beauty. Beethoven's pupil Ferdinand Ries regarded the composer's own performance of the finale as freakish, although others have recently attempted to follow the composer's private suggestion that notes should be added to the principal rondo theme to impart brilliance to it.

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