“Emperor” – Beethoven’s Last Piano Concerto

Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat major, op. 73, “Emperor” begins and ends much like Beethoven lived his life—brilliant, passionate, with a grand entrance and thrilling exit.

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1803 (by Christian Hornemann)

In 1809, Beethoven was ready to leave Vienna, but Archduke Rudolph and the Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky pooled their financial resources together to convince him to remain. They further seduced him with a promise to make him Chief among the musicians—Kapellmeister at Kassel. This post of chapel master included directing the music in the royal chapel as well as in the palace concert hall, theatre and ballroom. The position and annuity allowed Beethoven’s genius to flourish and finish his piano concerto, as well as his piano sonata, Les Adieux.

When Napoleon invaded Vienna a second time in May of 1809, the composer was forced to deal with a reduction in funds due to heavy taxes, but more important, the loss of time with which to compose. Beethoven managed to finish the concerto toward the end of summer. The French bombardment also inconvenienced the premiere of the concerto until November of 1810 in Leipzig. This opening was the first and only one of his concertos that was not premiered by the composer himself.

The name, “Emperor,” was not original to the work and there is a bit of scrutiny as to why he added this later. The concerto, however, was dedicated to his patron, student and friend, the Archduke, as were several of his other works.

An atmosphere of heroism is detected throughout the piece.

In the first movement, “Allegro,” the piano makes an immediate and jubilant entrance with a cadenza (a virtuosic solo section of a piece used to display the performer’s technique). While the orchestration has its intense moments in the conversation, the piano steps in as if to add: “Ah, but did you hear…” and calms the mood before migrating into a giddy, while at the same time, contemplative dialogue.

The second movement, “Adagio un poco mosso,” is, I admit, my favorite. Here is where the composer has stepped back to relax. He has designed a reflective, hymn-like air, and when the piano speaks, those moments are peaceful and calming. The orchestra stops to listen, then hums along, adding a little to the piano’s speech.

The third movement, “Rondo: Allegro,” jumps into its previous joyful mood. The piano, like an old friend, returns with the orchestra, and together they march forward toward their rousing and magnificent exit.

Another splendid work by a master composer.

Tell us, do you have a favorite work of Beethoven?

Upcoming Performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto:
Dec. 3 – 5, 2010

with Nicholas Angelich
Los Angeles Philharmonic

April 14 – 16, 2011
with Jonathan Biss
Boston Symphony Orchestra

April 28 – 30, 2011
with Jonathan Biss
San Francisco Symphony

Upcoming Performances:
Dec. 2 – 4, 2010

Harbison: Symphony no. 2
Mozart: Violin Concerto no. 3 in G
with Nikolaj Znaider
Schumann: Symphony no. 2
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Dec. 2, 4 & 7, 2010
Beethoven: Symphony no. 2
Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn
with Soprano Dorothea Roschmann
Tenor Ian Bostridge
New York Philharmonic

Dec. 2 – 4, 2010
Smetana: Hakon Jarl
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto no. 5
with Garrick Ohlsson
Respighi: The Fountains of Rome & Roman Festivals
The Philadelphia Orchestra

Dec. 2 – 4, 2010
John Adams: El Nino
with Sopranos Dawn Upshaw & Jessica Rivera
Mezzo-Soprano Michelle DeYoung
Countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings & Steven Rickards
Bass Baritone Jonathan Lemalu
San Francisco Symphony

Dec. 2 – 4, 2010
Tavener: Popule Meus
Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D minor, op. 44
Elgar: Concerto for Cello in E minor, op. 85
with Steven Isserlis
Bach: Suite for Orchestra no. 3 in D major
Nashville Symphony

Dec. 2 – 4, 2010
Schoenberg: Transfigured Night
Janacek: Glagolitic Mass
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Dec. 2 – 4, 2010
Beethoven: Egmont Overture
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 2
with Louis Lortie
Liszt: Les Preludes
Strauss: Don Juan
National Symphony Orchestra

Dec. 3 – 5, 2010
Verdi: Requiem
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

This entry was posted in Composers, Concert Schedule and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *