BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 5
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B Flat Major,Opus 19
Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major,Opus 73 (Emperor Concerto)
Ludwig vanBeethoven made an early reputation for himself as a keyboard player. At home he had hadirregular and forcible instruction through his inadequate father, only son of the oldCourt Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Cologne and a singer under the same patron. Theboy, who showed signs of neglect in other ways and who certainly failed to distinguishhimself at school, had obvious musical talent, and this was ultimately to be fostered bylessons with the then court organist in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, whose deputy hebecame. In 1787 Beethoven set out for Vienna, with the support of the Archbishop, ayounger son of the Empress, a young nobleman who had been prevented from an intendedmilitary career by a certain weakness in the knees that proved no barrier toecclesiastical promotion. Beethoven had hoped to study with Mozart, but the illness of hismother led to his immediate return, his aim apparently unaccomplished.
By 1791,the year of Mozart's death, Beethoven had already shown considerable proficiency as aperformer on the newly developing pianoforte, a fact of which there is independentevidence 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 unusualdelicacy that immediately influenced his own style, and was given a chance to demonstratehis own virtuosity and his amazing powers of improvisation. By the end of the followingyear he was once again in Vienna, seeking lessons from Haydn, to be followed byinstruction from the Court Composer Salieri and from AIbrechtsberger.
Beethovenarrived 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 theArchbishop, proved immensely helpful, both in instigating the journey and in providingimmediate access to a circle of connoisseurs in Vienna. It was not long before Beethovenestablished himself as a performer of remarkable imagination and skill, a reputation thatwas to fade with the onset of deafness at the turn of the century, and a consequentabandonment of public performance and partial isolation from society.
At the ageof fourteen Beethoven had attempted his first piano concerto, a work that now survivesonly in a piano score. The concerto that was to be known as his second piano concerto wasprobably 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 byfurther revision.
The B Flat Piano Concerto is scored for a relativelymodest orchestra of flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns and strings. In its generalcharacteristics the work shows clearly enough Beethoven's debt to Mozart, although thereare obvious signs of his own very idiosyncratic style, as the work unfolds. The openingAllegro con brio allows the full orchestra to summon our attention with a figure that thestrings then answer more suavely, as the first subject unfolds, leading to a subtle andunexpected shift of key in continuation of the orchestral exposition. The soloist enterswith material of his own and leads the way to a second subject. The material isdramatically developed in a central section and subtly varied in a final recapitulation.
Theorchestra starts the slow movement with music well designed to show off the soloist'sability in eliciting a singing tone from the piano, an achievement for which Beethoven waswell known, and offers further opportunity for delicate display as the movement continues.
This is followed by a final Rondo, into which the soloist launches with happy energy,before the orchestra takes its turn. Contrasting episodes provide the necessary element ofdramatic contrast in a movement that ends with the kind of dynamic surprise that was to berepeated on other occasions, a whisper of sound followed immediately by a brief andemphatic conclusion.
The last ofBeethoven'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 andmartial, a sign of the times. In May, 1809, Vienna was once again under attack from theforces of Napoleon. Haydn, now some years in retirement in the city, was to die at the endof the month, while most of the leading families, including the imperial family, had takenrefuge elsewhere. In October there came what Beethoven was to describe as a "deadpeace", but the year was altogether an unsettled one. During the French bombardmentBeethoven had sheltered in the cellar of his unreliable brother Carl Caspar, covering hishead with a pillow against the noise of the cannons, On 12th May, however, the citysurrendered, the French occupation bringing with it hardship to householders, from whom alevy was exacted, coupled with a continued shortage of money and food.
It was inthese circumstances that Beethoven, now 39 and increasingly deaf, worked on his new pianoconcerto, while spending part of the summer collecting material from various text-booksfor the instruction of his royal patron Archduke Rudolph. The work was probably completedin 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. Theconcerto was later to be played in Vienna by Carl Czerny.
The Concerto in E Flat Major, Opus 73, dedicated toArchduke Rudolph, has been described by Alfred Einstein as "the apotheosis of themilitary concept" in the music of Beethoven, a reference to popular expectations atthe time. The martial element in the work suggests comparison with the >Eroica Symphony of 1803, a work that Beethovenconducted at a charity concert during the French occupation of Vienna in 1809.
Theconcerto opens with an impressively triumphant piano cadenza, an indication of the scaleof what is to come. This is followed by the orchestral announcement of the principaltheme, one of the expectedly strong character, to be miraculously extended by the soloistin a movement of imperial proportions.
The slowmovement, in B Major, an unexpected key that has already been suggested indirectly in thefirst movement, is introduced by the strings, with a theme of characteristic beauty thatis only later to re-appear in a version by the soloist. It is the latter who hints at whatis to come, before launching into the final rondo, music of characteristic ebullience andnecessary contrast, providing a brilliant conclusion of sufficient proportion to sustainwhat has gone before.
TheAustrian pianist Stefan Vladar was born in 1965 and started piano lessons at the age ofsix. From 1973 he studied at the Vienna University for Music and Arts with RenateKramer-Preisenhammer and Hans Petermandl. After winning a number of awards in pianocompetitions in Austria, including the first prize in the Rudolf Heydner PianoCompetition, he took the first prize in the 1985 International Beethoven Competition, theyoungest of the 140 competitors.
StefanVladar's subsequent career has brought him a busy schedule of engagements, withperformances throughout Europe and appearances in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, aswell as in the United States of America.
|Piano Concerto No. 2, B flat major, Op. 19|
||I. Allegro con brio
||III. Rondo: Molto allegro
||Andante un poco mosso
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