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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major "Emperor", Op. 73


One of my favorite piano concertos besides those of Rachmaninoff, of course, would have to be Beethoven's Fifth and final piano concerto. Aptly titled the "Emperor" concerto, the work, almost 40 minutes long, is grand and almost symphonic in scale. As is the case with the "Moonlight Sonata" for piano and the "Spring Sonata" for violin and piano, the nickname is not that of Beethoven, but it still seems to fit quite well for the piece.

The composition dates mainly from early 1809. It came right on the heels of another large-scale work that Beethoven composed for piano and orchestra, the Choral Fantasy. The concerto is in the key of E flat, a key that Beethoven returned to over and over again. One of Beethoven's most important works, the "Eroica" Symphony is also in this key. Indeed, the concerto is not unlike the "Eroica" in its use of broad phrases to sustain large amounts of material and key shifts.

In the Fourth Piano Concerto, Beethoven dispensed with tradition and gave the opening of the concerto to the soloist. In the Fifth Piano Concerto, however, both soloist and orchestra are present at the beginning of the movement. Beethoven begins the first movement with a series of cadential passages for the piano. Before each piano cadenza, the orchestra states a chord in the progression of I-IV-V7-I, and the piano elaborately expands on these chords with a flourish. Of course, what is strange about this, is that traditionally, the cadenza would be found near the end of the first movement of the concerto. Beethoven breaks from the mold even further by not having a cadenza for the soloist at the end of the movement, but rather has a brief flourish written out for the soloist before concluding the movement. The effect of the movement is extremely powerful and heroic, just as is the "Eroica". The first movement is expansive being 20 minutes long.

The concerto shifts moods in the second movement - Adagio un poco moto. It is one of Beethoven's most beautiful movements, conjuring up sounds like that of Chopin to come. It is not a virtuosic movement, but rather a movement of simplicity and lyrical delight. The piano is underscored by sparse wind and string accompaniement. The effect is incredibly soothing and tender. The movement is in the tonic key of B major, a shift of a major third from the first movement. Beethoven employs the same major third shift in his Third Piano Concerto from C minor to E major. This shift contributes greatly to the offsetting effect of the movement.

There is no break between the second and final movements of the concerto. Rather, Beethoven employs a semitone drop from B major to B flat at the end of the second movement followed by the tentative introduction of the Rondo theme by the piano. In contrast to the stately magnificence of the opening Allegro, the Rondo takes on an exuberant form that is quite cheerful. Once again, there is no improvisatory cadenza to be found, however, Beethoven employs much cadenza-like writing for the piano. Near the end of the movement, a point of considerable calm is reached where the piano and timpani join in a sustained duet before the full orchestra returns in a quick and vigorous conclusion to the concerto.

Whereas Beethoven's first four concertos were written for his own use on the stage, Beethoven never performed this work. His withdrawal from writing concertos is undoubtedly linked to his increasing deafness and declining career as a pianist that resulted from it. The first public performance of the work is most likely that of Friedrich Schneider on 28 November 1811 at a concert in Leipzig. Carl Czerny, Beethoven's celebrated pupil, also performed the work in that year. It was published in London in 1810 and in Leipzig early in 1811. Of course, Beethoven would not have liked the moniker of "Emperor" that the concerto received with its Bonapartean connotation, but that is the name that has been passed on and that the world has come to love it as.

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Comments on "Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major "Emperor", Op. 73"

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:31 PM, August 13, 2012) : 

Why would Beethoven not have liked the moniker "Emperor" for his concerto? I would think the nickname as a compliment for the piece!

 

Blogger john gury said ... (12:33 PM, May 12, 2016) : 

This comment has been removed by the author.

 

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