Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1

FRIDAY, February 14, 2020

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 (1795)…

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is actually the 2nd concerto he wrote. It was written in 1795, then revised in 1800.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, was published in 1801 but sketches of the finale were found to be from 1795, and since the “first symphony” was really the 2nd – it was written a bit later – it is probably useful to link Symphony No. 1 with Concerto No. 1.

He had just turned 25…

The first performance took place on 18 December 1795, which is quite interesting because his birthday was the 17th of December, so he was almost exactly 25 years old at the time.

It took six more years to be published…

It was first published in 1801 in Vienna with dedication to his pupil Princess Anna Louise Barbara Odescalchi.

There was another concerto, but it was never published…

There was an unpublished piano concerto in E-flat major of 1784. I have never heard this concerto, but if it had survived, the original conception would have dated back to when Beethoven was only 13 years old.

This concerto, really the 2nd, also sounds a lot like Haydn and Mozart…

It’s similar to the one he started at age 16, but you can hear that Beethoven’s compositional style had evolved a bit.

No trombones..

But now there are trumpets and clarinets – and timpani. The orchestration uses a flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. The clarinet part is prominent in the 2nd movement.

Three cadenzas…

There are three options for the cadenza to movement one, all different. Later composers wrote their own cadenzas and made very clear that those were supposed to be performed and no others. However, in the time of Mozart and Beethoven it was not only OK to make up your own cadenza, it was even encouraged. However, such cadenzas were not improvised on the spot. They were either written out carefully or planned meticulously and memorize.

The second movement is in Ab major…

Sources say that this key is “remote”, but this is absolutely ridiculous. Ab major to C major, using those chords, is a double morph, meaning that Ab goes down to G and Eb goes up to E natural. Beethoven was not the first to use such chromatic movements, and they are extremely logical and effective. Moving from C major to F# major would be a remote modulation, but not from C major to Ab major.

Krystian Zimerman…

He’s also conducting, which I always find impressive. His playing always seems rock solid. He almost never makes mistakes in public. He is using the standard cadenza in the 1st movement. As requested I’m trying to always link to a live performance where you can see what is happening.

Glenn Gould, his own cadenza…

He is known most of all for his Bach performances. This is from very close to the start of the stereo age, 1958. I’m setting the time for the cadenza which is wild and very controversial. By all means roll it back to the beginning if you like this. It is also very fast, maybe too fast, but the whole performance is unique and therefore fascinating.

Wilhelm Kempff…

German pianist Wilhelm Kempff wrote his own cadenzas for both the first and last movements and played these in his various recordings of the work. I’m also setting this recording to start at the cadenza, but roll it back if you like it. The point is that when you get to the cadenzas, it’s like hearing three different pieces of music, all using the same themes.

 

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6 thoughts on “Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1

  1. It always fascinates me how composers in the romantic period managed to compose probably the most recognizable pieces in the world today on almost every instrument and the ones they didn’t even play . Beethoven one of my favorite examples of this.

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