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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Piano Sonata No. 15
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
Piano Sonata No.15 in D, Op. 28 "Pastoral"
Ludwig van Beethoven made an early reputation for himself as a keyboard
player. At home he had had irregular and forcible instruction through his
inadequate father, only son of the old Court Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of
Cologne and a singer under the same patron. The boy, who showed signs of
neglect in other ways and who certainly failed to distinguish himself at school,
had obvious musical talent, and this was ultimately to be fostered by lessons
with the then court organist in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, whose deputy he
became. In 1787 Beethoven set out for Vienna, with the support of the
Archbishop, a younger son of the Empress, a nobleman who had been prevented
from an intended military career by a certain weakness in the knees that proved
no barrier to ecclesiastical promotion. Beethoven had hoped to study with
Mozart, but the illness of his mother led to his immediate return, his aim
By 1791, the year of Mozart's death, Beethoven had already shown
considerable proficiency as a performer on the newly developing pianoforte, a
fact of which there is independent evidence in an account of a visit to
Mergentheim undertaken by the Bonn court musicians. Beethoven was able to hear
the playing of the Abbé Sterkel, a performance of unusual delicacy that
immediately influenced his own style, and was given a chance to demonstrate his
own virtuosity and his amazing powers of improvisation: By the end of the
following year he was once again in Vienna, seeking lessons from Haydn, to be
followed by instruction from the Court Composer Salieri and from
Beethoven arrived 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 the Archbishop, proved immensely helpful, both
in instigating the journey and in providing immediate access to a circle of
connoisseurs in Vienna. It was not long before Beethoven established himself as
a performer of remarkable imagination and skill, a reputation that was to fade
with the onset of deafness at the turn of the century, and a consequent
abandonment of public performance and partial isolation from society.
At the age of fourteen Beethoven had attempted his first piano
concerto, a work that now survives only in a piano score. The concerto that was
to be known as his second piano concerto was probably 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 by further
The last of Beethoven'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
and martial, a sign of the times. In May, 1809, Vienna was once again under
attack from the forces of Napoleon. Haydn, now some years in retirement in the
city, was to die at the end of the month, while most of the leading families,
including the imperial family, had taken refuge elsewhere. In October there
came what Beethoven was to describe as a "dead peace", but the year
was altogether an unsettled one. During the French bombardment Beethoven had
sheltered in the cellar of his unreliable brother Carl Caspar, covering his
head with a pillow against the noise of the cannons. On 12th May, however, the
city surrendered, the French occupation bringing with it hardship to
householders, from whom a levy was exacted, coupled with a continued shortage
of money and food.
It was in these circumstances that Beethoven, now 39 and increasingly
deaf, worked on his new piano concerto, while spending part of the summer
collecting material from various text-books for the instruction of his royal patron Archduke Rudolph. The
work was probably completed in 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. The concerto was later to be
played in Vienna by Carl Czerny.
The Concerto in E Flat Major, Opus
73, dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, has been described by Alfred
Einstein as "the apotheosis of the military concept" in the music of
Beethoven, a reference to popular expectations at the time. The martial element
in the work suggests comparison with the Eroica
Symphony of 1803, a work that Beethoven conducted at a charity
concert during the French occupation of Vienna in 1809.
The concerto opens with an impressively triumphant piano cadenza, an
indication of the scale of what is to come. This is followed by the orchestral
announcement of the principal theme, one of the expectedly strong character, to
be miraculously extended by the soloist in a movement of imperial proportions.
The slow movement, in B Major, an unexpected key that has already been
suggested indirectly in the first movement, is introduced by the strings, with
a theme of great beauty that is only later to re-appear in aversion by the
soloist. It is the latter who hints at what is to come, before launching into
the final rondo, music of
characteristic ebullience and necessary contrast, providing a brilliant
conclusion of sufficient proportion to sustain what has gone before.
The 32 numbered piano sonatas of Beethoven provide a remarkable
conspectus of his own style, ranging from the earliest, under the influence of
Haydn, to whom they are dedicated, to the last, which explore a new world in
their bold complexity. To those immediately following Beethoven, the sonatas,
like the nine symphonies, offered both a challenge, in some ways a guide, and,
at the same time, a field for varied speculation in a search for literary
sources or parallels.
The so-called Pastoral Sonata, Opus
28 in D major, was completed in 1801 and published the following
year, with a dedication to Monsieur Joseph Noble de Sonnenfels, former adviser
to the Emperor Joseph II, a free-mason, Jewish by birth, and a leading figure
in the Enlightenment from whom Beethoven might expect no particular material
advantage. The title was, as so often, not Beethoven's, although the reason for
it is obvious enough from the gentle opening of the first movement. Presumably
a similar association of ideas led Arnold Schering to propose a literary source
in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale.
There is a steady march in the slow movement, a scherzo and trio and a final
rondo based on the rocking rhythm of its principal theme.
The Austrian pianist Stefan Vladar was
born in 1965 and started piano lessons at the age of six. From 1973 he studied
at the Vienna University for Music and Arts with Renate Kramer-Preisenhammer
and Hans Petermandl. After winning a number of awards in piano competitions in
Austria, including the first prize in the Rudolf Heydner Piano Competition, he
took the first prize in the 1985 Vienna International Beethoven Competition,
the youngest of the 140 competitors.
Stefan Vladar's subsequent career has brought him a busy schedule of
engagements, with performances throughout Europe and appearances in China,
Thailand, Japan and Korea, as well as in the United States of America.
Jeno Jandó was born at Pécs, in south Hungary , in 1952. He started to
learn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy
of Music under Katalin Nemes and Pál Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter
on his graduation in 1974. Jandó has won a number of piano competitions in
Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours
and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International
Piano Competition in 1977. In addition to his many appearances in Hungary, he
has played widely abroad in Eastern and Western Europe, in Canada and in Japan.
He is currently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano
concertos for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos
of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second
Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody
and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
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