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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1800)

I. Allegro con brio

II. Largo

III. Rondo: Allegro

Mozart's influence on the early works of Beethoven is not subtle. The elegant buffoonery, royal solemnity, and divine lyricism shine through in the chromatic embellishments and clarity of form that the latter composer adopts in his early years. Beethoven was on the cusp of entering his middle period by the early 1800s, leaving behind the scaffolds of his old heroes. In the first decade of the 19th century, Beethoven's music began to bridge the Classical to the Romantic with the completion of the first six symphonies.

 

The Third Concerto is a rare vintage; it's the only one in a minor key. Historians posit the work was composed in 1800, though sketches date back to 1796. Beethoven likely kept revising the concerto even after premiering it in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien on April 5, 1803. The concert was a crowded program, a marathon menu including the oratorio Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives), the First Symphony, and the premiere of the Second Symphony; nearly 150 minutes of music. There were plans to include more music before reality demanded an abbreviated program. 

 

Performance preparations were equally operatic in scope. On concert day, musicians were engaged for an eight-hour rehearsal (8 am-3 pm, the concert started at 6 pm). Sensing the fatigue in the musicians, Prince Carl von Lichnowsky (Beethoven's patron) supplied meat and wine to lift their spirits; Beethoven would ask them to run through the 47-minute oratorio again. The young conductor Ignaz von Seyfried was hired to turn pages for Beethoven as he performed the concerto; the job would prove frightful. "Heaven help me!" recalls Seyfried. "I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him [Beethoven]; for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory since, as was often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages."

 

The concerto runs 38-minutes, with a large chunk of the work given to the first movement. The Allegro con brio starts with an extended orchestral exposition, easily a stand-alone overture. Beethoven presents two contrasting building blocks in different keys: a fiery fate-branded C-minor melody comprised of stark power octaves and a flowing lyrical violin tune in E-flat major. The second solo exposition begins with three upward scales on the keys. When the piano reprises these opening surges, it's the development and a showcase for the weighted authority of keyboard octaves. The return to the opening theme is the orchestra’s moment to flex its C-minor muscles before the piano unleashes a four-minute cadenza, and Beethoven does not disappoint. An unexpected feather-weight virtuosity caps off a dazzling display with trills, double trills, and triple trills. At this moment, Beethoven's Romantic-era tendencies shine darkly bright. The orchestra creeps back in, whispers first, then with roaring intensity.

 

The piano starts the E-major Largo solo and lingers in a daydream of solitude. The orchestra ruminates in its moments when accompanying the highly decorative keyboard writing. Arpeggios abound in the midsection. Beethoven is careful to mark pedal instructions to ensure the sonorous sustain of harmonies as bassoon and flute take the lead. A brief cadenza marked sempre con gran espressione (always with great expression) prefaces the returning opening music, where both solo and orchestra take turns in their final statements.

 

The Second Concerto concluded with youthful energy, the allegro finale of the Third is equal parts vigor and finesse. The C-minor sonata-rondo theme begins with the keyboard, and Beethoven's maturing style is evident in the flashy and unpredictable transition between themes. The second theme in E-flat major is a whimsical departure and a call back to Mozart and Haydn; it is even prefaced with a coronation fanfare of sorts. The clarinet is featured prominently in the opening A-flat major development. If Beethoven had written a clarinet concerto, it's a glimpse at a missed opportunity. Early signs of Beethoven's late period fugal obsession appears with a fugato. A clever motivic transition returns the work to its proper rondo theme, and one final cadenza leads to an upbeat presto finale in 6/8. The Third Concerto is dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia and calls for an orchestra of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827.

© Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai

ABOUT THIS PERFORMANCE (MASTERWORKS 6):

At the turn of the 19th century, a young Beethoven (composer and pianist) dazzled the world stage with keyboard virtuosity. Mozart foresaw this master talent and prophesized that "one day he will give the world something to talk about." Journey through Beethoven's early trials and triumphs in the fiery Piano Concerto No. 2 and the vigorous No. 3. American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott joins your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in a tale of two concertos and the world premiere of Leilehua Lanzilotti's evocative meditation on 'Hawaiʻi Aloha,' koʻu inoa.