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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19 (1787-89)

I. Allegro con brio

II. Adagio

III. Rondo: Molto allegro

From a Dickensian lens, the Second and Third Piano Concertos frame the best and worst of times for the young Beethoven. 1787 was momentous and crushing. At 17, Beethoven traveled to Vienna with hopes to study under Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first encounter with the 31-year old master is fodder for embellishment. "Watch out for that boy," remarked Mozart, "one day he will give the world something to talk about."


If Beethoven did study with Mozart, it was short-lived. Soon after arriving, he returned to Bonn; his mother (and best friend) eventually succumbed to tuberculosis. Returning to Vienna in 1792, Mozart was dead. Nevertheless, Beethoven enrolled to study with Franz Joseph Haydn. A proper education followed under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, who trained Beethoven to master harmony and counterpoint, and instilled the dictum that "patience, diligence, persistence, and sincerity will lead to success."

 

Beethoven forged a freelance career to cultivate patrons during the early Vienna years. Finally, the opportunity arose in 1795 to perform for the Vienna Composers Society at the Burgtheater. The occasion marked the composer's public debut. The program included a piano concerto, which concerto is a mystery. Historians posit it was the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major (composed first and published second). Still, it could have been the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C-major (composed second and published first). 

 

Beethoven performed the Second Concerto to great acclaim during his second visit to Prague in 1798. "Beethoven's magnificent playing and particularly the daring flights in his improvisation stirred me strangely to the depths of my soul," writes Czech-pianist and composer Václav Tomášek after witnessing the concerts. "Indeed, I found myself so profoundly bowed down that I did not touch my pianoforte for several days." 

 

About 13 years separate the conception of the two concertos, the Second during Beethoven's first visit to Vienna in 1787 and the Third sometime in 1800. While both share similar forms, they tell very different stories. The Second dazzles with an academic vintage, an essay built to impress, whereas the Third is bold and tinged with maturity (Beethoven began to notice hearing difficulties by 1798).

 

In three movements, the Second Concerto’s opening Allegro con brio combines an announcing dotted figure with a contrasting lyrical second theme and finishes with a ravishing cadenza. The slow middle Adagio draws breath with the warmth of strings. However, not all is tranquil; never lingering too long in one character, Beethoven quickly excites the texture with double dotted punctuations and flourishes of improvisatory design. The galloping Molto allegro finale begins in 6/8 with two beats of Lombard rhythm (Scotch snaps, short followed by a long duration). The piano starts the jaunty five-part rondo, and the orchestra answers with a mighty harras of horsepower. In addition to the piano, the 29-minute work calls for an orchestra of flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, 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.