Piano Concerto No. 3 (Beethoven)

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Title page, first edition

The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800 and was first performed on 5 April 1803, with the composer as soloist. The year for which the concerto was composed (1800) has however been questioned by contemporary musicologists.[1] It was published in 1804. During that same performance, the Second Symphony and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also premiered.[2] The composition was dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. The first primary theme is reminiscent of that of Mozart's 24th Piano Concerto.


The concerto is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in E-flat, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, strings and piano soloist.

As is standard for Classical/Romantic-era concertos, the work is in three movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Largo
  3. Rondo. Allegro

I. Allegro con brio[edit]

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Cadenza of the first movement

This movement is known to make forceful use of the theme (direct and indirect) throughout.

Orchestral exposition: In the orchestral exposition, the theme is introduced by the strings, and used throughout the movement. It is developed several times. In the third section (second subject), the clarinet and violin 1 introduce the second main theme, which is in the relative major key, E-flat major.

Second exposition: The piano enters with an ascending scale motif. The structure of the exposition in the piano solo is similar to that of the orchestral exposition.

Development: The piano enters, playing similar scales used in the beginning of the second exposition, this time in D major rather than C minor. The music is generally quiet.

Recapitulation: The orchestra restates the theme in fortissimo, with the wind instruments responding by building up a minor ninth chord as in the exposition. For the return of the second subject, Beethoven modulates to the tonic major, C major. A dark transition to the cadenza occurs, immediately switching from C major to C minor.

Cadenza: Beethoven wrote one cadenza for this movement. The cadenza Beethoven wrote is at times stormy and ends on a series of trills that calm down to pianissimo. Many other composers and pianists have written alternative cadenzas.

Coda: Beethoven subverts the expectation of a return to the tonic at the end of the cadenza by prolonging the final trill and eventually arriving on a dominant seventh. The piano plays a series of arpeggios before the music settles into the home key of C minor. Then the music intensifies before a full tutti occurs, followed by the piano playing descending arpeggios, the ascending scale from the second exposition, and finally a resolute ending on C.

II. Largo[edit]

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The second movement is in the key of E major, in this context a key relatively remote from the concerto's opening key of C minor (another example being Brahms's first symphony.). If the movement adhered to traditional form, its key would be E-flat major (the relative key) or A-flat major (the submediant key). The movement opens with the solo piano and the opening is marked with detailed pedalling instructions.

III. Rondo – Allegro[edit]

The finale is in sonata rondo form. The movement begins in C minor with an agitated theme played only by the piano. The movement ends with a C major coda marked presto.

First performance[edit]

The score was incomplete at its first performance. Beethoven's friend, Ignaz von Seyfried, who turned the pages of the music for him that night, later wrote:[2]

I saw almost nothing but empty pages; 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; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper.


  1. ^ Platinga, Leon (Summer 1989). "When Did Beethoven Compose His Third Piano Concerto?". The Journal of Musicology 7 (3): 275–307.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Steinberg, Michael, The Concerto: A Listener's Guide, pp. 59–63, Oxford (1998).

External links[edit]