Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven)
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The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the Emperor Concerto, was his last piano concerto. It was written between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, and was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, Beethoven's patron and pupil. The first performance took place on 28 November 1811 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under conductor Johann Philipp Christian Schulz, the soloist being Friedrich Schneider. On 12 February 1812, Carl Czerny, another student of Beethoven's, gave the Vienna debut of this work.
The concerto is scored for solo piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B-flat (clarinet I playing clarinet in A in movement 2; flute II, clarinet II, both trumpets, and timpani are tacet during this movement), two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani in E-flat and B-flat, and strings.
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The concerto is divided into three movements:
The colossal first movement begins with the solo piano unfurling a series of striking virtuosic pronouncements punctuated by mammoth chords from the full orchestra. The vigorous, incessantly-propulsive main theme follows, undergoing complex thematic transformation, with a secondary theme of tonic and dominant notes and chords. When the piano enters with the first theme, the expository material is repeated with variations, virtuoso figurations, and modified harmonies. The second theme enters in the unusual key of B minor before moving extraordinarily to B major and at last to the expected key of B-flat major several bars later.
Following the opening flourish, the movement follows Beethoven's three-theme sonata structure for a concerto. The orchestral exposition is a two-theme sonata exposition, but the second exposition with the piano introduces a triumphant, virtuosic third theme that belongs solely to the solo instrument, a trademark of Beethoven's concertos. The uniquely-expansive coda majestically elaborates upon the open-ended first theme, unceasingly building in intensity before relishing in a final climactic arrival at the tonic E-flat Major.
II. Adagio un poco mosso
The sublime second movement in B major forms a gorgeous, quiet nocturne for the solo piano, muted strings, and wind instruments that converse with the solo piano. The third movement begins without interruption when a lone bassoon note B drops a semitone to B-flat, the dominant of the tonic key E-flat.
III. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
The final movement of the concerto is a seven-part rondo form (ABACABA). The solo piano introduces the main theme before the full orchestra affirms the soloist's statement. The rondo's B-section begins with piano scales, before the orchestra again responds. The C-section is much longer, presenting the theme from the A-section in three different keys before the piano performs a cadenza. Rather than finishing with a strong entrance from the orchestra, however, the trill ending the cadenza dies away until the introductory theme reappears, played first by the piano and then the orchestra. In the last section, the theme undergoes variation before the concerto ends with a short cadenza and robust orchestral response.
- In March 1927 Ignaz Friedman recorded the Emperor Concerto with the New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood but this recording no longer exists.
- In the 1920s, Wilhelm Backhaus recorded all five concertos with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and Vienna Philharmonic in stereo.
- In the early 1930s Artur Schnabel recorded all five Beethoven concertos under Sir Malcolm Sargent and the London Symphony Orchestra.
- Edwin Fischer recorded it with Karl Böhm in 1939 and Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1951.
- Josef Hoffmann recorded it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hans Lange on May 12, 1940.
- Arthur Rubinstein recorded it three times, with Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, and Daniel Barenboim.
- Walter Gieseking and Artur Rother made a stereophonic tape recording in 1944 or 1945 for German radio. It was one of the very earliest high-fidelity magnetic tape recordings, as well as one of the earliest stereo recordings, and was one of about 300 such recordings made during the war. However, only three are known to survive. During the quiet passages, anti-aircraft weapons can be heard firing.
- Vladimir Horowitz recorded it in a 1952 live performance at Carnegie Hall with Fritz Reiner and the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra.
- Wilhelm Kempff recorded it with Paul van Kempen in 1953 and with Ferdinand Leitner in 1961.
- Rudolf Serkin recorded it four times: in 1941 with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic; in 1953 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra; in 1962 with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, and in 1981 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa.
- Bernstein recorded a live performance of the concerto in September 1989, shortly before his death, with Krystian Zimerman and the Vienna Philharmonic. The performance was filmed and released on DVD.
- Leon Fleisher recorded all the Beethoven piano concertos with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra from 1959 until 1961.
- Claudio Arrau recorded it four times: with Alceo Galliera in 1958, Bernard Haitink in 1964 and twice with Sir Colin Davis, first with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and later with the Staatskapelle Dresden.
- Glenn Gould recorded this concerto with Leopold Stokowski (the only recording the two ever made together) using somewhat non-traditional phrasings and tempi, as was typical of Gould's interpretations. Gould also recorded it with Karel Ančerl.
- Maurizio Pollini recorded the five piano concertos twice for Deutsche Grammophon. First with Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic and later with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic.
- Alfred Brendel recorded all Beethoven's piano concertos at least three times over his career.
- Friedrich Gulda recorded all Beethoven's piano concertos with Horst Stein and the Wiener Philharmoniker between 1971 and 1973.
- Paul Lewis recorded all five of Beethoven's piano concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra with conductor Jiří Bělohlávek.
- Murray Perahia recorded all five of Beethoven's piano concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with conductor Bernard Haitink, 1988.
- Michael Steinberg: The Concerto: A Listener's Guide. Retrieved 4 August 2014
- San Francisco Symphony. Retrieved 4 August 2014
- Stevenson, Joseph. Johann Baptist Cramer at AllMusic. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
- Walter Gieseking: Wartime German Radio Recordings, Music & Arts Programs of America, Inc. CD-815, 1994.
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