Towards the end of the 19th century, the concerto genre had reached a flourishing stage after Mozart had thoroughly contributed to the foundation of the genre. In the first concerts, as well as in the other genres (symphonies, sonatas, quartets) Mozart’ and Haydn’s influence is evident. The characteristics of Beethoven’s sensibility were to become evident starting with his third piano concerto. In the following concerts a new relation is established between the piano as unaccompanied instrument and the orchestra that covers a greater role, not being reduced to the simple function of accompanying the soloist.
At the age of 14, in 1784, Beethoven tries to write a piano concerto in E flat major, of which only the piano part was kept. In 1790 he tries to compose a new concerto, this time in D major, of which only the first part remained. The first instrumental concerto composition was made in 1795 when he wrote The piano concerto in B flat major op. 19, about the same time he composed The piano concerto in C major op. 15 and The rondo for piano and orchestra.
Piano Concerto No. 4
Beethoven’s Concerto no. 4 was finished in 1806 and premiered on December 22nd 1808 at the Theater an der Wien. with Beethoven as the soloist. It is a known fact that Beethoven attempted to present the concerto at an earlier time but was forced to wait since he could not find any piano players for the solo part. Just like many of Beethoven's works this concerto was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf to whom the composer dedicated, among others, his Piano Concerto no. 5, numerous piano sonatas, his violin sonata or his Triple Concerto. Starting with this concerto, Beethoven attributes a greater role to the orchestra in its relationship with the unaccompanied instrument, creating concertos that are considered genuine solo instrumental symphonies.
The piano concerto has three parts:
Part I – Allegro moderato – starts with the presentation of the theme by the solo instrument renouncing at the presentation made by the orchestra as he had done in the first concertos.
Part II – Andante con moto – is a part full of contrasts, constructed like a dialogue between the orchestra and the solo instrument. The conversational character of this part renders the image of Orpheus, who, through his music, overcomes all hardships.
Part III – Rondo-Vivace – brings a cheerful and optimistic note through the themes of simple folkloric-like dance rhythms.
Piano Concerto No. 5
This concerto was finalized in 1809, about the same time as the famous sonata Appasionata op. 57. The powerful themes and heroic note of the composition, lead to the name Emperor for this concerto. The name “Emperor” dates from Beethoven’s time but was not given by Beethoven himself. Since the composer had little regard for emperors, he would be unlikely to name one of his own works for a class of people he disliked. While evidence is not clear, it seems that the name was given by a close friend of Beethoven, German composer Johann Baptist Cramer.
The piano concerto has three parts:
Part I – Allegro – is constructed like a sonata and starts with a cadence of the piano, suggesting man’s heroism. Only later, the orchestra presents the first theme. After the introduction of the second theme, a dialogue is built up between the orchestra and the piano regarding the presented themes. The ending of the first movement renders the atmosphere given by the powerful rhythms and the ample sonorities of the ending of the first allegro in Symphony No. 3.
Part II – Adagio un poco mosso – starts with a silent presentation by the string instruments of an expressive theme, of great openness, and is followed by the piano with an extraordinarily melodic segment.
Part III – Rondo-Allegro – starts just before the end of the second part when the piano tunes the sounds of an arpeggio which will generate the theme of the rondo, so powerfully rendered by the solo instrument.
The new concerto was premiered in Leipzig in 1811. The solo part was not played by Beethoven since his hearing problems made any king of public performance impossible. The honor of playing the solo part for the premier went to young church organist Friedrich Schneider. When the “Emperor” premiered in Vienna – in February 1812 - the solo part was interpreted by Beethoven’s pupil and friend Carl Czerny.