Musical Musings

Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto

Beethoven"Beethoven changes what it means to be a concerto... He was the first to set the piano against the orchestra. The soloist and the orchestra are in a dialogue - as if in battle."

George Nickson, principal percussion with the Sarasota Orchestra

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed his fifth and final piano concerto shortly after the French occupation of Vienna—a less than ideal situation, as the composer himself described:

"What a destructive, unruly life around me! Nothing but drums, cannons, human misery of all sorts!"

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Battling against his inevitable hearing loss, Beethoven had also been forced to take refuge in his brother Kaspar's basement, burying his head in pillows in a vain attempt to protect his ears. In spite of the calamitous circumstances surrounding its conception, the Piano Concerto No. 5 is considered by many to be the culmination both chronologically and stylistically of Beethoven's efforts in the genre. 

By the time of the work's premiere in 1811, deafness had effectively put an end to his performing career. Perhaps because he could no longer serve as soloist, the Emperor was the last piano concerto Beethoven would ever write.

In addition to its generally heroic tone, the work also uses the key of E-flat major, which Beethoven also used in the Symphony No. 3, Eroica (1803). You can hear Beethoven's third symphony in the second Masterworks concert of the season (aptly titled, Eroica). 

We'll have Marc-André Hamelin joining us as the soloist for the Emperor piano concerto, which George Nickson, principal percussion, says is a great treat for the Orchestra.

"He is one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the piano. He is really widely-known for having one of the greatest techniques on the instrument. It's great that we have him here in Sarasota."

George Nickson, principal percussion with the Sarasota Orchestra

If you don't already have your tickets to Masterworks The Emperor on November 6-8, click here.

{adapted from Program Notes written by Jennifer Glagov}

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