The other night I decided to listen to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.1
Let me tell you more about this incredible piece of music.
Beethoven wrote Piano Concerto No. 4 (Op. 58) in 1805-6, and it was first performed at a private concert in 1807. It was not performed at a public concert until December 1808.2 But what a concert! Here’s what was on the program:3
Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 6
Piano Concerto No. 4
Ah, perfido!, a concert aria
Mass in C (excerpts)
The audience spent four hours in a freezing cold theater listening to this concert of a lifetime–it would be the last time that Beethoven would perform as a soloist.
A feature that distinguishes this concerto from many others is that the piece begins with the piano alone. This would have been totally unexpected for the audience. And when the orchestra finally comes in to state the first theme, they do not come in playing in the announced key (G major), but an unexpected key (B major).
But you might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, sure, but what makes it so great? Where’s the wow factor?”
Aside from doing the unexpected, Beethoven takes you on a wild ride. In the second movement, it is as if the orchestra and pianist are facing off against each other–how will that struggle end? And it has exciting, demanding piano writing. Watch the pianist’s hands. Then recall this quote from composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt, who attended the first public performance:3
[Beethoven] played with astounding cleverness and skill, and at the fastest possible tempi.
(Of course, then I think, imagine how long the concert would have been if he hadn’t!)
The references below will give you detailed descriptions of the concerto’s three movements. But you might be tempted to just jump in and listen.
This link will take you to a YouTube page where you can find great performances of this piece by many prominent pianists and orchestras. The list extends for pages. Here I’d like to highlight the performance of pianist Mitsuko Uchida and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons at the 2013 Proms Festival. I hope you will enjoy it!
- Since inquiring minds will want to know, I listened to (and watched) pianist Jonathan Biss and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the DSO Replay subscription streaming service. Phenomenal performance!