LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 (1803)
Ludwig van Beethoven was notorious for not having works ready in time for performances. This was certainly the case with this concerto, a work "in progress," at best, at its first presentation. The composer conducted from the keyboard, while Ignaz von Seyfried turned pages: "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 of the solo part from memory, since... he had not had time to set it all down on paper. He gave me a surreptitious nod whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages, and my scarcely concealable anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly, and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper afterwards." The concerto was part of a benefit marathon for the composer himself in spring of 1803 that went on for hours, also including premieres of the Second Symphony, the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, and a reprise of the Symphony No. 1. Despite the improvisations, the Piano Concerto No. 3 was a masterpiece that spoke with a new voice — a personal statement from the heart of its creator and a showcase for his prodigious pianistic abilities, but sadly also one of the last in which he saw himself as soloist: his increasing deafness would soon make ensemble playing nearly impossible. He uses the dramatic key of C Minor — one he turned to in other revolutionary works — and expands the orchestral introduction to a gargantuan 110 measures. And, when the piano finally announces its presence, it is with three crashing fortissimo chords. In the magnificent Largo, the partnership between soloist and orchestra is rich and melodious, although the primacy of the piano is never in question. The Allegro is robust and vibrant, with the final Presto bringing the concerto to a fast, furious, jubilant close.