Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor

Beethoven's sketchbooks show that he was a very self-critical composer.  Ideas came readily to him, but he was never satisfied with the first blush of inspiration. He would think about, tinker with, write, write and rewrite to try and get the best out of his initial ideas. This critical musical mind also applied to most other composers, especially his contemporaries. Three composers that Beethoven held in great regard were Bach, Handel and Mozart.  Surprisingly, out of those three Beethoven thought Handle was the greatest, because he could write such profound music using simple means.  And in this concerto we see how Handel's influence molded one of Beethoven's musical ideas.

The opening theme of the third piano concerto is in C minor, positively drenched in C minor. The string section ply the C minor triad ascending, and the C minor triad (plus a few passing notes all in the C minor tonality) descending:

The entire first movement is built on these few notes of C minor.  A very good tribute to Handel and his inventiveness and frugality of notes indeed.  But Beethoven also admired and championed the music of his older contemporary Mozart. He had heard Mozart play and had played for him in preparation to try and be his student. But Beethoven had to leave Vienna in a hurry because of his mother's fatal illness, and by the time he returned to Vienna Mozart was dead.  One of Beethoven's favorite pieces by Mozart was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, said to have been played by Beethoven in public concerts.  Mozart's concerto also begins with the three notes of the C minor triad, but the two works are very different past that.

The concerto was composed in 1800 and premiered in 1803 with Beethoven as soloist. As usual with Beethoven, he had no time to write down the solo part so he wrote a few scribbles on music paper to help him remember the music and played it mostly from memory.  On the day of the concert he rose from his bed at five in the morning to copy out the parts for trombone and then made a hasty trip to the concert hall for rehearsals. The concert also had his 2nd Symphony and his oratorio Christ On The Mount Of Olives on the program as well as a repeat of his 1st Symphony heard at a previous concert.  This was a very busy time for the thirty-year old composer, fresh from his studies and ready to make his mark on the world.

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