Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven)

Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven)

The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the Emperor Concerto, was his last piano concerto. It was written between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, and was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, Beethoven's patron and pupil. The first performance took place in November 1811, at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, the soloist being Friedrich Schneider. In 1812, Carl Czerny, another student of Beethoven's, gave the Vienna debut of this work.

The epithet of Emperor for this concerto, was not Beethoven's own, but was coined by Johann Baptist Cramer, the English publisher of the concerto.[1] Its duration is approximately forty minutes.



The concerto is scored for a solo piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B-flat (Clarinet I playing Clarinet in A in movement 2), two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani in E-flat and B-flat, and strings.


The concerto is divided into three movements:

  1. Allegro in E-flat major
  2. Adagio un poco mosso in B major
  3. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo in E-flat major

As with Beethoven's other concertos from this time period, this work has a relatively long first movement. (At twenty-five minutes, the Violin Concerto has the longest; Piano Concerto Nos. 4 and 5 each have opening movements of about twenty minutes.)

I. Allegro

The main theme of the first movement.

The piece begins with three full orchestra chords, each followed by a short cadenza, improvisatory in nature but written out in the score. These short cadenzas recur intermittently throughout the piece.

As music's Classical era gave way to its Romantic era, composers began experimenting with the manner in which one or more solo instruments introduced music. Beethoven had already explored such possibilities in his Piano Concerto No. 4, but the monumental piano introduction in Piano Concerto No. 5 – it lasts for nearly two minutes – foreshadowed future concerti such as Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto or Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor.

The first movement is deceptively complex. Despite its use of simple chords, including a second theme constructed almost entirely out of tonic and dominant notes and chords, it is full of complex thematic transformations. The complexity is intensified once the piano enters with the first theme, as the expository material is repeated with far more complex variations, virtuoso figurations, and complex modified chords. The second theme enters in the surprising key of B minor before moving to B major and at last the expected key of B-flat major several bars later.

Aside from the opening cadenzas, the movement follows Beethoven's trademark three-theme sonata structure for a concerto. The orchestral exposition is a typical two-theme sonata exposition, but the second exposition with the piano has a triumphant virtuoso third theme at the end that belongs solely to the solo instrument. Beethoven does this in many of his concertos. The coda at the end of the movement is quite long, and, again typical of Beethoven, uses the open-ended first theme and gives it closure to create a satisfying conclusion.

II. Adagio un poco mosso

The second movement in B major is, in standard contrast to the first, calm and reflective. It moves into the third movement without interruption when a lone bassoon note B drops a semitone to B-flat, the dominant note to the tonic key E-flat. According to Alex Ross, this movement supplied the melody for Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story.[2]

III. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

The main theme of the third movement.

The final movement of the concerto is a seven-part rondo form (ABACABA), a typical concerto finale form. The piano begins the movement by playing its main theme, then followed by the full orchestra. The rondo's B-section begins with piano scales, before the orchestra again responds. The C-section is much longer, presenting the theme from the A-section in three different keys before the piano performs a cadenza. Rather than finishing with a strong entrance from the orchestra, however, the trill ending the cadenza dies away until the introductory theme reappears, played first by the piano and then the orchestra. In the last section, the theme undergoes variation before the concerto ends with a short cadenza and robust orchestral response.

Prominent recordings

In March 1927 Ignaz Friedman recorded the Emperor Concerto with the New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood but this recording no longer exists. Also in the 1920s, Wilhelm Backhaus recorded the 4th and 5th concertos very successfully. In the early 1930s Artur Schnabel recorded all five Beethoven concertos under Sir Malcolm Sargent and the London Symphony Orchestra. Arthur Rubinstein recorded it three times, once with Eugene Ormandy. Walter Gieseking and Artur Rother made a stereophonic tape recording in 1944, apparently the earliest surviving such recording, for German radio. Wilhelm Kempff recorded it with Paul van Kempen in 1953 and with Ferdinand Leitner in 1961. Edwin Fischer recorded it with Karl Böhm in 1939 and Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1951. Rudolf Serkin recorded it in the 1960s with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, and Bernstein recorded a live performance in the late 1980s shortly before his death, with Krystian Zimerman as soloist; the orchestra was the Vienna Philharmonic. The Zimerman performance was also filmed and released on DVD. Leon Fleisher recorded all the Beethoven piano concertos with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra from 1959 until 1961. Claudio Arrau recorded it four times: with Alceo Galliera in 1958, Bernard Haitink in 1964 and twice with Sir Colin Davis, first with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and later with the Staatskapelle Dresden. Glenn Gould recorded this concerto with Leopold Stokowski (the only recording the two ever made together) using somewhat non-traditional phrasings and tempi, as was typical of Gould's interpretations. Paul Lewis recorded all five of Beethoven's piano concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra with conductor Jiří Bělohlávek.


  1. ^ Stevenson, Joseph. Johann Baptist Cramer at Allmusic. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  2. ^ Ross, Alex (2007). The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-24939-7. 
  • Walter Gieseking: Wartime German Radio Recordings, Music & Arts Programs of America, Inc. CD-815, 1994.

External links

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