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 PROGRAM

 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 37 (1800)

INTERMISSION

Symphony in E flat Major, Op. 55 "Eroica" (1803)

PROGRAM NOTES

by

Hanguang Wang

 

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37

Beethoven composed the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor when he was 30 years old, and it is regarded as a representative work of the late classical style of piano concerto. At that time, shortly after Mozart's death, Mozart's piano concertos were still frequently performed in concerts and still had a strong vitality. Beethoven himself was very fond of Mozart's piano concertos, especially the two minor pieces in Mozart's nearly 30 piano concertos. In March 1795, he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (K. 466) at a concert organized by the composer’s widow Constanze and wrote cadenzas for it as well. While for the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (K. 491), he once said to his friend, the pianist-composer Johann Cramer, “Cramer, Cramer! We shall never be able to do anything like that!”

Beethoven began composing his third concerto in 1800, the year Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto was first published, so one can realize to what extent the later composer was strongly influenced by this opening movement when he set pen to paper. Even to suggest, as some people do, that Beethoven modeled the concerto after Mozart's Concerto is to confuse the deepest kind of artistic inheritance with plagiarism. Indeed, Beethoven went on record as a great aficionado of this piece. For until Beethoven's truly unique Piano Concertos No. 4 and 5 were scored, he still followed relatively strictly the typical compositional pattern of the classical concerto left by Mozart.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 was premiered in Vienna on April 5, 1803, along with Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, and a reprise of his Symphony No. 1. The score of the Third Concerto was not yet ready; Beethoven had only completed the first movement and a sketch of the second movement. Even then, the music was firmly fixed in Beethoven’s mind than on the page. The soloist was the composer himself, assisted by a good friend, Ignaz von Seyfried, who served as page turner, and left the following vivid and amusing account:

Heaven help me, turning pages was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most on one page or the other a few Egyptian hieroglyphics wholly unintelligible to me scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages and my scarcely concealed anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper which we ate afterwards.

The premiere was a great success, and since then the concerto had enjoyed an enduring popularity, being one of the few works that were universally recognized during Beethoven's lifetime.

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, Eroica

 

The Beethoven era overlapped to a large extent with the Napoleonic era. Beethoven initially admired Napoleon, believing that this Frenchman would abolish the aristocratic tyranny that ruled Europe in favor of a more humanitarian social order. But in the spring of 1804, just as Beethoven was finishing his Third Symphony (meant as a tribute to Napoleon), news broke that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor and that the standard-bearer of republicanism had seized power as an authoritarian dictator. Beethoven's enthusiasm collapsed and he scratched Napoleon's name from the symphony manuscript. When the Third Symphony was printed in October 1806, the dedication on the score evolved into “Sinfonia Eroica, Composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man.”

The Third Symphony Eroica is a landmark work that takes Beethoven’s symphonic music to a whole new level. The symphony no longer revolves solely around theme and orchestration but possesses the main idea: the heroic spirit. It is this spirit that gives the work its incomparable and constant impetus.

The Third Symphony is in the four-movement form. The first movement was unprecedented in scale, in part because he had so much to say. Beethoven uses a huge spectrum of keys to express different worlds of emotion. The second movement is a funeral march; the use of the genre here is one of Beethoven's innovations, expanding the expressive power of the adagio movement. The composer expresses the heroic sorrow and the elegy written by the people mourning their heroes who gave their lives for freedom. It depicts sorrow and anger, but also suggests courage and hope. Death and grief did not shake Beethoven's persistent faith. After the "Funeral March", he arranged a bright and light scherzo movement. The finale is a set of variation on a theme, which Beethoven had used in earlier compositions; as the finale of the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus; and as the theme of the Variations and Fugue for Piano in E-flat major, Op. 35, which also called the Eroica Variations. Beethoven's genius and innovative development of the variations is no longer a mere technical variation, but a variation of character, each creating a new musical image in the final movement. At the same time, the dramatic and emotional impact of the first movement returns in full force.