Now let's start the new year for proper, last week was some frivolous fun which we all need from time to time!
Last year the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes completed his cycle of the five Beethoven Piano Concertos, the collection is called The Beethoven Journey and it was four years in the making. This has been an intense collaborative project between Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, whom the pianist directs from the keyboard. Andsnes has made the concertos the focus of his attention for these four years and has given over 150 performances of these works in 55 cities in 22 countries. Nobody explains it better than Leif Ove so here he is on video: YouTube
Andsnes recorded these works for three separate albums, so for this and the next two Blog entries I am going to talk about each recording. This week it is Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3 which was named as best instrumental album on iTunes in 2012. The Guardian also wrote 'what these performances also have is…..a real sense of enjoyment in playing and the business of communicating that enjoyment to an audience'. The last album Andsnes recorded was Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 'The Emperor' which is coupled with the fabulous Choral Fantasy.
You can download each recording separately which is much more expensive than buying the complete collection. These works are so beautiful, deep, energetic, moving and exciting that I recommend you get to know all five over the next few weeks.
Beethoven wrote his piano concertos for himself to play. Piano Concerto No 1 in C major was written in the late 1790s. The composer was already recognised as one of the best pianists in Vienna and was seeking to advance his reputation by touring throughout Europe. This concerto was the first to be published but the third to be written. Whilst it shows distinct influences of Haydn and Mozart mainly in the use of form and instrumentation, it definitely has the colour and drama that gives it the unique Beethovian character. This is a long work and depending on which Cadenza is used it can last up to 40 minutes.
A cadenza is a virtuoso solo passage inserted into a movement, usually the first movement of a concerto. In the earlier concertos the pianist was left to improvise the cadenza but gradually composers started to compose and use their own, sometimes even writing two or three for each work. Over the years musicians have written cadenzas for most concertos but some pianists still like to improvise.
Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor took Beethoven about three and a half years to complete and then another year to write out the piano part. The composer performed the work at it's premiere in 1803 as part of a famous Viennese concert whereby after a seven hour rehearsal his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and his Symphony No 2 also had their premieres. The piano concerto was hampered by lack of rehearsal time not to mention the incomplete status of the score in which Beethoven's page turner noticed more than a 'few empty pages'. By the early 1800s Beethoven knew that he had a serious problem with his hearing, but in many ways this spurred him on with a furious state of creativity and it is amazing that he managed to do so without apparent reference to his physical and mental state. This concerto is the first of his five to sound like the mature Beethoven. The work also reflects an important advance in piano technology. In the final decades of the eighteenth century manufacturers were beginning to stretch beyond the instruments five octave range. Beethoven hadn't used this before because not all pianos were capable of this range, but in this concerto he makes full use of the high G. Infact this piece was the first to use that particular high note.
Here is Leif Ove playing the 3rd movement of Piano Concerto No 1 YouTube
Download Piano Concertos Nos 1&3 from iTunes
Download all five piano concertos The Beethoven Journey on iTunes
Buy Piano Concertos Nos 1&3 from Amazon
Buy all five piano concertos The Beethoven Journey from Amazon