Music Talks - Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 and the Choral Fantasy

I am giving two music talks in Ecchinswell, Berkshire for anyone who might be interested.  The first is on Thursday 26th February  -  "The Golden Age of the Piano" and the second is on Monday 16th March - "The Story of Music from Baroque to Beethoven".  The talks will take place at the Honesty Group, North Sydmonton House, North Sydmonton, Berkshire, RG20 4UL at 9.30am, for further information and for tickets go to the Honesty Group website or call 01635 268989.

Leif Ove Andsnes

Leif Ove Andsnes

So the best is left to last and this week it is the last of the Beethoven piano concertos, Piano Concerto No 5 in Eb major "The Emperor" which on this recording is coupled with the exhilarating and exciting Choral Fantasy Op 80.  This makes up the final recording in the Beethoven Journey by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

Before I write anything about these works, you must listen to a video of Leif Ove Andsnes talking about Piano Concerto No 5.  He explains it so all eloquently.  Click HERE.     

"Nothing but drums, canons, human misery of every sort" Beethoven wrote to his publisher in Leipzig in 1809, the year he composed this heroic and magnificent work.  Austria was at war with France for the fourth time in 18 years, Napoleon was in the suburbs of Vienna and the French had started their terrifying assault.  May 11 was the worst night and Beethoven was taking refuge in a friend's cellar, covering his ears with a pillow trying to protect the remaining shred of his hearing.  These were the circumstances under which Beethoven wrote his fifth piano concerto, yet you don't get so much of a glimpse of the horror.

Similar to Piano Concerto No 4, Beethoven turned his mind as to how to start the work in a striking and original manner.  Here too, he introduces the piano earlier than was the norm and not with a lyrical or thematic statement.  Instead the orchestra offers three chords and the piano enters with a series of fountains and cascades of broken chords, trills and scales.  This is followed by a very beautiful, sublime slow movement which is all based around a chorale (German hymn tune).  The last movement is a moment of brilliance where the theme is introduced in the slow movement very slowly and quietly and then it bursts forwards in a huge explosion.  At the end, just when it sounds as if all themes have been exhausted, the movement comes to an end with one final burst of energy.  

The Choral Fantasy really called the Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra Op 80  was first performed in a concert in Vienna on 22nd December 1808.   This concert also saw the premieres of the 5th and 6th symphonies as well as the fourth piano concerto and a bit of the C Major Mass.  Beethoven wanted "a brilliant finale" that would unite in a single piece the different musical elements from the concert:  symphony, chorus and solo piano.  The Fantasia Op 80 was composed specifically for this role.   So it was one hell of a programme, very long and needless to say suffered from lack of rehearsal time and infact this piece had to be stopped half way through.  Apparently the composer had given out very strict instructions to the players asking for various parts to be repeated.  At the performance with Beethoven at the piano, he forgot all his instructions so the orchestra went in one direction and he in another.  After the concert some musicians were so cross with Beethoven they told him they would refuse to work for him again, needless to say because he was such a star they didn't stick to their words.  This work is very closely related to his Symphony No 9 and the Emperor Concerto with it's heroic grandeur and expansive lyricism.

I absolutely love these two works.

In a couple of weeks I am lucky enough to be going to see Simon Rattle conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who are coming over to London, I will be seeing them play Mahler Symphony No 2 which is an immensely powerful and all consuming work.  So I will write about this in a couple of weeks.  

Unfortunately there are no videos of Leif Ove playing the Choral Fantasy but here is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic from the keyboard.   YouTube    

Download Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 and Choral Fantasy from iTunes     
Buy Piano Concerto No 5 from Amazon       
Download the Beethoven Journey containing all the Beethoven Piano Concertos iTunes      
Buy Beethoven Journey from Amazon     



Posted on February 9, 2015 .