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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, op.73, “Emperor”

The title “Emperor” was not bestowed by Beethoven (1770-1827) himself, but was attached to the concerto afterwards. However, the radiant, majestic and grand-scale music deserves the title more than any other piano concerto in history.

Among the five piano concertos Beethoven left behind, this is the only work which he himself did not premiere as the pianist. His deafness had become so severe as to compel him to give up playing the solo part. Furthermore, Beethoven never again wrote any more concerto for any other instrument after “Emperor”.

Beethoven’s construction of concertos, in which soloists and orchestra unite to weave a symphonic world, was already sought after in his third and fourth piano concertos, but when he pursued this path to its utmost end, the resulting “Emperor” marked a summit of the musical format of concertos.

Ⅰ Allegro: The work opens with full orchestral chords in fortissimo, alternating with flamboyant passages of arpeggio and scales rendered by solo piano. The following main part of the movement always combines phrases displaying soloist’s virtuosity with the organic development of the music. The orchestra is also full of charms like the two horns standing out in the second theme.

Ⅱ Adagio un poco mosso: The distant tonality of B-major may surprise you after hearing E-flat major. You feel like you are stepping into another world of consolation and dreams. The piano plays on and on, decorating passages with rich ornamentation, and then calls the theme to return, which the wind instruments take over to play to the pianist who has now stepped down to accompany them.

Ⅲ Rondo. Allegro: The final rondo starts attacca from the previous movement. The dynamic main theme rapidly alternates with the rhythmical sub-theme, in which tonality modulates in intriguing ways. The gradually diminuendo conversation between timpani and piano is in a typically Beethovenian style.

Schumann: Symphony No.2 in C major, op.61

Schumann (1810-56) moved from Leipzig to Dresden at the end of 1844. The move, he hoped, might help him recover from his mental slump. It worked, and Schuman became able to conceive ideas for a new symphony. However, as he was still somewhat unstable, he could not set off to compose it in a solid way.

A revival of Schubert’s C-major symphony, which he heard in early December 1845, may have helped him to write down sketches of all the movements by the end of the year. It was the orchestration that troubled him so much to delay the completion until October 1846. After some additional elaborations, Mendelssohn (1809-47) took the b aton f or the premiere on November 05, 1846. The symphony went through further revisions before being published as a definitive version.

After completing the work under such unstable condition and frustration, Schumann noted: “I wrote the symphony while I was half sick. Although I began to feel like myself while working on the last movement, I recovered fully only after completing the entire piece”.

The first three movements of the symphony are filled with an intense inner struggle, and then the bright final movement shakes off the indecisiveness. This development reflects the inner conflict of the composer himself, and is a truly romantic symphony by Schumann who was a genuine romanticist.

Ⅰ Sostenuto assai - Allegro ma non troppo: The fanfare at the beginning of introduction is to become an important motto that penetrates the entire work. The main part is lively, but the unstable phrases reflect the inner conflict.

Ⅱ Scherzo. Allegro vivace: Here again, the unstable ever-moving notes dominates the scherzo.

Ⅲ Adagio espressivo: Dark lyricism in C-monor prevails over this slow movement. The main theme is taken from a trio sonata in “Musical Offerings” by J. S. Bach.

Ⅳ Allegro molto vivace: The movement begins in a sonata-like progress with victorious first theme and with the second theme based on the theme in the third movement. In the middle of the development section, however, when a new broad theme appears (it is often said that this is based on Beethoven’s song “Nimm sie hin den, diese Lieder”), the development in sonata format is terminated. This new theme energizes the rest of the work, and the initial motto joins it to culminate in the victorious finale.

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