Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 5

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 35–40 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1808–1809
World Premiere: January 13, 1811 (Vienna)

Table of Contents

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in 5 Sentences

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Piano Concerto No. 5 during an eventful time: the Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe, and Vienna was occupied by French troops from mid-May 1809. Beethoven, who had still been an ardent admirer of Napoleon while working on his Third Symphony, now rejected Napoleon and dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 5 to the Austrian Archduke Rudolph, who had already fled to Hungary. It is remarkable how detailed Beethoven elaborated his Piano Concerto No. 5: Dynamics, expression, articulation and even the cadenzas (which were usually improvised) are notated out down to the last detail, leaving nothing to chance.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

Highlight 1: The end at the beginning

Beethoven opens his Piano Concerto No. 5 with a virtuosic solo cadenza, turning the form on its head. Usually, the cadenza came at the end of a movement. It is a similar break with convention as already seen in Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, which opens with the piano alone:

Highlight 2: romantic middle movement

The second movement already points far ahead into Romanticism in its tonal language. One almost feels reminded of Liszt or Chopin:

Highlight 3: manic final theme

The piano is again allowed to open the final movement alone, with a theme that could almost be described as manic. Beethoven “presses” the unusual rhythm into the time signature, so that the theme seems compulsively joyful:

Highlight 4: Dialogue between piano and timpani and faked ending

Beethoven also has another surprise in store at the end of his Piano Concerto No. 5: the piano and timpani enter into a dialogue (which was very unusual at the time), but it seems to fade into nothingness…But then the piano suddenly picks up the fast tempo again with virtuosic runs, and the entire orchestra joins in to bring the concerto to its triumphant conclusion. Because of this “heroic” effect, Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto is also known as the “Emperor Concerto” in the Anglo-Saxon world:

3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

Question 1: How many piano concertos did Beethoven write?

Beethoven wrote 5 piano concertos.

Question 2: What were the important performances of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto?

The (semi-public) premiere on January 13, 1811 in Vienna was remarkable because Archduke Rudolph, the dedicatee of the concerto, played the solo part himself. That same year there was a performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with the German pianist Friedrich Schneider. The first public Viennese performance did not take place until February 11, 1812, when Carl Czerny (who was a student of Beethoven) took over the solo part. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 was also a favorite piece of the composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt; he played it, for example, in 1841 in a performance with Hector Berlioz (the composer of the Symphonie Fantastique) as conductor.

Question 3: Did Beethoven play his Piano Concerto No. 5 himself?

Beethoven himself never performed his Piano Concerto No. 5 in public as a soloist. This is a difference to his previous four piano concertos. This may be explained by Beethoven’s increasing deafness.

2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

Recording 1: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, hr-Sinfonieorchester, David Afkham (live, 2017)

I find the balance between piano and orchestra particularly successful in this recording – Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the hr-Sinfonieorchester conducted by David Afkham act hand in hand:

Recording 2: Maurizio Pollini, Sinfónica de Galicia, Daniele Pollini (live, 2014)

This features a father-son duo: Father Maurizio Pollini plays piano while his son Daniele conducts the Sinfónica de Galicia:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

The apotheosis of the military concept.

The musicologist Alfred Einstein about Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

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