Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 4

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

Duration: Approx. 35 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1805–1806
World Premiere: December 22, 1808 (Vienna)

Table of Contents

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in 5 Sentences

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 marks an important moment in Beethoven’s creative life: The work was composed at the same time as Symphonies No. 5 and 6, which is significant in that in Piano Concerto No. 4 the two genres of “solo concerto” and “symphony” merge. This work is therefore a so-called “symphonic piano concerto”, which moreover also begins with a break with convention (see below under “Highlights”). The Piano Concerto No. 4 was premiered with Beethoven himself as soloist at the Theater an der Wien. Symphonies No. 5 and 6, parts of the Mass in C major, and the Choral Fantasy were also premiered at the same memorable event.

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

4 Highlights from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4

Highlight 1: Beginning with a break in convention

Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto does not begin with the orchestra, but is opened by the piano all by itself. To my knowledge, it is the first piano concerto ever in which this is the case (later this also happens in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, for example):

Highlight 2: March vs. lyricism in the second movement

Note the great contrast between orchestra and piano at the beginning of the second movement: first a march, then a lyrical theme. Beethoven is said to have been inspired here by the Orpheus saga, which is also about the contrast between the powers of the underworld and love:

Highlight 3: Lively third movement

After the serious second movement, the third movement is lively and cheerful….

Highlight 4: Closing climax

…and is concluded with a brilliant final climax:

3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4

Question 1: How many piano concertos by Beethoven are there?

Beethoven composed a total of 5 piano concertos.

Question 2: What is special about Beethoven's 4th piano concerto?

Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto is probably the first ever piano concerto in which the piano begins alone (not the orchestra). Also, Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto is characterized by unusually long lyrical passages.

Question 3: Is Beethoven's 4th piano concerto program music?

The thesis that Beethoven “recomposed” the Orpheus legend with his 4th Piano Concerto is perhaps not completely absurd, but it cannot be proven beyond doubt either. It goes back mainly to the musicologist Owen Landers.

2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4

Recording 1: Javier Perianes, hr-Sinfonieorchester, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (live, 2017)

In this interpretation, pianist Javier Perianes finds a successful middle ground between metrical rigor, lyricism, expressiveness and precision:

Recording 2: Rudolf Buchbinder, Vienna Philharmonic

Also in this performance with Rudolf Buchbinder and the Vienna Philharmonic, every note “lives”:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4

Beethoven's perhaps greatest piano concerto.

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