Krystian Zimerman – Beethoven – Piano Concerto No 2, Op 19
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No 2 in Bb major, Op 19
Krystian Zimerman, piano
The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19, by Ludwig van Beethoven was composed primarily between 1787 and 1789, although it did not attain the form it was published as until 1795. Beethoven did write another finale for it in 1798 for performance in Prague, but that is not the finale that it was published with. It was used by the composer as a vehicle for his own performances as a young virtuoso, initially intended with the Bonn Hofkapelle. It was published in 1801, by which time he had also published the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, although it had been composed after this work, in 1796 and 1797.
The B-flat major Piano Concerto became an important display piece for the young Beethoven as he sought to establish himself after moving from Bonn to Vienna. He was the soloist at its premiere on 29 March 1795, at Vienna’s Burgtheater in a concert marking his public debut. (Prior to that, he had performed only in the private salons of the Viennese nobility.) While the work as a whole is very much in the concerto style of Mozart, there is a sense of drama and contrast that would be present in many of Beethoven’s later works. Beethoven himself apparently did not rate this work particularly highly, remarking to the publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister that, along with the Piano Concerto No. 1, it was “not one of my best.” The version that he premiered in 1795 is the version that is performed and recorded today.
The first movement begins with a triumphant orchestral opening on the tonic chord, and maintains a playfulness while using chromatic passages to show off the soloist’s dizzying technique. The second movement is characteristically serene and peaceful, while the closing Rondo brings back the youth-filled playfulness heard in the opening movement.
This movement is in the concerto variant of sonata form (double-exposition sonata form). The orchestra introduces the main theme and the subordinate theme in its exposition. The second exposition is in F major. The development wanders in key and ends on a long B-flat major scale. The recapitulation is similar to the exposition and is in B-flat major.
There is a rather difficult cadenza composed by Beethoven himself, albeit much later than the concerto itself. Stylistically, the cadenza is very different from the concerto, but it makes good use of the first opening theme. Beethoven applies this melody to the cadenza in several different ways, changing its character each time and displaying the innumerable ways that a musical theme can be used and felt.
This movement was written between 1787 and 1789 in Bonn. Average performances last from thirteen to fourteen minutes.
This movement is in E-flat major, the subdominant key. Like many slow movements, it has ABA (ternary) form, where the opening section introduces the themes, and the middle section develops them. This movement was written between 1787 and 1789 in Bonn. Average performances last from eight to nine minutes.
This movement takes the form of a Third Rondo (ABACABA). Beethoven’s playfulness of his early period can be heard here. There is a constant angular feel within the 6/8 melody itself that Beethoven plays on with each return of the rondo theme. The C section is also highly contrasting with the others, being that it is in a minor key and more forceful and stern in meaning. Also, prior to the last appearance of the rondo theme, Beethoven brings the piano in in the “wrong” key of G major, before the orchestra “discovers” the discrepancy and returns to the correct tonic key. This musical joke can be seen in many of Beethoven’s subsequent compositions.
This rondo is the one that Beethoven wrote in 1795 and premiered in Vienna that year. It does show Haydn’s influence. Average performances last from five to six minutes.