Title page, first edition
The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800 and was first performed on 5 April 1803, with the composer as soloist. The year for which the concerto was composed (1800) has however been questioned by contemporary musicologists. It was published in 1804. During that same performance, the Second Symphony and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also premiered. The composition was dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. The first primary theme is reminiscent of that of Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto.
The concerto is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in E-flat, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, strings and piano soloist.
As is standard for Classical/Romantic-era concertos, the work is in three movements:
I. Allegro con brio
This movement is known to make forceful use of the theme (direct and indirect) throughout.
Orchestral exposition: In the orchestral exposition, the theme is introduced by the strings, and used throughout the movement. It is developed several times. In the third section (second subject), the clarinet introduces the second main theme, which is in the relative major key, E-flat major.
Second exposition: The piano enters with an ascending scale motif. The structure of the exposition in the piano solo is similar to that of the orchestral exposition.
Development: The piano enters, playing similar scales used in the beginning of the second exposition, this time in D major rather than C minor. The music is generally quiet.
Recapitulation: The orchestra restates the theme in fortissimo, with the wind instruments responding by building up a minor ninth chord as in the exposition. For the return of the second subject, Beethoven modulates to the tonic major, C major. A dark transition to the cadenza occurs, immediately switching from C major to C minor.
Cadenza: Beethoven wrote one cadenza for this movement. The cadenza Beethoven wrote is at times stormy and ends on a series of trills that calm down to pianissimo.
Coda: Beethoven subverts the expectation of a return to the tonic at the end of the cadenza by prolonging the final trill and eventually arriving on a dominant seventh. The piano plays a series of arpeggios before the music settles into the home key of C minor. Then the music intensifies before a full tutti occurs, followed by the piano playing descending arpeggios, the ascending scale from the second exposition, and finally a resolute ending on C.
The second movement, which is in E major, opens with the solo piano. The opening is marked with detailed pedalling instructions.
III. Rondo – Allegro
The finale is in a sonata rondo form. The movement begins in C minor with an agitated theme played only by the piano. The movement ends with a C major coda marked presto.
Cadenza of the first movement
The score was incomplete at its first performance. Beethoven’s friend, Ignaz von Seyfried, who turned the pages of the music for him that night, later wrote:
I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper.