Saturday, 19 December 2009
Moments of Magic Number 6
Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor" by L.V. Beethoven
Do not be fooled by the inclusion of Napoleon's imperial portrait. The 5th piano concerto had, apparently, nothing to do with the famous French emperor.
It was given the title 'Emperor' not by Beethoven, as he himself loathed the ruling class, but by others because of its particularly grand style. Ironically, 'the Beast' was once an admirer of Napoleon but was so enraged when he crowned himself Emperor that he tore up the piece he had dedicated to him; his third Symphony, the "Eroica." Though evidently a masterful musician and a composer of extraordinary genius, when it came to politics and reality, Beethoven was hopelessly credulous and naive.
In addition, Beethoven had a notoriously thunderous temper, earning him his sobriquet, and was frequently unfair and cruel to household staff, friends and family. He was arrogant, tough and even unfeeling - the very picture of the patricians he held in such disdain.
Though admired, he was not liked. His favour with the court in Vienna was uncertain, his social skills were poorly developed but he had a revolutionary and extraordinary approach to writing music that meant he provided a unique bridge between the old world of Classical music and the new world of Romantic music.
He influenced Chopin, among others, with piano concerti such as this in which the instrument comes to the fore; he skips up and down the keyboard with great freedom, a style which was initially shocking to the conservative audiences of Vienna, and, in this particular sequence reveals the measured majesty of his mind. Like his "Pathetique" adagio cantabile, the notes themselves are simple, the rhythm is gentle and calm but the overpowering sophistication of that simplicity is an extraordinarily difficult trick. Beethoven was possessed with these powers, and here it is shown to great effect.