Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Opus 15

Composed 1796–97

I. Allegro con brio
II. Largo
III. Rondo. Allegro scherzando

Maurizio Pollini (piano), Wiener Philharmoniker, Eugen Johum


Beethoven's so called 1st Piano concert in C major was actually not the first one. The concert known as the "second" concert, namely opus 19 in B major, was written much earlier. However, Beethoven spent so much time on elaborating the concert in B major that the concert in C major was printed before. Thus, it is called the first concert. But the composer also changed this one several times. Probably, Beethoven performed the concert in C major for the first time during one of the academy concerts at the Tonkünstler Society at the Hofburgtheater on March 29th, 1795. The version of this concert was different from the one that is known today. Beethoven's pupil, Ferdinand Ries, reports the following about the last days before the performance: "Only in the afternoon of the second day before the performance of his first concert (C major) did he write the rondo, plagued by a terrible colic he suffered from so often. I helped him as much as could. Four copyists were sitting in the hallway and Beethoven handed them every single sheet. (...) At the first rehearsal that took place the next day in Beethoven's room, the piano for the wind instruments was tuned one half-note too low. Immediately, Beethoven had the remaining instruments be tuned to a instead of b flat and performed his part from C sharp."



Confusingly, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1795-1800) actually follows the Concerto No. 2 in order of composition. The confusion is explained by the fact that the composer withhheld what is now known as the Second Concerto from publication in order to make substantial revisions (including an all-new rondo), in the meantime proceeding to complete and publish the present work. There are distinct Mozartean moments in the First Concerto, particularly in the quiet, strings-only introduction to the opening Allegro con brio. With the entrance of the orchestra (complete with brass and timpani), however, the music takes on a more martial character and a distinctive vigor peculiar to Beethoven's style. The second subject, played by violins and woodwinds over a restless bass accompaniment, unfolds in longer, more lyrical phrases. When the piano finally enters, it's with material that can be heard as a variant of either of the themes already presented; a recurring rhythmic figure, though, clearly links it to the music that opens the work. Throughout the remainder of the movement, Beethoven employs light, rapid passagework no doubt intended to display the composer's own virtuosity. Further opportunity for pianistic display arises at the cadenza, which is followed by a brief coda. The Largo second movement begins with a vocally expressive, lyrical melody, an almost prayerful moment that forecasts the profound slow movements of Beethoven's final period. The orchestra answers with a more forthright theme, then eases into a variant of the piano's melody. The soloist returns with further comments in this vein, highly ornamented and subtly supported and commented upon by the strings and woodwinds. After a poignant episode in which the keyboard adopts for the first time a thin, unassuming texture, the piano reintroduces the opening theme, soon joined by the orchestra. The movement closes in a hushed atmosphere. The Allegro scherzando rondo is typical of much of Beethoven's music of the period: full of high spirits, rhythmic syncopations, and irregular phrasings. The piano presents a comically sputtering theme, soon echoed by the full ensemble. Several of the succeeding episodes have a quirky urgency and comic almost melodrama of the sort that inspired silent film scores more than a century later. The work draws to a conclusion in a spirit of both boldness and mischief.

(All Music Guide)


Anschlagzettel für Beethovens musikalische Akademie im Burgtheater am 2. April 1800