Beethoven and the Power of Four Notes

Unknown-20“Long…short, short, short…” This is the spirited little cell that quietly opens  Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. The entire piece grows from this almost sneaky opening in a way not unlike the famous, ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

As you listen to the first movement, notice all the ways these four notes return. Sometimes they’re hidden or played in quiet pizzicato. At other times you’ll hear the motive in the entire orchestra as a noble proclamation. This motive is tossed and turned throughout the  development section (beginning at 7:06). Then, listen to the way we get back home to the recap, again with these four simple notes (9:27). Along the way, we hear elements that would have shocked the first audiences, like the sudden, far out key change to E-flat major for the second theme (1:18).

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 was written between 1796 and 1797 and dedicated to the Countess of Bratislava. Beethoven gave the first performance on a piano tuned a half step too low (He transposed the entire concerto to C-sharp on sight)!

Here is pianist Evgeny Kissin and the London Symphony with Sir Colin Davis:

  1. Allegro con brio 0:00
  2. Largo 14:32
  3. Rondo. Allegro scherzando 25:09

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