If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll notice I feature a piece of classical music each Sunday. The practice developed from a suggestion one of my brothers made a couple of years ago to feature classical pieces more often.
And if you’ve really been watching and listening, you’ll know I’m partial to adagio movements. Today’s selection is one of my favourites of this tempo style: the second movement (Adagio un poco moto) from the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 by the German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
Beethoven composed the work, known in English-speaking countries as the Emperor Concerto, in 1809. It premiered in Leipzig, Germany in 1811 with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Johann Philipp Christian Schulz (1773-1827) and Freidrich Schneider (1776-1853) as soloist. Beethoven himself would have generally played the piano part, but was unable to as the hearing impairment that had begun in his 20s was almost complete by then. It’s remarkable and tragic to think of the beautiful music he wrote without being able to experience, fully, the sounds he composed later in his life.
The Piano Concerto No. 5 is seen as an innovative work for its period, with a heroic, militaristic style, no orchestral introduction to the entrance of the solo, a lengthening of the concerto form, and the creation of a new relationship between the orchestra and the solo instrument.
I found a YouTube video of the piece played at LSO St. Luke’s in December 2020 by the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of British conductor Simon Rattle (b. 1955) with Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman (b. 1956). This grouping made recordings of the five Beethoven piano concertos, releasing them as the compilation album Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos (2021). The record label Deutsche Grammophon (DG) also released the fifth piano concerto as a visual album that is quite beautiful to listen to and watch. I savoured the whole work yesterday and added it to my digital collection.
Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here is the Adagio un poco moto from the visual album, posted on DG’s official YouTube channel. I feel it is magical to hear and watch the musicians, particularly Zimerman’s expressive playing (especially his magnificent trills).
At the end of the video, Zimerman begins a slow transition into the piano theme of the third movement (Rondo: Allegro), and the second movement ends like a cliffhanger! Don’t despair though… here is the audio for the Rondo: Allegro from the Complete Piano Concertos recording on the Krystian Zimerman YouTube topic channel: