LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN‘s celebrated instrumental concertos – five for piano, one for violin and the „Triple“ for piano, violin and violoncello have represented for more than two centuries an integral part of the repertoire of all great preformers, familiar to and popular with the widest of audiences. By establishing a perfect eqilibrium between the brilliant virtuosity of the solo instrument and the opulence of the symphonically deployed orchestra, these ingenious masterpieces have become the hallmark concert form for the following generations of composers.
The piano concerto Nr. 5, known as the EMPEROR, is considered Beethoven‘s last concerto opus (in 1815 he was working on a sixth concerto in D major, which, however, was left unfinished.) The Fifth concerto was composed between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, in the difficult time of fierce hostilities with Napoleon‘s armies, when Vienna was under siege and was forced to surrender. Around that time, Beethoven wrote to his publisher:
„What a disturbing, wild life around me! Nothing but drums, cannons, men, misery of all sorts…… ”
The concerto was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph (Johannes Joseph Reiner von Habsburg-Lotringen), the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, archbishop of Olomouc and later a cardinal. He was Beethoven‘s pupil and became his patron and close friend for over 20 years. It was to him that fourteen of the composer‘s works have been dedicated, among them the Hammerklavier sonata and the Missa Solemnis, while he himself also composed and published under a pseudonym. The concerto was heard for the first time on 13 January 1811 in prince Joseph Lobkowitz‘s Vienna palace with a soloist Archduke Rudolph himself.
The first public performance took place on 28 November of the same year at Leipzig‘s Gewandhaus under the direction of Johann Philip Kristian Schulz and soloist Friedriech Schneider, the organist of the Saint Thomas‘, Bach‘s celebrated Leipzig cathedral. On 12 February 1812 the first public Vienna performance of the concerto took place, played by the famous pianist and composer Carl Czerny, also a pupil of Beethoven. The title Emperor did not originate with the author, it was attached later by Johann Baptist Cramer, the English publisher of the concerto‘s score, and is likely to have been prompted by the dedication, by the imposing and unusually extensive nature of the work with duration over 40 minutes (the first movement alone, with its 582 bars exceeds the bar count in the first movements of the Fifth and the Ninth symphonies.)