Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 3, C-minor, Op. 37

by Max Derrickson

Ludwig van Beethoven   (b Bonn, December 16, 1770; dVienna, March 26, 1827)

Piano Concerto No. 3, C-minor, Op. 37
1. Allegro con brio
2. Largo
3. Rondo: Allegro

[. . .] “Cramer!” Beethoven is reported to have said, “We will never be able to write anything like that!”  With one piano concerto already completed, a second on the way,  the Mozart experience inspired Beethoven to write a C-minor concerto of his own, but not surprisingly, it took until 1796 to begin the work.  [. . .]

The inspiration took its time, as the completion and premiere did not happen until April of 1803 – despite its lengthy genesis (or perhaps because of it) this Concerto is remarkable in its concision and clarity in themes and structure.  The first movement, Allegro con brio, begins with a muscular, and rather ominous, first theme in the orchestra.  A more cantabile second theme follows.  These two themes create the structure for the rest of this wonderful movement, which Beethoven develops in ingenious ways.  After the orchestra has supplied its statements, the piano enters with its version of those themes, but with a circa-1800 surprise.  Shortly before Beethoven competed the work, piano makers were beginning to add extra keys [. . .]

[. . .] And after the exceptional cadenza, which is both mighty and light-hearted, the return of the orchestra delivers a breathtaking moment.  Here, while the timpani taps out the second part of the first theme in a sinister and urgent manner, the orchestra and the piano trade off the first part of that theme, and the whole moment begins to propel itself into back-arching excitement.  From then on both pianist and orchestra continue to supply thrills until the movement’s powerful ending. [. . .]

The Rondo last movement is full of charm, wit and surprises; it’s an ebullient way to end the concerto.  The first theme to appear is dance-like and Hungarian in flavor.  Although in the minor key, the feel from the start is wonderfully fresh.  The themes are lovely, and we get hints of the final major key as we go long.  A lighthearted clarinet portion precedes, of all things, a quick and intense fugue.  The flourish of the very brief cadenza leads us into another quirky surprise – a change of the time signature into almost that of an Irish jig.  The key is also firmly grounded in the life affirming C Major, and the movement dashes off to the final chords.