Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, op. 37

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Duration: 34 minutes in three movements.

THE COMPOSER – LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) – Beethoven’s reputation as an instrumental composer was well set in 1803 and though he still had much more to say in that realm, he was also eager to enter the glamorous world of opera. An invitation by the Theater an der Wien to collaborate with Schikaneder was exactly what Beethoven was hoping for and he moved into the building to begin the work of selecting a suitable subject.  

THE HISTORY – Though the opera contract would be voided a year later (through no fault of the composer), the posting at the Theater provided an opportunity to schedule one of Beethoven’s signature mega-concerts. Important Beethoven premieres often occurred on ambitious programs that bundled several of his works into marathon evenings that, as often as not, went very poorly. Programmed on this particular event were the 1st Symphony, the 2nd Symphony, the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the 3rd Piano Concerto. All but the 1st Symphony were new works and, in the case of the 3rd Piano Concerto, the first performance was hampered by the usual rehearsal shortages (the orchestra had only one grueling half-day session to prepare everything) and the incomplete status of the score, in which Beethoven’s page-turner noticed more than a few “empty pages” at the performance. In its final form, this concerto represented a pivot point for Beethoven between his first two fully Classical examples and the more Romantic models that would follow. According to Michael Steinberg, this is due to the date of its publication, not its composition. Concerto No. 3 benefited from delays that allowed it to bypass an “early work” classification and be judged as contemporary to the 3rd Symphony rather than the 2nd. Regardless of its place in Beethoven’s timeline, there is no doubt about the historical inspiration for the piece with its stylistic and thematic nods to Mozart and his K. 491 concerto.                                                                                                  

THE WORLD – 1803 was the year of the Louisiana Purchase in the United States. Also the year, Britain declared war on Napoleonic France and the French suffered defeat at the hands of Haitian rebels in the Battle of Vertieres.

THE CONNECTION – Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto was last performed on a Utah Symphony Masterworks program in 2007. Fabio Bidini was soloist under Matthias Bamert.