Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat (the Emperor), Op. 73.
I: Allegro II: Adagio un poco mosso III: Rondo; allegro
Written in 1809, this was the last concerto of any kind by Beethoven, and it is the only piano concerto for which Beethoven did not play the first performance himself. This may have been because of war conditions in Vienna, or because Beethoven had become too deaf. The musical score was sold to publishers, and it was eventually first performed two years later.
The reason for the Emperor title is somewhat unclear. It definitely does not refer to the invading Napoleon, who had entered Vienna during the concerto’s composition. (In fact, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony No. 3 was originally dedicated to the self-declared emperor, Napoleon). It is said that Beethoven has been called an emperor among composers, possibly apocryphally, by various sources.
Unusually this concerto has no cadenza, unless we count several elaborate statements made by the soloist during the first movement, but everything is explicitly written out by Beethoven in the solo part, with no flexibility allowed. Indeed, the original score is marked “Do not play a cadenza….”! However, the first solo section does introduce the themes that form the material of the entire first movement.
The second movement resembles a slow nocturne, with variations, although the soloist does not himself quote the main theme. After the last of the variations, the bassoons hold a pedal note and then we subside by a semi-tone without pause into the energetic finale. The last movement involves an unusual duet for piano and timpani in the coda, near its conclusion.
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908): Capriccio Espagnol
I: Alborada II: Variazioni III: Alborada IV: Scena e canto gitano V: Fandango asturiano
The composition of Capriccio Espagnol in 1887 marked the end of a relatively unproductive period in Rimsky-Korsakov’s career. During the early 1880’s he had been preoccupied with the massive task of putting his friend Mussorgsky’s works in order (after his death in 1881), including several re-orchestrations. He also had substantial responsibilities as assistant musical director of the Imperial Chapel.
The first performance of Capriccio in St. Petersburg, with Rimsky conducting, was an immediate success. According to the composer, it is not so much a well-orchestrated piece, but a composition for orchestra. As such, it brings out various instrumental timbres, exhibits a variety of figures and rhythms, and includes several virtuoso cadenzas for several solo instruments (violin, flute, clarinet, and harp). The themes are based on a collection of Spanish songs and dances in Rimsky’s possession.
The first section, the Alborada, is based on music originally played by shepherds on wind and percussion instruments, in praise of the rising sun. Some transcriptions are marked “gaita” to indicate that a bagpipe effect is intended. The second section is a set of variations on a Danza Prima (Evening Dance), re-invented by Rimsky’s warm scoring of a horn quartet. After a reprise of the Alborada, the fourth section is based on an Andalusian gypsy song, but set in the major key rather than its original minor. The final section, Fandango, is similar to the Alborada, but is based on a different Asturian melody originally for piano and drum; it also calls for a bagpipe effect.
Listeners may detect some similarities in the orchestration of this piece to Scheherezade, which was also composed by Rimsky-Korsakov one year later, in 1888.
Notes © by STEPHEN WALTER.