Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58

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        It is Mozart, of course, to whom we owe the creation of the mature, symphonic piano concerto. Beethoven wrote five works in this genre; the first two were completed in the 1790s and owe much to the example of Mozart. The third, in C minor, was completed in 1803, around the time of his second symphony, and it is a far darker and impassioned work than the previous ones. By the time of the fourth concerto, finished in 1806, Beethoven had undergone remarkable growth as a composer. He had resolutely fought his way out of the deep suicidal depression occasioned by his increasing deafness. The monumental Eroica (third symphony), his opera, Fidelio, and the Rasumovsky string quartets had been created, and revealed the musical power, psychological depth, and progressive imagination of the mature composer. As such, the fourth piano concerto is of great significance in his oeuvre. One notices straightaway in performance that, unlike the earlier two concertos--typical for their time--there obtains much greater strength and independence in the rôle of the piano in the fourth. The piano gets to announce the themes! There follows significant interplay between soloist and orchestra, but the piano never seems secondary to the part of the orchestra. The seventy-two measure Andante con moto that follows the first movement is eloquent evidence of Beethoven’s ability to work with thematic transformation in a small frame. The finale is cast in the typical form for this genre: a rondo (simply a section with a catchy theme that keeps coming back after some diversions--easy to follow). Its tumultuous, jolly nature provides a perfect contrast to the preceding tranquility, and reminds us once again of Beethoven’s sense of humor.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan