Heritage and individuality

250th anniversary

Ludwig van Beethoven


Heritage and individuality

Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Jorge Fontenla
Piano: Friedrich Gulda

Teatro Colón, April 13, 1970.

There are works in a composer's repertoire that can only be assigned to one stage of his creative life. This is the case of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in C major Op. 15, a clear production of Beethoven's first period. The characteristics of the work reflect the expertise of a composer who has a profound knowledge of the pillars of classical style for the concert genre: three contrasting movements (fast, slow, fast), with crystallized forms (sonata, ternary, rondo), and a characteristic classical relationship between soloist and mass.

The first sketches of this work date from 1795, but (as it couldn't be other way) its creation was subjected to the iron filter of its own critics, who extended in time a real work of goldsmithing until the Concert No. 1 was published in 1801, together with No. 2. To observe the historical rigor, it is necessary to point out that the order of these two concerts is altered: first he composed the second, and the other way around. And if we bet on the subtleties, Beethoven composed a piano concerto prior to the two mentioned above, of which only the piano part survived with some notes for the orchestra. In short, the creation of a piano concerto was a real challenge for Beethoven, who was not satisfied with his first attempt.

Beethoven wrote this Concerto when he was already definitively settled in Vienna, where he had moved in 1792 to develop the rest of his life and career. It was there that he had his dream of taking lessons with Mozart, whom he had met briefly in 1787. Beethoven then had to return to his hometown because of the imminent death of his sick mother; by the time Ludwig was able to return to Vienna, Mozart had already died. Haydn was the one who finally took him on as a pupil, and although over time they developed a relationship of mutual respect, they had friction at first. It was in Vienna, then, that Beethoven refined his classical spirit, under the direct influence of the two most important composers of that period's history.

His creativity flourished at a profoundly painful time in his life, which is evident in the famous "Heiligenstadt Testament" addressed to his brothers, where he left a written record of his terrible suffering, which drove him to become a desperate and lonely man: "...when at some point I tried to forget is, oh, how hard I was forced to recognize the then double reality of my deafness"..

Although Concert No. 1 follows an inherited classical model, the treatment of the materials and the harmonic subtleties typical of Beethoven make this work an undisputed bastion of his early period. Furthermore, it is important to remember that at that time Beethoven became a true virtuoso of the piano by winning public improvisation competitions. Therefore, his first concert could not be far from his personal experience as a pianist, showing that he is a virtuoso who writes for virtuosos.

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