Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was the eldest son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and, more important, grandson of the Archbishop's former Kapellmeister, whose name he took. The household was not a happy one. Beethoven's father, described after his death as a considerable loss to the profits of the wine trade, became increasingly inadequate both as a singer and as a father and husband, with his wife always ready to draw invidious comparisons between him and his own father. Beethoven, however, was trained as a musician, however erratically, and duly entered the service of the Archbishop, serving as an organist and as a string-player in the archiepiscopal orchestra. He was already winning some distinction in Bonn, when, in 1787, he was first sent to Vienna, to study with Mozart. The illness of his mother forced an early return from this venture and her subsequent death left him with responsibility for his younger brothers, in view of his father's domestic and professional failures. In 1792 Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.
Beethoven's early career in Vienna was helped very considerably by the circumstances of his move there. The Archbishop was a son of the Empress Maria Theresa and there were introductions to leading members of society in the imperial capital. From Haydn he claimed to have learned nothing and his teacher must have been dismayed at times by his pupil's duplicity, but he went on to take lessons also from Albrechtsberger, well known for his mastery of counterpoint, and from the Court Composer Antonio Salieri, and was able to establish an early position for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled with a clear genius in the necessarily related arts of improvisation and composition.
The onset of deafness at the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It led Beethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuoso performer and into an area of composition where he was able to make remarkable changes and extensions of existing practice. Deafness tended to accentuate his eccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme as time went on. At the same time it allowed him to develop an aspect of his music that some critics already regarded as academic or learned, that of counterpoint, an art in which he had acquired great mastery. He continued to develop forms inherited from his predecessors, notably Haydn and Mozart, but expanded these almost to bursting-point, introducing innovation after innovation as he grew older. To following generations his music offered a challenge. For some he seemed to have brought the symphony, in particular, to a final climax, and composers like Brahms, who drew on earlier tradition, were faced with the daunting task of continuing on a path that, for some, at least, seemed already to have reached its height.
Beethoven died in 1827, leaving a body of work that has continued to provide subsequent generations with an essential heart to their repertoire, whether in the concertos and symphonies or in the sonatas and chamber music.
It was primarily in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century that the symphonie concertante had won popularity, particularly in Paris. It was as a result of his visit to the city in 1778 that Mozart wrote his own four completed examples of the genre and started work on two more, one with a solo string trio and the other for solo violin and piano. In German-speaking territory the form won less immediate favour, although concertos for two or more solo instruments continued to have a place. Beethoven's single contribution was the so-called Triple Concerto of 1804, the Concerto in C major for violin, cello and piano, Opus 56. This was apparently written for the Archduke Rudolph, son of the late Emperor Leopold II, who became Beethoven's pupil at the age of fifteen, in 1803. The Archduke continued his study with Beethoven intermittently over the next twenty years, making his own contribution to cultural life in his compositions and, above all, in his patronage and the very practical and tactful help he extended to his teacher, for whom he was instrumental in providing, from 1809, a pension. The Triple Concerto makes relatively modest demands on the pianist, the Archduke himself, but presents greater technical challenges to the string players, the violinist Carl August Seidler and the veteran cellist Anton Kraft, who had served Haydn at Esterh�za from 1778 until 1790 and from 1795 was in the service of Prince Lobkowitz in Vienna. It was for these performers that the work was originally intended. The work was offered, before its completion, to various publishers and finally appeared in 1807, issued by the Vienna Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie (Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir), in which Joseph von Sonnleithner, a close friend of Schubert, had an interest. The published concerto was dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz and the first known public performance was given in a concert organized by the violinist Schuppanzigh at the Augartensaal in May 1808. On this occasion it apparently made little impression on those who heard it, a failing that Beethoven's assiduous friend Schindler attributed to the lack of seriousness of the performers.
The Triple Concerto starts with an ascending figure played by cellos and double basses, an important rhythmic motif in what follows, in both the principal and secondary subject material. The orchestral exposition leads to a hushed repetition, from the first violins, of the key note of C, above which the solo cello enters, establishing its primacy in the solo ensemble. It is joined by the solo violin, the two instruments preparing for the entry of the piano. The exposition is of some length, allowing each of the solo instruments a measure of prominence in figuration that often recalls, in the writing for violin and cello, the use Mozart made of violin and viola in his Sinfonia Concertante for those instruments. The A flat major slow movement, introduced by muted strings, allow, the solo cello the statement of the singing principal theme. The piano provides a gentle accompaniment, as violin and cello join in the melodic material, moving towards a modulation that allows the direct introduction of the final Rondo alla Polacca, where the solo cello again introduces the principal theme, used to frame episodes of contrasting melody and key. There is a change from triple to a rapid duple time for the closing Allegro, which provides the equivalent of a cadenza, before the coda proper.
It was in some haste that Beethoven, in December 1806, completed his only surviving Violin Concerto. He had attempted the form before, in Bonn, with a Concerto in C major, for which the two later Romances for violin and orchestra might have provided alternative slow movements, but the only complete and surviving concerto is that in D major, Opus 61, written for the violinist and conductor Franz Clement. Born in Vienna in 1780, Clement had in the 1790s played in London for Salomon in concerts in which Haydn participated and in 1802 became conductor at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, a position he held for the next nine years. He was known for his rapid powers of memory and at the first performance of Beethoven's concerto, finished, it seems, two days before the performance, he also included in the programme some variations played with the violin upside down (mit umgekehrter Violine), an example of his technical, if not of his musical skill. Beethoven inscribed the autograph of the concerto with the dedicatory words: Concerto par Clemenza pour Clement primo Violino e direttore al theatro a vienna.
In April 1807 Beethoven received a visit from the London pianist, publisher and piano-manufacturer Muzio Clementi, with whom he agreed on the provision of three quartets (the Razumovsky Quartets, Opus 59), a symphony (Symphony No. 4, Opus 60), an overture (Coriolan, Opus 62) and a violin concerto which Clementi described as beautiful and which he had asked Beethoven to arrange as a piano concerto, as well as an original piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Opus 58). Clementi informed his London partner Collard that Beethoven had promised to adapt the violin concerto himself and this he seems, in the main, to have done, although the actual labour of transcription he may have left largely to a copyist or arranger, acting on his instructions. His original contribution to the concerto is heard in the addition of cadenzas for the solo piano. These were arranged in more recent times for the violin by the violinist Max Rostal. The two versions of Opus 61 were published in Vienna in August 1808 by the Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie, the violin version dedicated to Stephan von Breuning and the piano version to his new wife, Julie von Breuning, who was to die within a year of her marriage.
The concerto opens with the usual orchestral exposition, although less usual is the importance given to the timpani, which opens the work with a rhythm that is to have continued importance. The orchestra introduces the first and second subjects, before the entry of the soloist with the notes of the dominant seventh chord and an opening cadenza, before launching once again into the first subject. There is a linking passage, with opportunity for elements of virtuoso display, before the clarinets and bassoons usher in the second subject, which is at once developed further. The central development explores the possibilities of the material, with the constant re-appearance of the opening rhythmic figure. The recapitulation seems about to establish the wrong key, that of C major, but a shift of tonality allows an adjustment of key. Eventually the recapitulation proper begins in the orchestra and clarinets and bassoon are again entrusted with the secondary theme, on its return Beethoven's piano cadenza recalls the earlier material, followed by a brief return of the principal theme in conclusion. The G major Larghetto is introduced by muted strings, the piano at first adding a decorative element, before embarking on its own thematic material, the two elements providing, in turn, the substance of the movement. The soloist starts the final Rondo, the principal melody then echoed by the orchestra before the first episode, with its opportunity for solo display. The second contrasting episode is in G minor and the material of the first theme and first episode return in a recapitulation, before the cadenza and the final coda, dominated by the rhythm and substance of the principal theme.
Reviews[5 Stars] The performance of the work is magical [Concerto]...The soloists in the Triple Concerto are brilliant and subtle, as the music dictates - BBC Music Magazine