Rather confusingly, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, written during 1796 and 1797 isn't actually the first one he composed.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 may have been published in 1801, but it was composed almost ten years earlier. And really, if we're being pedantic, neither Piano Concerto No. 1 or Piano Concerto No. 2 are in the right order: Beethoven actually composed another one at the age of 13, with the somewhat unpoetic title of WoO 4, or Piano Concerto No. 0.
In terms of the music's character, this concerto certainly seems more polite than, say, the Fourth, or the Emperor. Beethoven hadn’t yet decided to champion the idea of the piano and orchestra performing as one, in interweaving dialogue. Instead, there’s a respectful distance between the two; they exist very much as separate voices. That’s not to say the work is disappointing – just that it’s absolutely a product of its time. Quite simply, for this concerto to make sense, it could have been composed only within Beethoven’s early period.
Despite its relative conservatism, his Piano Concerto No. 1 did provoke quite a response in its day. At its premiere in Prague, the audience reacted favourably but with surprise – proving that, even when he was starting out, Beethoven was already sowing the seeds of musical revolution and challenging preconceived ideas as to what any given musical structure should contain.