Written between 1809 and 1811, Beethoven's 'Emperor' piano concerto was to be his last.
Every portrait of Beethoven seems to drive home the impression that he was a composer whose music was tempestuous, brooding and muscular. And while that was certainly the case, the masterful Emperor Concerto is proof of the tenderness and beauty that runs like a thread through this great man’s music.
At the time of writing this concerto, Beethoven was very much straddling the divide between the Classical and Romantic periods. The work itself seems to be breaking out of conventional boundaries – almost as if a new kind of music is being born. The sheer length of the opening movement belies convention; the serene second movement flows directly – and unusually – into the finale; and the overt romance of the music looks ahead to a musical period that was at that time still in its infancy.
At its premiere in Vienna in 1812, the soloist was one Carl Czerny – a fine composer in his own right and a man who studied under Beethoven. Apparently, the work’s nickname derived not from Beethoven but from a comment made by one of Napoleon’s officers, who was stationed in Vienna at the time. It was ‘an emperor of a concerto’, the man supposedly exclaimed. Indeed it was. And the name has stuck ever since.