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After completing this concerto in 1806, the composer struggled to find anyone to perform it. So the work sat on a shelf, gathering dust, until its public premiere on 22 December 1808.
Just imagine that you are the most famous composer in the world. Your public adores you. You’ve had huge success already with all sorts of works. And now, you’ve written your fourth piano concerto. Deciding who should play the solo piano part could surely be considered an afterthought. Every pianist in Europe would jump at the chance – wouldn’t they?
Apparently not. At least, not in the case of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. The eventual soloist? One Ludwig van Beethoven. The man clearly had astonishing stamina. In the same concert, he conducted the premiere performances of his Symphony No. 5 and No. 6!
Beethoven has Felix Mendelssohn to thank for the continued popularity of his Piano Concerto No. 4. The piece was in danger of being eclipsed by the many other great works being composed by Beethoven at the time – not least, those two symphonies. Some twenty-five years after its composition, though, Mendelssohn championed it in concert halls across Europe, performing it in England in 1847. In many ways, it remains eclipsed today, primarily by the Emperor Piano Concerto that was to follow it. But Beethoven has only himself to blame for that.