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Five Piano Concertos:
Creation History
Part 1

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1,
op. 15, 2nd Movement - Largo (Midi-File)


Ludwig van Beethoven

(Painting by Willibrod Mähler)

In following all relevant traces of the development of Beethoven's readiness for the composition of his five piano concertos, we should, at least, consider two aspects, namely his development with respect to his skills and his inventiveness as a pianist on the one hand, and his development with respect to his compositional skills as a composer of piano works as well as a composer of orchestral music in combination with solo instruments, particularly, of course, the piano, on the other hand.  Moreover, while we certainly know that general events occurring in a composer's life around the time of the creation of certain compositions do not necessarily have a direct bearing on the artistic content of such works, not even in the case of such a "personally expressive" or, as Albert Schweitzer put it in his Bach biography, "subjective" composer (in his direct comparison of Wagner as belonging to the latter group of composers and Bach as an "objective" composer) as Beethoven, we may, nevertheless, gain a better understanding of the overall development of a composer's works in a particular genre as the one described here, since biographical information will, at least, also provide important clues with respect to a composer's general disposition towards his work in a particular genre, such as, for example, Beethoven's health situation and all of its implications.  Here, we are, of course, never confronted by absolutes, but rather by certain adjustments an artist may or may not make for the sake of his artistic survival.  That our attention to such detail will also show certain coincidental influences, can also be recognized as a matter of course.  Let us, after this deliberation, move right into our exploration on hand!

Thayer reports that already in 1784, even before Beethoven's visit to Vienna, " the Neue Blumenlese für Klavierliebhaber of this year, Part 1, pp. 18 and 19, appeared a Rondo for Piano forte in A Major, 'dal Sigre. van Beethoven', and Part II, p. 44, the Arioso 'An einen Säugling, von Hrn. Beethoven'. 'Un Concert pur le Clavecin ou Fortepiano compose par Louis van Beethoven age de douze ans,' in E-flat, 32 pp. manuscript written in a boy's hand, may also belong to this year'" (Thayer: 71), and it is further indicated that is was scored for a small orchestra with strings, flutes and horns, while the listing of compositions for this period, on page 72, shows this work [listed in Grove as WoO 4] as having been composed between 1782 and 1785.  (It was later published in the supplement of Beethoven's collected works). To this, Barry Cooper comments:

"Far more significant musically than either the rondo or the song is Beethoven's earliest known orchestral work, a piano concerto in E-flat (WoO4), which was possibly stimulated by a piano concerto in G by Neefe published in 1782. It is assumed to date from 1784, since the manuscript describes Beethoven as aged twelve. Unfortunately only the piano part survives, in a copyist's hand with numerous alterations by Beethoven. The orchestral tutti sections, however, have been incorporated into it, with fairly full indications of instrumention that have enabled a tentative reconstruction to be made" (Cooper: 15).

Cooper further describes this work as very articulated in its piano part, written with great care to details, amazingly virtuosic and with bravura-figurations that already exceeded Mozart's standartd and reiterates that this work is a "far from unsuccessful attempt at coming to grips with one of the most important musical genres" (Cooper: 16).

This certainly corresponds with Neefe's 1783 article in which he describes how the young artist's teacher, "Herr Neefe" had already discovered his skill in playing Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, that he had already started to teach him composition and that the young artist would deserve being furthered by allowing him to travel, as we have also described this in our Biographical Pages.


Ludwig van Beethoven
at the age of 16 years


We also know that Beethoven's first attempt at traveling, as recommended by Neefe, occurred at the age at which the above silhouette depicts him, namely when he was 16 years old, in the spring of 1787, which took him to Vienna and close to Mozart for all of two weeks before he had to return to Bonn on account of his mother's final illness. As we have already discussed in our Fidelio history, we do not know how intensive his contact with Mozart was who had, by that time, already written his Piano Concerto No. 20, K466 (in the winter of 1785), of which Beethoven would later grow so fond.

Barry Cooper reports that after his return from Vienna, Beethoven also worked on sketches for a new piano concerto:

"The new concerto Beethoven began during this period is also known only from a single leaf, and again the handwriting suggests the period 1787 - 1789. The leaf exhibits a ten-stabe score, of which the lowest two staves have been filled with nine bars of piano figuration while the upper eight, intended for the orchestra, have been left blank. The key of the concerto is B flat major, like the Second Piano Concerto, Op. 19 and its thematic material is sufficiently similar to Op. 19 to suggest that this itself was the work being composed, although it was comprehensively overhauled in later revisions.

Which part of the movement is represented on the Bonn leaf has been a puzzle. Both the cadenza and the development section have been suggested, but a cadenza would not have been written out with blank orchestral staves above (in fact, it would not have been written out at all but improvised), and the harmonic direction is wrong for the development section. The clue to the true location of the fragment is provided by an extended, unresolved chord" (Cooper: 23).

Listen to this fragment at the "Unheard Beethoven" Web Site!

During all of his Bonn years as court apprentice and musician, Beethoven also acted as piano teacher to children and young adults of Bonn society.  What would appear important for us to note in this respect are not the details of this activity, but rather our disposition towards raising the question as to whether or not this teaching activity also provided Beethoven with some stimulation to discover for himself new ways of approaching and developing his own style of piano playing.  While we may not be certain as to whether his teaching activity only reaped the benefits of his own development or whether it actually also stimulated it, we have a report with respect to the development of his own increased piano virtuosity from his 1791 journey to Mergentheim:

"Once in Mergentheim the merry monarch and his jolly subjects had other things to think of and seem to have made a noise in the world in more senses than one. At all events Carl Ludwig Junker, Chaplain at Kirchberg, the residence of Prince Hohenlohe, heard of them and went over to hear them. Junker was a dilletante composer and the author of some half-dozen small works upon music--musical almanacs published anonymously, and the like, all now forgotten save by collectors, as are his pianoforte concertos-- but at that time he was a man of no small mark in the musical world of Western Germany. He came over to Mergentheim, was treated with great attention by the Elector's musicians, and showed his gratitude in a long letter to Bossler's Musikal. Correpsondenz (Speyer, November 23, 1791), in which superlatives somewhat abound, but which is an exquisite piece of gossip and gives the liveliest picture that exists of the "Kapelle". We have room for only a portion of it:

'. . . Here I was also an eye-witness to the esteem and respect in which this chapel stands with the Elector. . . . The members of the chapel, almost without exception, are in their best years, glowing with health, men of culture and fine personal appearance. They form truly a fine sight, when one adds the splendid uniform in which the Elector has clothed them--red, and richly trimmed with gold.'

'I heard also one of the greatest of pianists--the dear, good Bethofen, some compositions by whom appeared in the Speier Blumenlese in 1783, written in his eleventh year. True, he did not perform in public, probably the instrument here was not to his mind. It is one of Spath's make, and at Bonn he plays upon one by Steiner. But, what was infinitely preferable to me, I heard him extemporize in private; yes, I was even invited to propose a theme for him to vary. The greatness of this amiable, light-hearted man, as a virtuoso, may in my opinion be safely estimated from his almost inexhaustible wealth of ideas, the altogether characteristic style of expression in his playing, and the great execution which he displays. I know, therefore, no one thing which he lacks, that conduces to the greatness of an artist. I have heard Vogler upon the pianoforte--of his organ playing I say nothing, not having heard him upon that instrument--have often heard him, heard him by the hour together, and never failed to wonder at his astonishing execution; but Bethofen, in addition to the execution, has greater clearness and weight of idea, and more expression--in short, he is more for the heart--equally great, therefore, as an adagio or allegro player. Even the members of this remarkable orchestra are, without exception, his admirers, and all ears when he plays. Yet he is exceedingly modest and free from all pretension. He, however, acknowledged to me, that, upon the journeys which the Elector had enabled him to make, he had seldom found in the playing of the most distinguished virtuosi that excellence which he supposed he had a right to expect. His style of treating his instrument is so different from that usually adopted, that it impresses one with the idea, that by a path of his own discovery he has attained that height of excellence whereon he now stands.

'Had I acceded to the pressing entreaties of my friend Bethofen, to which Herr Winneberger added his own, and remained another day in Mergentheim, I have no doubt he would have played to me hours; and the day, thus spent in the society of these two great artists, would have been transformed into a day of the highest bliss.'"  (Thayer:104-105, italics mine).

As we know from our Biographical Pages, Beethoven was able to use his Bonn preparatory years to his advantage in becoming instantly cussessful as a piano virtuoso. With respect to this, we might note the following:

* The support he received from his patrons, namely Prince Lichnowsky and Baron/Freiherr van Swieten of whom, as a friend and furtherer of the music of the "old masters" Bach and Handel, we can safely assume that he must have been particularly drawn to Beethoven's skill as an interpreter of the works of Bach as he had already become acquainted with them and had practiced them under the tutorship of Neefe in the 1780's; and

* His reception not only by the Viennese public but also by his peers and competitors:

"Among Beethoven's earliest acquaintances in Vienna was the Abbe Joseph Gelinek, one of the first virtuosos then in that city and an amazingly fruitful and popular composer of variations. It was upon him that Carl Maria von Weber, some years afterwards, wrote the epigram:

Kein Thema auf der Welt verschonte dein Genie,
Das simpelste allein--Dich selbst-variirst du nie!

"No theme on earth escaped your genius airy,--
The simplest one of all--yourself--you never vary."

Czerny told Otto Jahn that his father once met Gelinek tricked out in all his finery. 'Whither?' he inquired. 'I am asked to measure myself with a young pianist who is just arrived; I'll work him over.' A few days later he met him again. 'Well, how was it?' 'Ah, he is no man; he's a devil. He will play me and all of us to death. And how he improvises!'"  (Thayer: 139).

This impression is confirmed by Beethoven's letter to his Bonn friend and former piano pupil, Eleonore von Breuning, of May or June, 1794, of which we only want to quote the relevant passage here:

"PS. The V. [variations] you will find a little difficult to play, especially the trills in the coda; but don't let this alarm you. It is so contrived that you need play only the trill, leaving out the other notes because they are also in the violin part. I never would have composed it so, had I not often observed that here and there in V. there was somebody who, after I had improvised of an evening, noted down many of the peculiarities, and made parade of them the next day as his own. Foreseeing that some of these things would soon appear in print, I resolved to anticipate them. Another reason that I had was to embarrass the local pianoforte masters. Many of them are my deadly enemies, and I wanted to revenge myself on them, knowing that once in awhile somebody would ask them to play the variations and they would make a sorry show of them (Thayer: ***)"

Here, we can return to discussing Beethoven's early work on his Piano Concerto No. 2, op. 19.  

Scholarly opinion would indicate that the first traces of Beethoven's development of the piano concerto that would be the first that he, himself began and completed during his lifetime, namely Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19, also go back to Beethoven's latest Bonn time. Grove's listing of it describes it as "begun before 1793." 

He must have worked on the completion of this work during the time after his arrival in Vienna in November, 1792 and before his first public performance in March, 1793.  With respect to this, Cooper reports:  

"Another work that occupied him during 1793 was his Piano Concerto in B flat, eventually published as Op. 19. This had been begun and probably completed in Bonn (see Chapter 2), but evidence suggests he wrote out a new, revised score during 1793, presumably for some unrecorded private performance. Fragments of cadenza sketches dating from the same time confirm that he must have played it somewhere that year. At this stage the work had an earlier finale than the present one, but this became separated from the rest of the manuscript (which is lost) and is now known as a separate work (WoO6). Its theme shows typical finale characteristics and bears a passing resemblance to that of the first Violin Sonata (Op. 12 No. 1), and the movement is in standard sonata-rondo form. Its most remarkable feature is its inclusion of an extended andante section in E flat, which functions as the contrasting middle section. This sounds quite alien to the rest of the movement, and it may even have been included instead of a slow movement, since the present slow movement was conducted only later and no earlier one is known. Either way, however, the result is a highly unusual structure that anticipates the compound movements found in some of Beethoven's late work" (Cooper: 46).

Cooper further reports that also from 1794 - 1796, Beethoven worked on the completion of this Concerto (of the B flat major Concerto No. 2, op. 19), but that he also worked on the composition of his C major Piano Concerto, op. 15) and that, in doing so, he first worked on the slow movement and the finale of op. 15 and then on op. 19 (Cooper:  52) and that, perhaps, in view of his first public appearance in March, 1795.  Cooper opines that it is still not quire clear which of these works he played at his first concert on March 29, 1795, since for both works, extensive sketches were already in existence.

He then refers to Robbins-Landon's Haydn book and the latter's report therein by Count Zinzendorf, namely that, perphaps, on March 2, 1795, a a private concert in the Lobkowitz palace, " named Beethoven touched everybody" (Cooper: 52-53), whereby Landon assumes that Beethoven must have played the "Rondo a cappriciio" (op. 129); however, Cooper doubts that on the basis of Count Zinzendorf's report.

From Cooper's detailed description of the "musical content" of both works (his 2000 Beethoven Biography in the "Master Musician" series combines a chronological account of Beethoven's life with criticism and descriptions of his work) in which he infers the following with respect to op. 19: 

"This profoundly original work was brought into being in circumstances far from ideal, as reported by Franz Wegeler, another Bonn native who had recently arrived in Vienna" (Cooper: 16),

we can discern that he also leaves room for the possibility that the work performed on March 29, 1795, might have been op. 15, after all.

With respect to the likelihood of Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19, having been the Concerto that Beethoven played at his first public performance on March 29, 1795, Thayer, relying on Nottebohm, also states that the first rehearsal of this concerto which, according to Franz Gerhard Wegeler's report, took place in Beethoven's quarters, would have lent itself far better to that purpose than a possible rehearsal of Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, since it was not scored for trumpets and kettledrums as the latter. As an additional indication, he mentions Beethoven's letter to Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, of April 22, 1801, in which he writes,

"In this connection I wish to add that one of my first concertos, and therefore not one of the best of my compositions, is to be published by Hofmeister, and that Mollo is to publish a concerto which, indeed was written later . . . " (Thayer: 174).

Thayer then mentions that the B-flat Concerto (No. 2, Op. 19) was published in 1801 by Hoffmeister and that in C (No. 1, Op. 15) also in 1801, namely by Mollo and Co. in Vienna, and that the reason for the earlier opus number for Concerto No. 1 may also have been the fact that it was published a little in advance of the B-flat Concerto No. 2.

Having thus established this point as much as we can here, we may also wish to move on to describing its initial completion and rehearsal as related by Beethoven's Bonn friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler who, as we know from our Biographical Pages, stayed in Vienna from 1794 to 1796:

"Not until the afternoon of the second day before the concert did he [Beethoven] write the rondo, and then while suffering from a pretty severe colic which frequently afflicted him. I [Wegeler] relieved him with simple remedies so far as I could. In the anteroom sat four copyists to whom he handed sheet after sheet as soon as it was finished. . . . At the first rehearsal, which took place the next day in Beethoven's room, the pianoforte was found to be half a tone lower than the wind-instruments. Without a moment's delay Beethoven had the wind-instruments and the others tune to B-flat instead of A and played his part in C-sharp (Thayer: 173/174)"

With respect to the concert of March 29, 1795, itself, we can report that it was arranged to take place in the Burgtheater, as part of a concert series, established by Gassmann, as benefit concerts for the widows of the Tonkünstlergesellschaft, with a second concert to follow the next day. As the Concert announcement featured below points out, it was to be opened with a "great new Symphony" by the Salieri pupil Antonio Cartellieri, followed by Beethoven's performance of "a new Concerto on the Pianoforte by the Master, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven, also of his invention".  The concert was to conclude with an oratorio in two parts by Cartellieri, "Gioas, Re di Giuda."

Stephan Ley's biographical collection of Beethoven vita features a comment on Beethoven's performance in the Wiener Zeitung" of April 1, 1795, "Am ersten Abend hat der berühmte Herr Ludwig van Beethoven mit einem von ihm selbst verfaßten ganz neuen Konzerte auf dem Pianoforte den ungeteilten Beifall des Publikums geerntet" (On the first evening, the famous Herr Ludwig van Beethoven won the unanimous applause of the audience with his newly-written Concerto on the Pianoforte--Translated from:  Ley: 78).

The minutes of the Tonkünstlergesellschaft inform us that Beethoven also took part in the second concert on March 30 in which he improvised on the pianoforte. However, he did not have to wait long to be heard in public the third time, since Mozart's widow Konstanze arranged a performance of her late husband's opera La Clemenza di Tito at the Burgtheater on March 31, during the intermission of which it was announced that "Hr. Ludwig van Beethoven will play a Concerto of Mozart's composition on the Pianoforte" (Thayer: 175).

As you can see, I have decided to chronologically follow the overall development of all aspects of the creation of the five piano concertos rather than sequentially featuring the history of the development of each concerto separately. Let us therefore carry on in this vein by following the further development in this manner.

In this context, it is appropriate to conclude our narration of events related to Beethoven's Piano Concertos in 1795 with Thayer's following reference:

"As the year began with the first, so it closed with Beethoven's second appearance in public as composer and virtuoso; and here is the advertisement of the performance from the Wiener Zeitung of December 16:

'Next Friday, the 18th instant, Herr Kapellmeister Haydn will give a grand musical concert in the small Redoutensaal, at which  Mad. Tomeni and Hr. Mombelli will sing. Hr. van Beethoven will play a Concerto of his composing on the Pianoforte . . . '" (Thayer: 177-178).

Thayer surmises that is must have again been the Concerto in B-flat that was played at the Concert that Haydn gave on his return from England, while I should not miss to mention that Grove ponders as to whether Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1, op. 15 might not have been first performed that evening, at least in the version in which it might have existed at that time. This would strongly suggest that Beethoven had already been at work at an initial version of the Concerto in C, in 1795. 

While we will return to Beethoven' further work on both Concertos in due course, we might also wish to take a look at his pianistic endeavors during 1796, of which we know that his first journey took him to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin where Beethoven delighted King Frederick William II with his pianistic skills as well as with his two Cello Sonatas for Duport. Among his colleagues, Beethoven did not find a match there as is shown in the incident concerning Friedrich Heinrich Himmel shows, but only in Prince Louis Ferdinand, all of which I do not want to withhold from you as Thayer relates it:

"Friedrich Heinrich Himmel, five years older than Beethoven, whom the King had withdrawn from the study of theology and caused to be thoroughly educated as a musician, first under Naumann in Dresden and afterwards in Italy, had returned the year before and has assumed his duties as Royal Pianist and Composer. As a virtuoso on his instrument his only rival in Berlin was Prince Louis Ferdinand, son of Prince August and nephew of Frederick II, two years younger than Beethoven and endowed by nature with talents and genius which would have made him conspicuous had fortune not given him royal descent. He and Beethoven became well known to each other and each had felt and did full justice to the other's musical genius and attainments. Now let Ries speak again (Notizen, p. 110): 'In Berlin he [Beethoven] associated much with Himmel, of whom he said, was elegant and pleasing, but he was not to be compared with Prince Louis Ferdinand. In his opinion he paid the latter a high compliment when once he said to him that his playing was not that of a king or prince but more like that of a thoroughly good pianoforte player. He fell out with Himmel in the following manner: One day when they were together Himmel begged Beethoven to improvise; which Beethoven did. Afterwards Beethoven insisted that Himmel do the same. The latter was weak enough to agree; but after he had played for quite a time Beethoven remarked, 'Well, when are you going fairly to begin?' Himmel had flattered himself that he had already performed wonders; he jumped up and the men behaved ill towards each other. Beethoven said to me: 'I thought that Himmel had been only preluding a bit'" (Thayer: 185-185).


Friedrich Heinrich Himmel

During his fall journey of that year to Pesth, Beethoven was also actively promoting his piano maker Andreas Streicher's piano, as a letter of Beethoven to Streicher which he wrote to him relates:

"Dear Streicher!

The day before yesterday I received your fortepiano which has turned out to be really excellent. Everyone else is anxious to own one, and I--you can laugh all right, I would be lying were I not to tell you that it is too good for me, and why?--because it takes away my freedom to create the tone for myself. Nevertheless it will not keep you from making all your fortepianos in this way, there will probably be fewer people who have such whims.
My Academy takes place on Wednesday, the 23rd of this m[onth]. If Stein would care to come I will be very glad to see him, he can count on spending the night at my house.--Concerning the sale of the fortepiano, this idea had already occurred to me before it had to you and I shall certainly strive to bring it about.--I thank you heartily dear St. for your readiness to serve me so well. I only wish that I were able in some way to return your kindness, and that you, without my having to say it to you, were convinced how much I want the worth of your instruments to become recognized both here and everywhere, and how much I value your friendship and want you to regard me as your loving and warm friend


Pressburg November 19th anno 96 post Christum Natum . . . " (Thayer: 188-189).

From our investigation of the issue of the onset of Beethoven's hearing troubles in our Biographical Pages, particularly in the Section Revelations of Silence, we know that the beginnings of this might have been either in 1796 or, more likely, in 1797. The point to be made here is not again so much that of the tragedy of his loss of hearing but rather the stark contrast of it to his pianistic prowess, skills and successes such as in his performances, improvisations, competitions with his and help given to his colleagues as well as his occasional delight at having found a kindred pianistic spirit such as that of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, a world that would eventually close its doors on him due to the progression of his hearing loss.

The years 1796 up to and including the early 1800's would still see Beethoven actively engaged in teaching piano to young ladies of noble families, such as Princess Odeschalchi nee Keglevics, the von Brunsvik sisters Therese and Josephine as well as their cousin, Countess Giulietta Giucciardi, who would also receive dedications of works to them. On the one hand, all of these activities indicate, of course, that Beethoven was both at the height as well as unceasingly active in music that was related to his own instrument, the piano, but he also made inroads in conquering other compositional genres, one by one. Do not his Piano Concertos combine both fields of endeavor? How this would come to the fore in 1798 is best related by Johann Wenzel Tomaschek's account of his hearing of Beethoven during that year in Prague:


Johann Wenzel Tomaschek

"In the year 1798, in which I continued my juridical studies, Beethoven, the giant among pianoforte players, came to Prague. He gave a largely attended concert in the Konviktsaal, at which he played his Concerto in C major, Op. 15, and the Adagio and the graceful Rondo in A major from Op. 2, and concluded with an improvisation on a theme given him by Countess Sch... [Schick?]. 'Ah tu fosti il primo oggetto,' from Mozart's Titus (duet no. 7). Beethoven's magnificent playing and particularly the daring flights in his improvisation stirred me strangely to the depths of my soul; indeed I found myself so profoundly bowed down that I did not touch a pianoforte for several days. . . . I heard Beethoven at his second concert, which neither in performance nor in composition renewed again the first powerful impression. This time he played the Concerto in B-flat which he had just composed in Prague [Thayer: It will be remembered that this concerto was in fact composed before that in C major, but it is not improbable that the revision of the B-flat Concerto was completed for the Prague performance . . . ] Then I heard him a third time at the home of Count C. [Thayer: Clam-Callas] where he played besides the graceful Rondo from the A major Sonata, an improvisation on the theme: 'Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman.' This time I listened to Beethoven's artistic work with more composure. I admired his powerful and brilliant playing, but his frequent daring deviations from one motive to another, whereby the organic connection, the gradual development of idea was broken up, did not escape me. Evils of this nature frequently weaken his greatest compositions, those which sprang from a too exuberant conception. It is not seldom that the unbiased listener is rudely awakened from his transport. The singular and original seemed to be his chief aim in composition, as is confirmed by the answer which he made to a lady who asked him if he often attended Mozart's operas. 'I do not know them,' he replied, 'and do not care to hear the music of others lest I forfeit some of my originality'" (Thayer: 207).

From Tomaschek's report we can conclude that by 1798, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, had definitely been completed, and, due to Tomaschek's reference to Beethoven's having 'newly' written the second Piano Concerto that he played in Prague, Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19, we must conclude that, since it had already been performed in its original version in March, 1795, Beethoven must have re-written certain parts.  With respect to this concerto, Thayer also refers to a manuscript that is in the possession of the Malherbe Collection of the Library of the Paris Conservatory, "a fragment of the first movement of the B-flat Pianoforte Concerto in score along with the unused sketches for an instrumental piece in C, a 'contrapunto all'ottavo'" (Thayer: 212) that Unger estimates as presumably belonging to 1794, thus a strong indication of the B-flat Concerto having at least been worked on in that year, already.  Thayer further refers to proof of the fact of the revision on the basis of Beethoven's own notes, "'to remain as it was', 'from here on everything to remain as it was'" (Thayer: 212).

According to Cooper, 1798 was also the year in which Beethoven worked on sketches to a new Piano Concerto:

"A striking new piano concerto in C minor had already been conceived although it was to lie dormant for some time;  . . .  One important step he took at this stage, perhaps in preparation for the set of quartets, was to begin using actual manuscript books for the sketches, instead of loose leaves that were liable to become jumbled or mislaid (since his notoriously untidy habits were already impinging on his compositional activities).  The first of these sketchbooks, now known as Grasnick I, has a regular structure that indicates it was sewn together before use, and its forty-eight leaves lasted him from mid-1798 to early 1799.  It includes the earliest sketches for his set of quartets, and some sketches for the Prague revision of His Second Piano Concerto, plus much else.  Not all his sketching was thenceforth done in books, for he continued to use loose leaves sporadically; but the sketchbooks greatly enhanced his ability to think on paper on a much larger and more complex scale, and may also have partly compensated for his growing deafness in later years.  They provided the springboard for his rapid compositional advances of the next few years" (Cooper: 76).

While Tomaschek's account has become an important part of the description of Beethoven's magic at the piano at the height of his artistry as a virtuoso, to him, his encounters with his competitors such as the Leopold Mozart pupil Wölffl or John Cramer of England are the ones in which he truly measured himself against his virtuoso, yet not necessarily compositional, equals. Here, we need not go into each detail with respect to such encounters as these narrations are of a too general nature to be focused on here. What can be mentioned, however, is that, in the course of his friendship with John Cramer, as Thayer puts it, "a pleasant anecdote" (Thayer: 209) related by Cramer's widow provides us with an interesting encounter of Beethoven of a Mozart Piano Concerto, in the company of this colleague, which Cooper, however, refers to as not entirely reliable:


John Cramer

"At an Augarten Concert the two pianists were walking together and hearing a performance of Mozart's pianoforte Concerto in C minor (K. 491); Beethoven suddenly stood still and, directing his companion's attention to the exceedingly simple, but equally beautiful motive which is first introduced towards the end of the piece, exclaimed: 'Cramer, Cramer! we shall never be able to do anything like that!' As the theme was repeated and wrought up to the climax, Beethoven, swaying his body to and fro, marked the time and in every possible manner manifested a delight rising to enthusiasm" (Thayer: 209).

With respect to Beethoven's Third, the c minor Piano Concerto, op. 37, Cooper reports of Beethoven's Concert of April 2, 1800 in the Burgtheater:

"The programme he chose included an unspecified Mozart symphony, two movements from Haydn's recent oratorio, The Creation, an improvisation on the piano by Beethoven himself, and three of his most impressive works--the Septet, the First Symphony, and a Piano Concerto. All three were still unpublished. Which concerto he played is still problematical. He had already worked on his C minor Concerto (the so-called Third) by this time, and it seems likely that he intended to finish it for his concert. The evidence is somewhat confused, however, there are no sketches from this period and although this concerto appears to be dated 1800 on the autograph score, closer inspection suggests that the final figure is a badly written and very faded "3", and the first known performance of the concerto was indeed in 1803. The score contains three different colours of ink, representing three different stages of composition, and the first stage was probably in 1800, but even this is questionable. In the event, this concerto was not performed on 2. April 1800, and it seems clear that Beethoven instead played his so-called First Piano Concerto in C major. Shortly before the performance he wrote out a completely new score of this, evidently incorporating many revisions. This score was then itself heavily amended before reaching its final version. Like most of Beethoven's concertos, its progress from first version to last was a long and hazardous one.

The concert itself left much to be descired, despite the unusually high quality and novelty of the music, as is apparent from the report in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung:

"When they wre accompanying, the players did not bother to pay any attention to the soloist. As a result there was no delicacy at all in the accompaniments and no response to the musical feeling of the solo player. . . . "

Beethoven's own comments on the concert are not recorded, but he was surely far from satisfied after such lack of co-operation" (Cooper: 90).

Cooper's reference to the Third Piano Concerto seems to concur with Thayer's comment, namely, that Beethoven very likely worked on it intensively during the summer of 1800 (Cooper: 92).  However, let us quote Thayer here:

"Throughout this period of Beethoven's life, each summer is distinguished by some noble composition, completed, or nearly so, so that on his return to society, his time was his own; his fancy was quickened, his inspiration strengthened, in field and forest labor was a delight. The most important work of the master bears in his own hand the date, 1800, and may reasonably be supposed to have been the labor of this summer. It is the Concerto in C minor for Pianoforte and Orchestra, Op. 37" (Thayer: 259).

Carrying on chronologically, we should return to the first two Piano Concertos and take a look at Beethoven's letter to his former Viennese fellow composer Franz Anton Hoffmeister who had moved to Leipzig and joined the ranks of the music publishers there. This letter was written on December 15, 1800:

"Dearest Hr. Brother!

I have been on the point of replying to your inquiry several times, but I am so fearfully lazy about my correspondence and I am loath to write dry letters [of the alphabet] instead of musical notes. Now that I have prevailed upon myself to comply with your request.--

Pro primo you must know that I am very sorry that you, my dear brother in music, did not let me know something of this earlier so that I might have marketed my quartets with you, as well as many other pieces which I have sold. But if Hr. Brother is as conscientious as many other honest engravers who stab us poor composers to death, you will know how to derive profit from them when they appear--I will now set forth in brief what Hr. B[rother] can have from me. 1. A septet per il violino, viola, violoncello, contra basso, clarinet, corno, fagotto--tutti obbligati (I cannot write anything non-obbligato for I came into this world with an obbligato accompaniment). This Septet has been very popular. For its more frequent use the three wind- instruments, namely: fagotto, clarinetto and corno might be transcribed for another violin, viola and violoncello.--2. A grand Symphony for full orchestra.-- 3. A concerto for pianoforte which I do not claim to be one of my best, as well as another one which will be published here by Mollo (this for the information of the Leipzig critics) because I am for the present keeping the better ones for myself until I make a tour. However, it would not disgrace you to publish it.--4. A grand solo Sonata. That is all I can give you at this moment . . . Dearest brother, take care of yourself and be assured of the regard of your brother L.v.Beethoven" (Thayer: 259-260).

With respect to the content of this letter, we should note two details. One concerns itself with Beethoven's notorious musicians' habit of being a thorough punster! His mentioning of engravers stabbing composers to death, is based on the double-meaning of the German word for engraving notes, "Noten stechen" and stabbing someone (to death), "stechen". The second refers to Thayer's mentioning in a footnote that Hoffmeister and Kühnel published the Piano Concerto in B-flat Op. 19 towards the end of 1801 and his advertising for it on January 16, 1802, while Mollo in Vienna published Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, in March, 1801.


Beethoven around 1800 - 1801

In a further letter to Hoffmeister of April 22, 1801, Beethoven provides to Hoffmeister details with respect to opus numbers,

"So that the works may appear so far as possible in their sequence I point out to you that there should be placed


on the Concerto . . . opus 19


--I shall send you the titles soon" (Thayer: 273)

and, in a letter to Breitkopf and Härtel, bearing the same date, Beethoven wrote:

"...--With my permission, 7 or 8 works of mine are about to appear at Mollo's in this place; four pieces at Hofmeister's in Leipzig. --In this connection I wish to add that one of my first concertos (7: The Concerto in B-flat, Op. 19) and therefore not one of the best of my compositions is to be published by Hofmeister, and that Mollo is to publish a concerto which, indeed, was written later, (8: The Concerto in C major, Op. 15), but which also does not rank among the best of my works in this form. This is only a hint for your Musikalische Zeitung with regard to criticism of these works, although if one might hear them, that is, well played, one would be best able to judge them.--Musical policy requires that one should keep possession of the best concertos for a time.--You should recommend to your Hrn. Critics great care and wisdom especially in the products of younger composers. Many a one may have been frightened off who otherwise might have composed more. As far as I am concerned, I am far from thinking that I am so perfect as to be beyond criticism, yet the howls of your critics against me were at first so humiliating that when I compared myself with others I could not get aroused, but remained perfectly quiet, and reasoned that they do not understand their business. It was easier to remain quiet since I saw praise lavished on people who were held of little account here by the better sort, and who have disappeared from sight no matter how worthy they may otherwise have been.--But pax vobiscum-- peace with you and me--I would not have mentioned a syllable about the matter if you had not yourself done so.--" (Thayer: 275).

Thayer also lists both concerto publications for 1801, as follows:

"The publications for the year were:

By Hoffmeister and Kühnel (in Lpz. Bureau de Musique):

Concerto No. 2 for Pianoforte and Orchestra in B-flat, Op. 19, dedicated 'A Monsieur Charles Nikl, noble de Nikelsberg'

By Mollo:

Concerto No. 1 for Pianoforte and Orchestra in C major, Op. 15, dedicated 'A son Altesse Madame la Princesse Odeschalchi, nee Keglevics" (Thayer: 298).

With respect to Beethoven's "Second" Piano Concerto, Cooper still comments that:

"Another problem with the Concerto was that when Beethoven looked through his full score (which had been written out in 1798) he noticed several passages in the first movement that were still unsatisfactory; he now amended them, using a distinctive grey ink. To transfer all these amendments to the set of parts being sent to Hoffmeister, however, would have taken considerable time (as was the custom, the work was to be published in parts, not score, and so Hoffmeister needed a correct set.) Beethoven therefore compromised his artistic goals and sent off the parts unaltered, to save time. His conscience excused him on the grounds that he had already told Hoffmeister that the concerto was not one of his best works, and was being sold at half-price. As a result, the version pbulished by Hoffmeister and customarily performed today is not the latest and best one" (Cooper: 113-114).

Since all of these details with respect to Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 take us into the year 1801, we can, while we already know that Beethoven worked on Piano Concerto No. 3 in the summer of 1800, move on to briefly touching Beethoven's 1801 realization of the onset of his loss of hearing, as it is reflected in his correspondence to his friends, Carl Friedrich Amenda, of June 1, 1801,

"Wisse, daß mir der edelste Teil, mein Gehör, sehr abgenommen hat; schon damals, als Du noch bei mir warst, fühlte ich davon Spuren, und ich verschiweg's, nun ist es immer ärger geworden. Ob es wird wieder können geheilt werden, das steht noch zu erwarten, es soll von den Umständen meines Unterleibs herrühren; was nun den betrifft, so bin ich fast ganz hergestellt, ob nun auch das Gehör besser werden wird, das hoffe ich zwar aber schwerlich, solche Krankheiten sind die unheilbarsten. Wie traurig ich nun leben muß, alles, was mir lieb und teuer ist, meiden ..." (Schmidt, Beethofen-Briefe: 16/17--"You must know that my noblest part, my hearing, has deteriorated very much; already back then, when you were still with me, I felt traces of it, and I kept quiet about it, now it has become worse and worse. Whether it can be healed that still remains to be seen; it is supposed to go back to the condition of my abdomen; with respect to it, I have almost completely recovered; whether or not my hearing will also improve, I barely have any hopes of, such diseases are the most incurable ones. How sad I have to lead my life now, everything, that was dear to me, I have to avoid ...").

and his letters to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, first that of June 29, 1801,

"Nur hat der neidische Dämon, meine schlimme Gesundheit, mir einen schlechten Stein ins Brett geworfen, nämlich: mein Gehör ist seit drei Jahren immer schwächer geworden, und das soll sich durch meinen Unterleib, der schon damals, wie Du weißt, elend war, hier aber sich verschlimmert hat, indem ich beständig mit einem Durchfall behaftet war, und mit einer dadurch außerordentlichen Schwäche, ereignet haben. Frank wollte meinem Leib den Ton wiedergeben durch stärkende Medizinen, und mein Gehör durch Mandelöl, aber prosit, daraus ward nichts, mein Gehör ward immer schlechter, und mein Unterleib blieb immer in seiner vorigen Verfassung; das dauerte bis voriges Jahr Herbst, wo ich manchmal in Verzweiflung war. . . . Ich kann sagen, ich bringe mein Leben elend zu, seit zwei Jahren fast meide ich alle Gesellschaften, weils mir nun nicht möglich ist, den Leuten zu sagen, ich bin taub. Hätte ich irgendein anderes Fach, so ging's noch eher, aber in meinem Fach ist das ein schrecklicher Zustand; dabei meine Feinde, deren Zahl nicht geringe ist, was würden diese hierzu sagen! -- Um Dir einen Begriff von dieser wunderbaren Taubheit zu geben, so sage ich Dir, daß ich mich im Theater ganz dicht am Orchester anlehnen muß, um den Schauspieler zu verstehen. Die hohen Töne von Instrumenten, Singstimmen, wenn ich etwas weit weg bin, höre ich nicht; im Sprechen ist es zu verwundern, daß es Leute gibt, die es niemals merkten; da ich meistens Zerstreuungen hatte, so hält man es dafür. Manchmal auch hör ich den Redenden, der leise spricht, kaum, ja die Töne wohl, aber die Worte nicht; und doch sobald jemand schreit, ist es mir unausstehlich. Was es nun werden wird, das weiß der liebe Himmel. . . . Ich bitte Dich, von diesem meinem Zustand niemanden, auch nicht einmal Lorchen, etwas zu sagen. . . ." (Schmidt, Beethoven-Briefe: 19-20; "Only the jealous demon, my bad health, has put a bad spoke in my wheel, namely: for three years, my hearing has become weaker and weaker, and that is supposed to go back to my abdomen that, as you remember, was already bad back then but has become worse here in that I was constantly suffering from diarrhea accompanied by an extraordinary weakness. Frank wanted to restore the tone of my body with strengthening medicines and my hearing with almond oil; however, prosit, (cheers), nothing came of it, my hearing became worse and worse, and my abdomen remained in the same state; that lasted until last fall, when I was sometimes in despair . . . I can say that I spend my life miserably; for the last two years, I have avoided almost all company, since it is not possible for me to tell people that I am deaf. If I were in any other line (of work), it would not be that bad, but in my line of work, that is a terrible situation; and considering my enemies whose number is not small, what would they say to it!--In order to give you an idea of this peculiar deafness, I tell you that, in the theatre, I have to move very close to the orchestra in order to hear the actors. High notes of instruments of singing voices, when I am somewhat far away, I can not hear; in conversation it is astonishing that there are people who have never realized this, yet; since I have always had a tendency towards being absentminded, it is attributed to that. Sometimes I can barely hear someone who is speaking very softly; I can hear the vowels, but not make out the words; however, as soon as someone yells, it is unbearable to me. What shall become of it, only heaven knows. . . . I ask you to tell no-one of my condition, not even Lorchen . . . ")

and in his second letter to Wegeler of November 16, 1801,

"Etwas angenehmer lebe ich jetzt wieder, indem ich mich mehr unter Menschen gemacht. Du kannst es kaum glauben, wie öde, wie traurig ich mein Leben seit 2 Jahren zu gebracht; wie ein Gespenst ist mir mein schwaches Gehör überall erschienen, und ich floh--die Menschen, mußte Misanthrop scheinen, und bin's doch so wenig. Diese Veränderung hat ein liebes zauberisches Mädchen hervorgebracht, die mich liebt, und die ich liebe; es sind seit 2 Jahren wieder einige selige Augenblicke . . . O die Welt wollte ich umspannen von diesem frei! Meine Jugend, ja ich fühle es, sie fängt jetzt erst an; war ich nicht immer ein siecher Mensch? Meine körperliche Kraft -- sie nimmt seit einiger Zeit mehr als jemals zu, und so meine Geisteskräfte; jeden Tag gelange ich mehr zu dem Ziel, was ich fühle, aber nicht beschreiben kann. Nur hierin kann Dein B. leben, nichts von Ruhe--ich weiß von keiner anden als dem Schlaf, und wehe genug tut mir's, daß ich ihm jetzt mehr schenken muß als sonst. Nur halbe Befreiung von meinem Übel, und dann--als vollendeter, reifer Mann komme ich zu Euch, erneure die alten Freundschaftsgefühle; so glücklich, als es mir hienieden beschieden ist, sollt Ihr mich sehen, nicht unglücklich --nein, das könnte ich nicht ertragen,--ich will dem Schicksal in den Rachen greifen, ganz niederbeugen soll es mich gewiß nicht.--O es ist so schön, das Leben tausendmal leben; -- für ein stilles -- Leben, nein, ich fühl's, ich bin nicht mehr dafür gemacht. -- ..." (Schmidt, Beethoven-Briefe: 23-24; "I lead a more pleasant life since I am mingling more in society, again. You can hardly believe how desolate, how sad I have lived for two years; like a ghost, my weak hearing has appeared to me everywhere, and I fled--people, had to appear like a misanthropist, and I am so little of that. This change has been brought about by a dear, enchanting girl who loves me and whom I love; for the first time after two years, there exist some moments of bliss . . . O I would want to embrace the world if I was free from this! My youth, I feel it, is only beginning; have I not always been a sickly person? My physical strength -- it has been growing more than ever for some time now, and also my mental faculties; every day I come closer to the goal that I can feel but not describe. Only in this can your B. live, nothing of rest -- I know of no other rest than of sleep, and I pity myself enough for it that I have to spend more time at it, now than before. Even some liberation from my affliction, and then -- as a complete, mature man shall I visit you and renew our old feelings of friendship; as happy as I can be on this earth, that is how you shall see me, not unhappy--no, I could not bear that,--I will take fate by the throat, it shall surely not crush me entirely.--O, it is so beautiful to live life a thousand times; -- for a quiet -- life, no, I feel it, I am not made for that, anymore. -- ... ")

These letters describe Beethoven's general condition at that time and how it affected him and speak for themselves, so that each reader can follow his or her own reflections with respect to them and perhaps also draw conclusions on how this might tie in with the development of Beethoven's artistic progress in general and with the writing and performance of his piano concertos, in particular.

In his first letter, Beethoven also briefly mentions at the end that he will see what he can do for Ferdinand Ries who would soon appear in Vienna and become his pupil. The reference to the "dear, enchanting girl" concerns itself, in all likelihood, with Countess Guicciardi. With respect to the latter, we already mentioned that Beethoven still gave piano lessons to such young ladies up to and into the early 1800's, while his encounter with Ferdinand Ries provides us with far more insight due to Ries' part in the co-publication with Wegeler of their Biographische Notizen on Beethoven, but also with respect to his role as a bystander and witness of many events of those years, the next one to be referred to here being a cross-reference to the Revelations of Silence section of our Biographical Pages in which Ries is the one Beethoven referred to in his Heiligenstadt Will when he wrote of his summertime escort who witnessed the the to him very embarrassing event of his not having heard a shepherd play on his flute, which Ries later corroborated in the Notizen.


Ferdinand Ries

This brings us right into the year 1802, in the spring of which Beethoven worked towards a benefice concert, which did not materialize, however.  In this context, his brother Caspar Carl, who had, in the meantime, taken on the role of Beethoven's secretary, offered his Piano Concerto in c minor to Breitkopf and Härtel in his letter of March 28, 1800 (Cooper: 113-114).

Most importantly, however, this was the year of Beethoven's Heiligenstadt summer sojourn, his return to Vienna in October and the beginning of his "seizing fate by the throat" in the change of his musical style from late classicism to his heroic style.

Here, we can refer to our Fidelio section in which we reported of Beethoven's having been appointed to the Theater-an-der-Wien in early 1803, as his brother Johann reported to Breitkopf and Härtel on February 12, and that this appointment brought him an opportunity to hold a concert at which his new oratorio, Christus am Ölberge was to be premiered. However, this concert that was announced in the Saturday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 30 editions of the Wiener Zeitung as follows:


On the 5th (not the 4th) of April, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will produce a new oratorio set to music by him, Christus am Ölberg in the R.I. privil. Theater-an-der- Wien. The other pieces to be performed will be announced on the large bill-board.

The morning of April 5th saw the final rehearsal at the theatre. Ries was called on by Beethoven to appear as early as 5 a.m., of which Ries renders the following report in the Notizen:

I found him in bed, writing on separate sheets of paper. To my question what it was he answered, 'Trombones.' the trombones also played from these sheets at the performance.

Had someone forgotten to copy these parts? Were they an afterthought? I was too young at the time to note the artistic interest of the incident; but probably the trombones were an afterthought,(5) as Beethoven might as easily have had the uncopied parts as the copied ones. The rehearsal began at eight o'clock in the morning. . . . It was a terrible rehearsal, and at half past two everybody was exhausted and more or less dissatisfied.

Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who attended the rehearsal from the beginning, had sent for bread and butter, cold meat and wine, in large baskets. He pleasantly asked all to help themselves, and this was done with both hands, the result being that good nature was restored again. Then the Prince requested that the oratorio be rehearsed once more from the beginning, so that it might go well in the evening and Beethoven's first work in this genre be worthily presented. And so the rehearsal began again. The concert began at six o'clock, but was so long that a few pieces were not performed" (Thayer: 328-239).

It was once again a mammoth concert at which both the first and second symphonies, Christus am Ölberge and the Piano Concerto in C minor were performed.

We should not neglect to mention that Beethoven knew how to take economic advantage of this event if we are to believe the report of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung with his demanding twice the fee for first seats, three times that for reserved seats and asking 12 ducats in lieu of 4 florins for the bozes; but also report that Beethoven protested against these allegations in his september 1803 letter to Breitkopf and Härtel. The proceeds of 1,800 florins would suggest that he did not fare badly, in any event.

Ignaz von Seyfried had this to report of the performance, particularly with respect to Piano Concerto No. 3:

"In the playing of the concerto movements he asked me to turn the pages for him; but--heaven help me!--that was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most on one page or the other a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory, since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to put it all down on paper.(8) He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages and my scarcely concealable anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper which we ate afterwards" (Thayer: 329-330).

To the Second Part of this Creation History