Mercury Orchestra


Notes on the composers and the pieces

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 19

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne. After establishing a career in his home town, his ambition led him to Vienna in 1792 at the age of twenty-two. At the time, Vienna’s giants were Mozart, who died a year earlier, and Haydn, who would live another seventeen years. Beethoven was determined to join their pantheon, but he first established a reputation as a virtuoso pianist by playing private concerts for the nobility. To provide more income, he wrote his first two piano concertos to play before and win over the general public. He worked on both for a while, revising as he went along, thereby delaying publication and making them “his” works before others could take them up. Beethoven probably started his Piano Concerto in B-flat in 1790. He first performed it in 1795, inserted a new rondo in 1798, and added the cadenza in 1809. The C Major Piano Concerto came later, around 1798. Both were published in 1801, the C Major in March and the B-flat in December. Because of the publication order, the C Major became Piano Concerto No. 1 (Opus 15), and the B-Flat Major Piano Concerto No. 2 (Opus 19).

Piano Concerto No. 2 ( “not one of my best,” Beethoven told his publisher), is a descendent of Mozart's piano concertos. Its key is one Mozart used for his “military style” concertos, and there is some of that style in the Beethoven work.

Allegro con brio opens with a lightly militant, tuneful statement by the orchestra. The rest holds to that mood, with some touching, good-natured interplay. There are basically nine ideas, some presented separately and others introduced together. Several are developed and reappear in the recapitulation. The long cadenza that Beethoven wrote later is more mature and muscular than the movement it comments on, but it treats the themes very well.

The Adagio is in ABA form with B serving as a development section. This is music that is contemplative and dignified, with some sublime chorale passages in the piano and orchestra.

Rondo-Molto Allegro is in ABACABA form, with the C section in minor and more muscular in style than the rest of the movement. The music is of a hunting nature, typical of similar movements by Mozart and Haydn. It begins with a playful syncopation and proceeds in a catchy spirit, with marked attention to displaced upbeats. Toward the end, the piano plays in the key of G major until the orchestra “corrects” the errant soloist by returning to B-flat major. It is all in keeping with the humor of the piece.

—Roger Hecht

Roger Hecht plays trombone in the Mercury Orchestra, Lowell House Opera, and Bay Colony Brass (where he is the Operations/Personnel Manager). He is a former member of the Syracuse Symphony, Lake George Opera, New Bedford Symphony, and Cape Ann Symphony. He is a regular reviewer for American Record Guide, contributed to Classical Music: Listener’s Companion, and has written articles on music for the Elgar Society Journal and Positive Feedback magazine. His latest fiction collection, The Audition and Other Stories, includes a novella about a trombonist preparing for and taking a major orchestra audition (English Hill Press, 2013).

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