The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, which is popularly known as “Emperor Concerto,” was Beethoven’s last piano concerto. In the years following the composition of his “Sinfonia Eroica,” Beethoven was challenged by the public and critics concerning his composing abilities. He also slipped deeper into deafness, and he began to retreat from society and become extremely untidy. Nevertheless, Beethoven showed he was still a capable and powerful composer.
Several masterpieces seemed to flow from the pen of Beethoven during the 1810s. His Piano Concerto No. 5, which premiered in 1811, was followed by the 7th and 8th Symphonies, as well as the Les Adieux Piano Sonata. Beethoven’s extreme belief in himself came into play around the time. Through his music, he began to break new ground in the classical music world.
His “Emperor Concerto” became arguably the most performed and beloved of his piano concertos. This popularity was largely due to the advancements of piano technology at about the time the work premiered. When the concerto was performed in Vienna in 1811, Carl Czerny — one of Beethoven’s students — performed on a more advanced piano than what had been used in the past. This allowed for the piece to attract more notice because the new piano allowed Czerny more power of expression. Therefore, the advancement of piano technology, coupled with Beethoven’s brilliance, cemented this piece in legendary status for years to come.
While the name “Emperor Concerto” dates back to Beethoven’s time, most scholars believe that Beethoven himself did not give this concerto that name — an understandable theory, especially given his change of heart after dedicating “Sinfonia Eroica” for Napoleon. Some people believe that the name derived from a comment made by an officer of Napoleon’s, stationed in Vienna and attending the Czerny performance. Supposedly, the man proclaimed it to be “an emperor of a concerto.” Whether or not the story is true, many would agree with that man’s words today.
And now, enjoy Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, an “emperor of a concerto”:
Next week we look at one of Beethoven’s last compositions, the Missa Solemnis, and the end of the composer’s life in the final installment of our four part series on Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven 101: Explore the Series
Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life
Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica
Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto
Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis