Creation History of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no 3.

Ludwig lush2


A Beethoven letter from Baden to Ries, dated July 14, 1804, hints at a rehearsal at Schuppanzigh’s on Wednesday, the 18th of July, for which Beethoven wanted to “take care” to be there. It was, in fact, Ries’ rehearsal of Piano Concerto No. 3. Let us refer to Ries’ own report:

“Beethoven had given me his beautiful Concerto in C minor (Op. 37) in manuscript so that I might make my first public appearance as his pupil with it; and I am the only one who ever appeared as such while Beethoven was alive. . . . Beethoven himself conducted, but he only turned the pages and never, perhaps, was a concerto more beautifully accompanied. He had two large rehearsals. I had asked Beethoven to write a cadenza for me, but he refused and told me to write one myself and he would correct it. Beethoven was satisfied with my composition and made few changes; but there was an extremely brilliant and very difficult passage in it, which, though he liked it, seemed to him too venturesome, wherefore he told me to write another in its place.

A week before the concert he wanted to hear the cadenza again. I played it and floundered in the passage; he again, this time a little ill-naturedly, told me to change it. I did so, but the new passage did not satisfy me; I therefore studied the other, and zealously, but was not quite sure of it. When the cadenza was reached in the public concert Beethoven quietly sat down. I could not persuade myself to choose the easier one.

When I boldly began the more difficult one, Beethoven violently jerked his chair; but the cadenza went through all right and Beethoven was so delighted that he shouted ‘Bravo!’ loudly. This electrified the entire audience and at once gave me a standing among the artists. Afterwards, while expressing his satisfaction he added: ‘But all the same you are willful! If you had made a slip in the passage I would never have given you another lesson!” (Thayer: 355)

Imagine being there! It must have been marvellous!!!


With respect to Beethoven’s first three works in this category, Thayer further has to report that the first two were performed in Berlin and Frankfort/Main within two yeas and the third in Berlin in late 1804, while Piano Concerto No. 3 was published by the Kunst-und Industrie-Comptoir in 1804 and dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, Beethoven’s cherished “royal pianist” friend.

There can only be added one more not with respect to the first Piano Concertos, namely by Ries who reported:

“I recall only two instances in which Beethoven told me to add a few notes to his composition: once in the theme of the rondo of the ‘Sonate Pathetique’ (Op. 13) and again in the theme of the rondo of his first Concerto in C major, where he gave me some passages in double notes to make it more brilliant. He played this last rondo, in fact, with a expression peculiar to himself.. . . ” (Thayer: 367).

As far as first references to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto are concerned, Barry Cooper reports with respect to early 1804:

“Amongst first sketches for Leonore are very early ones for three major works that were not completed for several years and had to wait until 1808 for their public premiere:  the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and the Fourth Piano Concerto” (Cooper: 138).

Cooper further reports that the sequence in which Beethoven worked on his major works of that period in the year 1806 saw him beginning with his work on his Fourth Piano Concerto, namely after the revision of his opera Fidelio/Leonore (thus in winter and spring of 1806).  (Thayer places Beethoven’s start of his work on this Piano Concerto into the year 1805 [Thayer: 392]).  Cooper further explains that during this period, Beethoven was not using a sketchbook, but rather only loose leaves, and that many of them may have been lost, so that the progress he made with this work can not be easily traced.  His first sketch from the beginning of 1804 was supposed to only have stretched over five bars, that on July 5, 1806, however, a first score was completed, since Beethoven offered this work to Breitkopf and Härtel in his letter of July 5, 1806 (Cooper:  155).

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