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Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra in C Major, Opus 56 (“Triple”) (1804)
Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1827.
Approximate performance time is thirty-three minutes.
By the turn of the 18th century, Ludwig van Beethoven had firmly established himself as one of Vienna’s most prominent musicians—a virtuoso pianist and composer of the first rank. It appeared as if nothing could stand in the way of Beethoven’s continued rise to greatness. But then, tragedy struck. In 1800, Beethoven, not yet thirty, began to realize that his hearing was deteriorating. Beethoven sensed that the onset of deafness was only a matter of time.
The irony was not lost on Beethoven—soon, he would be a composer unable to hear his own musical creations. Quite naturally, this turn of events engendered a supreme crisis in Beethoven’s life. On October 6, 1802, Beethoven penned the immortal letter to his brothers that is known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. There, Beethoven confessed that the onset of his deafness:
almost made me despair, and I was on the point of putting an end to my life—The only thing that held me back was my art. For indeed it seemed to me impossible to leave this world before I had produced all the works I felt the urge to compose; and thus I have dragged on this miserable existence—a truly miserable existence.
And, indeed, Beethoven responded to his adversity by composing at a furious pace. Beethoven masterpieces from the first decade of the 19th century include the Symphonies, Nos. 2-6, the “Razumovsky” String Quartets, the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” Piano Sonatas, and the composer’s only opera, Fidelio.
Beethoven began composition of his Concerto for Piano, Violin, Cello and Orchestra in late 1803, completing the work in the summer of 1804. Beethoven composed the piano part of the “Triple” Concerto for Archduke Rudolph (1788-1831), the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II. Rudolph, a longtime pupil, friend and patron of Beethoven, was the dedicatee of such pieces as the Fourth and “Emperor” Piano Concerto, the “Archduke” Piano Trio, the Piano Sonatas Opus 90 (“Les Adieux”), 106 (“Hammerklavier”), and 111, the great choral work, the Missa solemnis, and the Grosse Fugue for string quartet.
The fact that Beethoven composed the keyboard parts of both the Triple Concerto and the “Archduke” Trio for Rudolph is testament to his considerable talents as a pianist. Beethoven dedicated the “Triple” Concerto to another of his patrons, Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The first performance of the “Triple” Concerto took place in Vienna, in May of 1808.
The Triple Concerto is scored for a trio of soloists (violin, cello, and piano) and orchestra. Beethoven composed the Triple Concerto around the same time as his path-breaking “Eroica” Symphony. However, the Concerto’s three movements (Allegro, Largo, and Rondo alla Polacca) present a far more genial and lyrical side of Beethoven’s craft. The opening Allegro is the most expansive of the work’s three movements. A hushed Largo leads without pause to the finale, a Rondo based upon a polonaise, a sparkling Polish dance.