Beethoven's Concertos: History, Style, Performance

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9780393046915: Beethoven's Concertos: History, Style, Performance

In his concertos Beethoven joined in a sort of human expression that seems almost universal: a discourse of the individual and the group, or of leader and followers who sometimes work together in harmony and sometimes appear pitted one against the other (early definitions of the concerto, indeed, were divided as to which was the main idea of the genre—cooperation or conflict). In his concertos Beethoven typically cast himself as leader; the concerto was for him mainly a youthful preoccupation intimately bound up with his prowess and ambition as a public pianist. The hope is that a wide-ranging consideration of the historical context will serve to cast new light upon the music itself, which remains the central focus of this study.

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Review:

Analysis of Beethoven's concertos, at least in the hands of Leon Plantinga, yields insights into almost every aspect of the composer's work. Along with the standard concertos for piano and violin, Plantinga covers the violin romances and the Triple Concerto, sketches for an aborted sixth piano concerto, and the early Rondo WoO 6. There are dozens of helpful musical examples grouped in a separate booklet.

Beethoven originally withheld and revised his piano concertos for his own use and did not perform them after they had been published. But by the time of the Fourth Concerto, Plantinga sees a decided shift to the concerto as a work meant to stand on its own as a symphony does; Beethoven's Fifth Concerto was apparently the very first piano concerto to have been given its premiere by someone other than the composer. In discussing the other works, Plantinga makes an effective comparison of the B-flat Concerto with Haydn's music rather than (as is conventional) with Mozart's. The author's considerable knowledge of Clementi's music is illuminating in relation to the C Major Concerto. Chapters on the C Minor Concerto include a long and careful reconstruction of its compositional history (recapitulated in a short appendix for those who are not musicologically inclined). The tired explanation of the G Major Concerto's slow movement as an Orpheus narrative is effectively dismissed, and Plantinga's dissection of the internal relationships in the slow movement of the "Emperor" is a particularly fine segment of a fine book.

Even readers who are not pianists will find helpful, practical information about when and how a soloist might participate in the orchestral sections of classical concertos, systems of tuning in the period, cadenzas, and historical ideas about tempo. They will also enjoy Plantinga's direct, colorful writing style: the last movement of the "Emperor" behaves "more like a large puppy than a reliable steed." --William R. Braun

From Publishers Weekly:

The distinguished veteran Yale music professor Plantinga (Romantic Music) once again earns the gratitude of music lovers with this effort, billed as the first ever full-length book about Beethoven's concertos. Of course, a number of books have been devoted to each of the composer's works, notably in the excellent Cambridge Music Handbook series, but Plantinga's idea to discuss them together is sound, in that Beethoven's concertos, whatever the solo instrument, have more in common with each other than with efforts by other composers. Musically sophisticated laypeople will find Plantinga's prose refreshingly clear and will appreciate his restrained use of musical examples. Plantinga's thoughts retain their human level and tone, no doubt owing to his decades of experience as a teacher. Devoting chapters to the individual works, he also adds valuable notes on performing Beethoven's concertos, debunking some of the "authentic" approaches to early music: "As in the case of Mozart, we have little precise information about just how Beethoven performed his own concertos." This is likely to be a long-valued contribution to the subject.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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