One of Beethoven’s earliest sketches for Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op 37, dates from about 1796 and shows him already experimenting with new sonorities, with a prominent motif being allocated to the timpani part, which normally played only an accompanying role in orchestral music at the time. However, little progress was made on the work until 1800, when it was taken up in preparation for a concert that April. Unfortunately it was not completed in time and Beethoven had to substitute a different concerto (probably No 1). He finally completed No 3 in 1803 and at its first performance that year he played the piano part largely from memory as he had still not had time to write it out in full. His page-turner at the premiere, Ignaz von Seyfried, reports having had to turn pages that were largely blank apart from a few hieroglyphs that only Beethoven could read!
Although the first movement is stormy in character, it has a beautifully lyrical second subject and Beethoven cunningly transformed this theme almost beyond recognition to form the main theme of the sublime slow movement. This evokes a completely different and more exalted world, in the remote key of E major, with a reduced orchestra and muted strings. The key of C minor returns in the finale, but there is one brief excursion back to E major, as if recalling that exalted world before the music ends in a blaze of glory, in a triumphant C major.
from notes by Barry Cooper © 2009