The slow movement is unusually brief and scored just for strings and piano, which engage in a dramatic dialogue throughout. Initially the strings sound angry, but the gentle pleading of the piano gradually softens them until they die away to a hushed pianissimo. The similarity to the ‘taming the Furies’ by Orpheus is unmistakable and has led many to assume that this is what Beethoven was attempting to portray. Yet there is no reference to Orpheus in anything written or said by Beethoven about the movement, and it seems unwise to narrow the music down to a single myth; better, surely, to regard the music as emblematic of all situations where anger is calmed by gentleness, of which Orpheus and the Furies form just one instance.
One factor that brings particular tenderness to the first two movements of this concerto is the absence of trumpets and drums. In the finale, these finally burst in and create a sense of much greater exuberance, although there are still many gentler passages that remind us of the mood of the rest of the work.
Although the concerto was composed predominantly in 1806, it was not publicly premiered until December 1808 when it was featured in a four hour all-Beethoven concert. On that occasion Beethoven played the concerto very ‘mischievously’ according to his pupil Carl Czerny, adding many more notes than were printed; sketchy indications of these extra notes are found in one of Beethoven’s manuscripts. Nevertheless the work has become known, like No 3, in its printed version, with the only addition in both cases being cadenzas that Beethoven composed in 1809 for another of his pupils, Archduke Rudolph.
from notes by Barry Cooper © 2009
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