Episodes 6 and 7 of Barenboim on Beethoven provide an up-close look at Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, which Barenboim describes as “one of the strongest reminders of the comprehensiveness of [Beethoven’s] vision,” a soulful and contemplative work that finds the composer at his most poetic. The piece holds a special place in the lore of Beethoven’s life and career: its premiere marked his final appearance as a concerto soloist, and was part of the legendary December 22, 1808 Vienna concert that lasted four hours and also featured the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, as well as the Choral Fantasy.
This episode highlights the first movement with its haunting and pensive introduction, eschewing the conventional orchestral presentation of thematic material and giving the first notes to the soloist alone. “For the first time,” says Barenboim, “a concerto really starts with the piano”: a bold choice that colors the rest of the work, unsurprising to our modern ears only because of Beethoven’s indelible influence on the music that came after him.
A film by Christopher Nupen