An analysis of the Triple Concerto of Ludwig van Beethoven. A sadly underrated masterpiece. Plus a brilliant recording

The composer of the Triple Concerto.

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Contents.


I like the Triple Concerto.



A short review of the Triple Concerto.



Dont let the dishy soloists distract you from listening.


I like the Triple Concerto.



Whenever two or three musicologists are gathered together the conversation often turns to the concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven. One will extol the great strength of character to be found in the Emperor piano Concerto. Still another one will declaim eloquently on the lyricism of the violin Concerto. If the wine is flowing freely, one or several of them, may entertain the company with slightly drunken humming or whistling of their favourite passages. As the night goes on and our music aficionados start to slip under the table a row is sure to develop about the relative merits of Arthur Rubinstein and Alfred Brendel, or whether the Emperor concerto is better presented on authentic original instruments, or through the medium of a full modern symphony orchestra and concert grand. While blows may be exchanged and black eyes received over these issues, on one subject all the inebriated savants will be agreed. Each and every one of them will declare that the concerto for violin, cello and piano, (the Triple Concerto), is the least amongst all the concertos of the great Beethoven. It's like a cheap fashion, which has grown up amongst musical snobs, to decry the Triple Concerto. The result is that it rarely gets performed and when most critics write about it they almost apologise for sullying their readers’ sight with words about “this evidence of deterioration in the standard of a genius”.


For years I maintained the same feelings about the Triple Concerto of Beethoven. I read the reviews and the encyclopaedia articles about the great composer and his concertos. I bought into the idea that the Triple Concerto was of a lower standard of composition than all his other works. Then one day I borrowed a recording of this work from the library. I couldn't bring myself to waste my hard earned cash on purchasing, what I believed, was a second-rate concerto. When I listened to, it all the preconceived notions flew out the window. I realised then that this piece of music, far from being the runt of Beethoven's musical litter, was at least the equal of the very best that great German genius had ever given birth to. So I say “ Yah Boo” to the naysayers. Triple Concerto for ever!


Dont let the dishy soloists distract you from listening.

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A short review of the Triple Concerto.



Beethoven composed this work in 1803 and it was published in 1804. It wasn't publicly premiered until late in 1808. Maybe the Viennese musical establishment were as ignorant of true quality then, as some of their counterparts are today. It may have been dedicated by Beethoven to his pupil the Archduke Rudolf. Nobody is exactly certain of that. We do know that the Archduke was a pupil of the great composer. It is thought that the idea of composing a concerto for violin, cello and piano may have been decided on, to give the Royal pupil an opportunity to play the piano part. The Archduke was in his mid-teens at that time. He became a talented pianist, under the teaching of Beethoven. The Triple Concerto would have been a perfect vehicle for him to display his skill.


The combination of instruments known as the Piano Trio is not the easiest to write a concerto for. Not alone has the composer to create music for one soloist, but it must also showcase two other instruments as well. A lesser genius than Beethoven might fail to overcome the difficulties. Concertos for multiple instruments definitely fell out of favour with composers in the 19th century. It may have been, that the difficulty of doing justice to combinations, put composers off. Perhaps the logistics of mounting a performance with three first-rate soloists became the stumbling block. This latter problem has dogged performances of the Triple Concerto ever since it was composed. Fortunately there are some good recorded performances available. Otherwise, lovers of fine music would be sadly under-served.


I think it only fair, since I am flying in the face of the musical establishment by praising Beethoven's Triple Concerto, that I should give some reasons why I value it so highly. I'm no musicologist. I can’t read music and I don't play any instruments. But I do love the music of the great composers and I do know what I like and why I like it. The first thing I love about the Triple Concerto is how it sings. From the very first bars, it just draws the listener in. The first subject starts low on the double-bases and then the orchestra begins piling in to the melody. It's almost as if the listener is whisked into the air by a gentle breeze, then tossed around in a beautiful tornado of sounds, to be deposited safely in the middle of a field, where three rescuers led by the cello then proceed to toss him/her musically between them for the next 15 minutes or so. The orchestra jumps in as well to give some ecstatic pummelling. The listener may not safely reach the hospital, but will love the ride in the ambulance.


One of the characteristics of the Triple Concerto is that the cello part is mainly written for the higher register. Sometimes this makes the instrument sound more like a viola. This shows the true brilliance of Beethoven. It enables the cello to almost duet with the violin, much better than being confined to a base continuo function, which was often the lot of cellos in previous multi-instrument concertos. There is not as much conflict between the trio and the orchestra as would be found in concertos written only for single soloists. The three solo instruments tend to blend more with the orchestra. This is better. Trying to compose for a trio and orchestra, as if for just one accompanied instrument, could make for a rather unwieldy composition. Beethoven, with his typical genius, deftly avoids this. It is only in the coda, (the bit at the end), of the first movement that the traditional “fire fight” between soloist and orchestra is played out.


It is not my intention here to review in detail the Triple Concerto of Beethoven, so I shall just briefly mention the slow movement and the finale. Both these movements are blended into one. The Largo contains some beautiful interactions between the three solo instruments. For a slow movement of Beethoven it is uncharacteristically short. It serves more as an introduction to the finale than as a distinct section on its own.


The Finale is in the form of a polonaise. Beethoven was a bit of a lefty and it was fashionable in liberal quarters in the early 19th century to give support to the cause of Poland, which had been cynically dismembered by Russia, Prussia and Austria in the previous century. The third movement continues the beautiful singing quality of the music, first encountered at the beginning of the concerto, but in a more genteel and sedate manner. (More gentle breeze, less tornado).


I will accompany this paean to the beauties of Beethoven's sadly neglected masterpiece with a link to a complete performance given by three very dishy and talented soloists in Brussels in 2008. What fool ever said “nothing interesting comes out of Belgium”? (The ancestors of the composer came from there as well. That's why he was called Ludwig van Beethoven). I'm not insisting that you listen to the whole work, although it will be a treat for you if you do. But if you tickle your ears with some of the first movement only, you will appreciate why I love this music so much.


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Comments 11 comments

John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Great hub! I loved it! Subsequently, I just wrote an article about a week ago "concertos with multiple soloists" and included this composition in that article.

Thanks for bringing light to this wonderful, yet, "underated" composition.

John


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks for reading and commenting John. I read your article the other day. I noticed you included the Triple Concerto. Great minds think alike I guess.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

I'll quote my previous manager who'd say "good minds think alike" - dropped it a bit down from "great minds." Anyways, I do enjoy your articles. ...seems as if you and I are two of the few people at HP that have written quite a bit about so called "classical music" which would be the correct semantics in Beethoven's case, or perhaps early Romantic...not sure?...

Take care and I did voted up on your article...

Take care

John


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

You may not be a musicologist, christopher. No, you are something more than that. A lover of great music who enjoys sharing the remarkable talent of Beethoven as showcased by his often underrated Triple Concerto.

I like to think that perhaps the great man composed this music for his celebrated pupil. the Archduke Rudolf. In any case I enjoyed this enchanting music tremendously. Thank you for sharing this. It is easy to understand your love for this wondrous music.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks drbj.

It was "love at first sound" for me when I heard the Triple Concerto. Beethoven composed other pieces that "the experts" dont like. One of them was "The Battle Symphony". It's his equivalent of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. I'll have to listen to it someday. I'll probably find it is brilliant as well.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi christopher, I listened to the dishy musicians! lol! and funnily enough I had heard this piece, funny because I listen to classical and never ever bother to find out who its from, I know, heathen me! but seriously, I think its probably not that popular because of the fact that modern orchestral musicians don't really know how to play it, and that maybe why it has gone down in history as not very good, but I liked it, and I loved your explanation of the music! lol!


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Hi Nell.

Thanks for reading and commenting. I think a lot of musicians don't appreciate how difficult it must be to write a Concerto for multiple instruments. That's why only the very best of them have ever even tried.

You may be right about modern musicians as well. The just take a look at the score of the Triple Concerto and decide they just don't want the hassle. Lazy beggars! Beethoven composed this masterpiece while he was going deaf. He wasn't afraid of the work involved.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

I think thats true about everything today, back in the day they put their heart and soul into it, now its just fast this and fast that, shame really, can you imagine anybody today painting the sistene chapel? sorry if I spelt that wrong! lol!


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

It would be easier to imagine someone painting the Sistine chapel over with whitewash or grafitti, then selling it for a fortune to some billionaire with bad taste. That's the modern way.


jamila sahar profile image

jamila sahar 4 years ago

@ Nell Rose, you are absolutely correct. The youth of today expect everything to be an instant download. I teach piano performance and it is amazing how students who can barely read the notes of a piece or have no understanding of its harmonic analysis try and play the piece fast, or try and play scales or other exercises fast before they can even play it slowly with articulation. Thank you for this gem, I am very excited to listen to this concerto again with new ears. Yes it is quite difficult to write for an orchestra and three solo instruments. Great hub !


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks Jamila.

I hope you enjoy the music.

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