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All Hamelin, All Beethoven!

Beethoven’s Complete Piano Concertos

This concert was programmed last year to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

This year, however, while the Olympic Games play on in Tokyo, Marc-André Hamelin will pull off a highly athletic performance: playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s complete corpus of 5 Piano Concertos in one single weekend.


This will not be a first for this pianist, who previously performed this complete cycle in 2013.

“Fundamentally, one does not find in these works the considerable pessimism expressed in some of the sonatas. These are rather airy and optimistic, and they don’t bear much psychological complexity, I would argue. But one still has to render them skillfully.” Marc-André Hamelin

Before delving into the world of L. van Beethoven on August 6 and 7, why not take a little sprint through the history of his concertos, from the Classical era through to the first beacons of Romanticism?

In 1798,  Beethoven, then aged 28, completed his Concerto No. 1 in C major. That same year, he made the acquaintance of Napoleon Bonaparte and the violinist Kreuzer, two encounters that would later bear a strong influence on his compositions. Duration of the first race: 30 minutes!

On March 29, 1795,  Beethoven performed his very first work in the genre – which has since been catalogued as his Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major – in Vienna. He was 25 years old and performed to unanimous acclaim. A second 30-minute round of music for the musicians!

Between 1800 and 1802, Beethoven composed his Concerto No. 3, Op. 37 in C minor. This one is more sombre and expresses greater emotional depth than the two previous ones: Beethoven was now 30 years old and his hearing loss was worsening.

“O, you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you.”

A final 35 minutes to end this August 6 marathon!


Six years later, Beethoven composed the Concerto No. 4 in G major. That year,1806, proved highly productive for him: he also wrote three quartets, his Fourth Symphony, a violin concerto, and he began the composition of his celebrated Fifth Symphony. This was a year filled with daring and innovation, during which he departed from his “heroic style.” Incidentally, Marc-André Hamelin has a soft spot for this particular concerto. The first notes of the evening will be heard at the piano rather than from the orchestra, as was always the case with the previous three concertos, and the music of this work will continue to play on for 35 minutes.

Between 1809 and 1810, Beethoven composed his Piano Concerto in E-flat major, his fifth and last. He was 39 years old and was coping with an increasingly compromised sense of hearing, exacerbated by bombings by the French in Vienna. Because of its majestic quality, this Concerto is referred to as the “Emperor Concerto.” The nickname was firmly dismissed by Beethoven following his disappointment at the coronation of Napoleon, whom he had deemed a revolutionary. Our guest pianist will tackle this final sprint, lasting 40 minutes!

Psst! Click here to learn more about how Marc-André Hamelin prepared for the concerts on August 6 and 7:


Chroniques de programme par Margot Charignon