Beethoven’s music is undeniably profound. Its beautiful complexity inspires a passionate response in all who listen, especially if those listeners are lucky enough to enjoy a live rendition of the brilliant, classical work.
Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op. 56, more commonly known as the Triple Concerto, was composed in 1803 and later published in 1804 by Breitkopf & Härtel. This is, fascinatingly, the only concerto that Beethoven ever composed for more than one instrument.
The history of the concerto
Anton Schindler, one of the first authors to pen a biography of the late composer, recorded a little-known fact about the musical score: the Triple Concerto was written for Beethoven’s royal student, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria.
The Archduke became an adept piano player and composer under Beethoven’s tutelage, his talent blooming during his teenage years. However, unfortunately, no records exist of the Archduke’s many piano performances.
The Triple Concerto wasn’t premiered until 1808, four years after its original publication. It was showcased at the summer concert, or “Augarten,” in Vienna. The concerto was in this instance dedicated to another patron, Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian Fürst von Lobkowitz, an aristocrat of Bohemia from the House of Lobkowicz, and not to the Archduke Rudolf.
The Triple Concerto includes three distinct movements:
2. Largo (attacca)
3. Rondo alla polacca
Modern day interpretations
The following video features the Triple Concerto as played by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Itzhak Perlman, with three solo performers: violinist Giora Schmidt, Cellist Zuill Bailey, and pianist Navah Perlman.
The first movement begins gracefully and evokes exponential power, with a sophistication quite unique in comparison to Beethoven’s other works. The audience enjoys a segment for piano, one for cello, and another for violin at the very same time. The solo performances are seductive.
The second movement lends an air of remarkable romance to the entire piece. It descends four tones from the first movement, to the warm-hearted and charismatic A flat major. Each note seems to mesmerize the audience.
The third movement was composed in the form of a rondo, which is brilliant and heroic. It maintains the most significant features of the classical concerto. The dramatic climax of the orchestra occurs here, accompanied by the individual melodies of the solo instruments, which creates an interesting juxtaposition.
We are also able to glimpse Beethoven’s idiosyncratic humor in the joyful, staccato rhythm of the third movement. However, this is only an embellishment upon an already epic musical score in which every instrument is celebrated.
About the composer
Ludwig van Beethoven (Dec. 17, 1770 – Mar. 26, 1827) was a German classical music composer. He spent most of his adult lifetime in Vienna, Austria. He remains, to this day, a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras of Western history, and is possibly even considered the forerunner (“Wegbereiter”) of the Romantic era.
Beethoven is widely recognized as one of the greatest and most influential composers of all time, amongst classical musicians and music aficionados alike.
His most well-known and celebrated compositions include Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major (“Eroica”), Symphony No. 5 in C minor (“Fate”), Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”), and Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”).
Celebrated works for piano include Für Elise and the sonatas Pathétique, Moonlight, Waldstein, and Appasionata. Beethoven also wrote a violin sonata, “Spring,” Violin Concerto in D major, and one single, albeit very successful, opera in the entire duration of his lifetime: Fidelio.
Beethoven’s music has traversed centuries and remained relevant throughout constantly changing cultural climates. The Triple Concerto is an outstanding example of the genius Beethoven’s vision, and his longevity.