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He was not a man known for a caring or gentle disposition. He was not a man who cared what he was known for, but mostly he was famed as a musical genius during the turn of the eighteenth century. He continued to compose after he began steadily losing his hearing and with even more passion than before. His middle-period of compositions show a recurrent theme of heroism and triumph over all adversity. During this period, and by the time he was almost totally deaf, he composed arguably his most famous piano concerto; his Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat major which soon became nicknamed the 'Emperor'.
This three-movement piece has a strength and a will of its own. Each movement illustrates a new story to the careful listener; however, it is the second movement of this piece that stands out as the most temperately powerful. This slow and lyrical movement, Adagio un poco mosso (slowly and a little moving), has passion and emotion that is conveyed by its gentility. Unlike any number of Beethoven's works, this movement grips the heart with a forceful and tender passion rather than the flagrantly bombastic attitude of the man and his works.
After the first minute and a half of the second movement, there is a minor tonality in the piece, directly before the entrance of the central instrument, Beethoven's instrument, the piano. This connotes some adversity to the listener while the gentle tinkling of the piano keys takes over and eventually drowns out all minor chords from the string section. There is also, in the beginning and recurring towards the end of the movement, a single woodwind that stands out above the overpowering string instruments. After the pianist's solo in the middle of the movement the string instruments are back to their major tonalities and the pianist is able to perform a second, shorter solo utilizing some ornamentation, however, it is controlled and precise.
Although I've known who Beethoven was, superficially, for a long time, it was not until my sophomore year of college that I was introduced to Beethoven, the artist. I was taking a required humanities course, Music of the Classical Era, where we studied the lives and music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. We examined his Piano Concerto No 5 and discussed the nuances behind the second movement. We also contrasted it with his other major works. Up until that point, I thought Beethoven was a genius, I thought he was a master at his art, but after I heard this concerto I thought he was a real man too. We began discussing his personal life beyond the music and, no matter how ridiculous it may sound, I realized for the first time that he was person; he was a real man living in a real time in the world with other people, relationships, goals, and trials. I began reading more about his life on my own and tried to understand him. The one piece of music that he composed that kept connecting itself directly with his life, in my mind, was the Emperor. Every time I heard it, I heard something new.
Copyright © 3 January 2008
Margaret Willson, New Jersey, USA