Beethoven’s Triple Concerto

Notes by TŌN trumpet player Maggie Tsan-Jung Wei

The Background
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C major, Op. 56, is more similar to a piano trio than a concerto, with the whole orchestra acting as an accompanist to build up texture and add different colors. Most of the time, it is a competition or cooperation among three soloists. The three of them may play against each other, or support each other in different phrases. What makes this piece unique is the instrumentation. Beethoven was successful not only at putting these three solo instruments together in front of a whole orchestra, but also at keeping them balanced. Acting more as partners, the three instruments do not dominate over each other. Even now, it is probably the only well-known triple sonata for these three instruments. However, the work was not as successful as it is now when Beethoven first composed it around the year 1804. It was not officially performed until about four years after it was published. Surprisingly, it did not receive great critiques during the nineteenth century. However, the fact that people are still performing the concerto nowadays proves the value of this piece.

The Music
I certainly cannot choose my favorite movement in this concerto. The three movements have their own unique texture and musical language. The first movement is in sonata form, which is one of the most common forms for first movements in symphonies or concertos. It can be separated into three parts based on the motive. In this movement I really enjoy the beginning, when the piece opens with the lower string section, and the rest of the orchestra slowly builds up and introduces the three soloists. The second movement instills a sacred and peaceful feeling in me, almost as if I was standing by myself in the middle of an empty cathedral. The last movement, just like other traditional concertos, is a fast movement. It is joyful and delightful, and also brings back the tension and the cooperation between the three soloists.