This is Part 2 in my series of articles in which I will describe, from beginning to end, the creation of my reconstruction of the unfinished Sixth Piano Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven’s sixth piano concerto should have gone into premiere during the latter months of 1815. He wanted to fill the entire concert with his own works but due to a lack of interest this large concert never took off. This, even though the composer had an enormous success with his Wellingtons Sieg Op.91 on December 8th and 12th in 1813 and January 2nd and February 27th in 1814. Despite the success of this work (whereby the battle between the English and French army is beautifully depicted by the orchestra), the general public’s wonderful enthusiasm for the composer suddenly waned. He now had to fall back on compositions such as the many folksongs for the English audience and occasional and incidental music. This could be the reason why there simply wasn’t room for a concert with new works from Beethoven. This may also explain why Beethoven never completed the sixth piano concerto. I strongly doubt any explanations linking this to Beethoven’s ever increasing deafness, mainly because he wrote many very large and important works during that period which were all completed: The late piano sonatas and string quartets, the ninth symphony and the Missa Solemnis were all composed after 1815.
There are, as I previously explained in the previous article, 256 bars of music in the score of the piano concerto spread over 30 pages. The handwritten pages are preserved in the Berlin State library. Further, there are loose sketches which can be found in a number of libraries, one of which in Poland. I have obtained copies of all these sketches which now makes it possible to get a “complete” impression of the available material:
Beethoven wrote the composition for the following instruments:
• Solo Piano
• Two Flutes
• Two Oboe's
• Two Clarinets
• Two Bassoons
• Two of the four Horns
• Twee Trumpets
• Twee Timpanis
• First and second Violins
• Double basses
This is the classical instrumentation (with the exception of the third and fourth horn) that he used in the fifth piano concerto. I argue that Beethoven probably intended to use four instead of two horns based on the fact that the composer used four horns in nearly all his orchestral work from 1815 onwards. The use of more than two horns in an orchestra was uncommon: the composer uses two horns in nearly all orchestral work with a couple of exceptions (the Third symphony and the Léonore Overtures II and III).
Judging by the motives and themes depicted in the sketches of the piano concerto, the horns could be used in two keys. In this case, two of the horns would be tuned in D and the other two in B flat. There were only natural horns in Beethoven’s time. These horns could only play a limited number of tones in a certain key. Now a days, horns have valves. By using natural horns in different keys, Beethoven could greatly extend the employment of the horns. The composition starts with a small introduction of the main theme played by the wind section which is then answered by the piano. I will discuss the piano solo opening in part 3.