The premiere of this concerto took place at a marathon concert organized by
Beethoven at Vienna's Theater an der Wien on 22 December 1808. The program
included the world premieres of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and Symphonies
Nos. 5 and 6, the Vienna premiere of the Piano Concerto No. 4, and excerpts
from other works by Beethoven - more than four hours of demanding
contemporary music by a "difficult" composer! The soloist opens the
concerto with a theme that seems like a gentle echo of the forceful "Fate"
theme that opens the Fifth Symphony. The Andante is a kind of dialogue
between the two different temperaments: the stark and stern strings, and
the gentle, pleading piano. The boisterous finale rushes through a variety
of contrasting moods before bringing the piece to a rousing close.
Karl Böhm conducts the Wiener Symphoniker and the pianist Wilhelm Backhaus
(1884-1969), who was over 80 years old at the time and had been playing
this Beethoven concerto for 70 years already. One of the eminent piano
virtuosos of the 20th century, he was renowned above all for his
performances of Beethoven.