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Can You Do the Beethoven G Major Concerto Blind Test?

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, was composed in 1805-1806, although no autograph copy survives.
The first movement opens with the solo piano, playing simple chords in the tonic key before coming to rest on a dominant chord. After a poetic pause of two and a half beats, the orchestra then enters in B major, the major mediant key, thus creating a tertiary chord change. This becomes a motif of the opening movement.

It was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert of the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony were premiered in that same concert. However, the public premiere was not until 22 December 1808 in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien. Beethoven again took the stage as soloist. This was part of a marathon concert which saw Beethoven’s last appearance as a soloist with orchestra, as well as the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph.

Click to print the test sheet!

Tip: Listen to the video without looking and see if you can recognize who is who of the pianists! In random order they are: Backhaus, Gould, Aimard, Gilels, Fleisher, Pletnev, Arrau, Haskil, Schnabel and Gieseking

A review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung states that “(the concerto) is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever” (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, May 1809). However, after its first performance, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn.

Today, the work is widely performed and recorded, and is considered to be one of the central works of the piano concerto literature.

Print the test sheet and listen to ten famous pianists playing the beginning:

Who do you prefer and why?
Could you spot anyone blindfolded and if so, how?


/patrick

  1. Carol B Says:

    I tend to know G. Gould’s style. This was cool! Thanks

  2. Marilyn Crosbie Says:

    Glenn Gould was once compared to Schnabel in an insulting way when he was quite young. “Who does he think he is? Schanbel?” I think I detect in both these pianists a slightly gentler approach in the opening bars. I am not nearly experienced enough to be able to recognize any of these pianists blindfolded. I think Gilels has a slightly stronger way of playing than some of the others. (I need to relisten, as I’m sure I would notice other nuances of differences between the various pianists). I’m interested to hear what others say.

  3. Marilyn Crosbie Says:

    Pletnev stands apart from all of these pianists.

  4. Jose Ignacio Says:

    I prefer Gilels and Arrau, I think their initial chords are clearer and brighter. The rest, in general, give a more fuzzy and neboulous picture of the music.

  5. Edenton pat Says:

    Why did you not include the best of the lot – Radu Lupu/Meta?

  6. what is matter ?!! Says:

    Why did u not posted the recording of perahia and solti ??
    perahia take this master piece to the best of it// he sing it , at generally this concerto is more pastroale // like schubert … maybe // please… listen to perhaia // gielels is fantastic tough .. :))

  7. MARIE-PAULE PARCELLS Says:

    I like Fleisher’s interpretation the best. Very soft touch, sensitive and great timing for measures 4 and 5.
    Very interesting to listen to these great pianists and hear how different each one feels the piece.

  8. paul Says:

    Gilels, without a doubt: beautiful ringing tone, but not forced; phrases shaped with both the head and the heart; sound that resonate from the depth of the performer into the heart of the listener.

  9. Yako Román Adissi Dykiert Says:

    La interpretación de Backhaus de los acordes inciales del concierto es la que más me ha llegado, hay una profunda interioridad en su decir que anticipa el doloroso y descarnado segundo tiempo.

  10. Richard Wagner Says:

    I particularly like the “broad” statement of Guilels, but also Backhaus’ approach.
    There are probably some emotional reasons for that: I have seen and heard both pianists perform live in de sixties of the 20th century: Guilels in a Bach-Beethoven recital and Backhaus (who was then 80 !) in Brahms’s Concerto n°2.
    Moments which, in an entire life, remain unique and unforgettable!…

  11. Luchian52 Says:

    I prefer Radu Lupu

  12. Albert Says:

    I´d prefer Claudio Arrau interpretation. Very clear and depth

  13. Gunnar Says:

    I like the phrasing of Backhaus the best. To me he is an outstanding Beethoven interpretor.

  14. Alleaume Says:

    I prefer Claudio Arrau. The sound is fuller, and suits more Beethoven music.

  15. Ethan Says:

    Yeah, if you know Glenn Gould, he really likes arpeggiating chords so that gave him away.

  16. Susana Says:

    Gilels is the most beethovinian
    Interesting as always is Backhaus interpretation of Beethoven

  17. Rita Says:

    The king of the fourth is Serkin. Please put him into the mix.

  18. nearenough Says:

    Backhous has a lightness, clarity and springiness in his touch and I was impressed. Gould rolls the chords in a weird way. Gilels too heavy handed (maybe too much volume). Pletnev was the most eccentric. What about Rubinstein?

  19. Gavin Smithers Says:

    I spotted Fleischer- that lovely set with Szell.
    How unauthentic the two Russians- Pletnev and Gilels- sound. And what a difference it makes when that last rising scale really sings.

  20. Seymour Bernstein Says:

    To say the truth, I liked only fleeting parts of these performances. None of the examples can compare to the incomparable Sir Clifford Curzon. Not even his recordings capture what I heard him do many times in live performances, and while I played the orchestra part for him during rehearsals in the basement of Steinway in NYC. He was, for example, insistent that the chrods be pedalled, and the slurs not pedalled. He actually made fun of those pianists who take all staccato and separated chords seriously without the pedal. He knew that composers used choreographic indications for certain light touches, as Beethoven did in notating these chords, and that one should pedal for warmth and nuance. In my estimation, the worst one was Bachaus who plays more machine-like than any of the others. Ironically, many German pianists are the worst interpretors of German music. And there goes Glenn Gould breaking his hands because he likes it that way. What a bizarre character he was! And Pletnev’s chizzeled chords and adagio tempo at the end gets the prize for sheer absurdity. It is like a slap in the face to serious musicians. The opening of this concerto says everything about a pianist. Few moments in music are as difficult and revealing as is this opening to Beethoven’s 4th Concerto.

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