Jonathan Biss interprets Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, The Emperor Concerto. In parallel with studying Beethoven’s five piano concertos, Biss has commissioned and premièred as many new pieces by contemporary composers, pieces that in various ways relate to Beethoven’s concertos. Here, Biss plays Brett Dean’s Gneixendorf Music – A Winter’s Journey, an intriguing musical portrait of the celebrated composer.


dot 2019/2020





The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is a multiple-award-winning ensemble renowned for its high artistic standard and stylistic breadth, as well as collaborations with the world’s finest composers, conductors, and soloists. It regularly tours all over Europe and the world and has an extensive and acclaimed recording catalogue.

Daniel Harding has been Music Director of the SRSO since 2007, and since 2019 also its Artistic Director. His tenure will last throughout the 2024/2025 season. Two of the orchestra’s former chief conductors, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been named Conductors Laureate, and continue to perform regularly with the orchestra.

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra performs at Berwaldhallen, concert hall of the Swedish Radio, and is a cornerstone of Swedish public service broadcasting. Its concerts are heard weekly on the Swedish classical radio P2 and regularly on national public television SVT. Several concerts are also streamed on-demand on Berwaldhallen Play and broadcast globally through the EBU.

Jonathan Biss är en av vår tids uppmärksammade Beethoventolkare. Han inledde 2011 ett nioårigt projekt där han nu spelat in Beethovens samtliga pianosonater på nio album. Han initierade också projektet Beethoven/5 med fem pendangstycken beställda av tonsättarna Timo Andres, Sally Beamish, Salvatore Sciarrino, Caroline Shaw och Brett Dean, som vart och ett tar avstamp i Beethovens pianokonserter.

Som konsertpianist har Jonathan Biss uppträtt med framstående orkestrar som Los Angeles och New Yorks filharmoniker, Boston symfoniorkester, Sveriges och Danmarks radiosymfoniorkestrar, Birminghams stadssymfoniorkester och Concertgebouworkestern. Han har framträtt vid bland annat festivalerna i Salzburg och Luzern och är en eftertraktad kammarmusiker.

Biss är den förste amerikanske musikern som uppmärksammats av BBC New Generation Artists och har tilldelats flera andra stora utmärkelser och stipendier. Förutom sitt musicerande är han aktiv som pedagog och författare och är konstnärlig ledare för kammarmusikfestivalen Marlboro Music i Vermont.


Approximate timings

As Napoleon’s army marched on the city in spring 1809, Beethoven was at home in Vienna, trying to compose his fifth piano concerto. Beethoven, who lived near the city wall, had to seek shelter in his brother’s cellar several times to get away from the noise of the battle. He wrote to his editor, “We have been through a great deal, everything that has happened here has weakened me body and soul.”

Beethoven first dedicated his third symphony to General Napoleon, but he furiously changed his mind when he heard that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor. Beethoven hated Napoleon for invading Vienna. His reaction was characteristic of the burgeoning national romanticism in Germany and Austria. No one knows why the fifth piano concert is known as the Emperor Concerto, it was not in tribute to Napoleon, and Beethoven never gave it that title. However, there is another, more poignant title – the “Military Concerto”.

Military concertos were common at the time, they included gunfire, trumpet fanfares and march rhythms. You could say that there are traces of this in the first movement of the piano concerto. The peaceful introduction to the second movement, however, is said to be based on Austrian pilgrim songs. This is after all one of Beethoven’s lighter solo concertos, and it is hard to make out traces of the difficult period during which it was composed. It was also during this period that the composer’s hearing began to deteriorate, which meant that he was unable to perform the work himself.

At the first performance in Leipzig in 1811 the audience was so delighted that “the usual expressions of acknowledgement and satisfaction” did not suffice. But after only one more performance it was hardly played at all until the mid-1800s, when printed sheet music was available and many skilled piano virtuosi were able to perform Beethoven’s music.

Although Beethoven was to live for another eighteen years, this was his last piano concerto, maybe because he was unable to play it, or because he did not think he could produce any more music in this genre. But he did compose other forms of music.

Text: Bengt Arwén

Approximate concert length: 2 h 15 min (with intermission)

UPBEAT: Thursday, February 13 at 18.00 with Eric Schüldt, who tells about the second of the three concerts he has chosen for his own concert series, about the encounter with the unknown that occurs in the concert hall – and about Beethoven.

UPBEAT: Saturday at 14:00 Jonas Lundblad gives an introduction to the concert programme.