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I have a (probably pretty amateur) question regarding the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3, more precisely the last notes of the third movement. I've listened to different recordings of this piece and noticed that sometimes the pianist plays the last few notes along with the orchestra, e.g. here at about 38:20

and sometimes not, e.g. 37:40

Clearly one can also hear a difference between both versions. Can someone explain this to me? How did Beethoven intend it to be? Does this happen at other places in this or even in other pieces? Thanks in advance!

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Edit: Please see phoog's answer below, which I find to be a more complete reading of this issue.

For questions of this nature, your best bet is to try and find the original manuscript version of the score to see what the composer him/herself wrote. In Beethoven's case, we're fortunate that many of his manuscripts have been digitalized.

This manuscript for this movement can be found here (warning, it's a big file!). Throughout, Beethoven writes the piano part as the bottom two staves of the score, and on the final page, the lowest-written staff is that for the basses; the fact that there's no piano score below it suggests that the pianist was not intended to play these final few measures.

(Note also that neither the Breitkopf und Härtel score nor the later Eulenberg score have the piano playing at the end.)

This is likely just a performance decision by pianists like Ott; since it's just a set of V and I chords, the pianist may as well end the concerto "with a bang" as opposed to sitting there (slightly awkwardly) with nothing to do.

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  • Thanks for the reference to the original manuscript! I think without your explanation I would not have been able to figure this out. :P Indeed I also did some search in the meantime and I found this: musopen.org/de/music/61-piano-concerto-no-3-in-c-minor-op-37 where I think the piano IS actually supposed to play the last notes, or am I mistaken here?
    – Staki42
    Jan 6 at 0:22
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    @Staki42 If you flipped to the last page of the score on that page (p. 28), the piano is playing—but that's only the end of the first movement! If you scroll down and click the third movement under "Notenblättermusik" and scroll to the last page of that document, you'll see the piano doesn't play. (This is the Breitkopf score linked above.)
    – Richard
    Jan 6 at 0:26
  • Which last page? The last page is blank. The next to last page has sketching in the piano part. But the whole score is somewhat sketchy. See my answer: the best source for information about what the keyboard player should do is the keyboard part. The intended audience of this score is possibly a conductor, but more likely the engraver.
    – phoog
    Jan 7 at 18:02
  • @phoog Yes, I thought by "last page" we would all assume the last page of the notated score. For what it's worth, I actually think your answer is better, and will point to it in an edit.
    – Richard
    Jan 7 at 18:04
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It's written without the piano for the final measures:

End of Beethoven piano concerto no. 3

This is very typical of the rondo form that typically ends Classical period concertos--each time the principal theme comes back, the soloist plays it once, then the accompaniment plays it. Earlier in the movement, this repetition serves to give the soloist a brief rest before the episode that follows. At the end, that same pattern is followed for symmetry.

With solos from this period, it's expected that the written music is only a starting point, and the performer is allowed to embellish significantly. I think that the modern sensibility is that it's a bit awkward for a concerto, a piece designed to feature a soloist, to end without them, and so many performers choose to play along at the end.

You'll see this across concertos for all instruments from this period. Sometimes you'll even find newer editions where the editor has written it in.

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    That said, Beethoven was known to buck the trend in his concertos, e.g. the way the piano plays the opening in the 4th and 5th. Also particularly in the 5th there's a lot more back and forth between piano and orchestra than was typical, as opposed to the usual long stretches where only one of them is featured with the other either silent or just kind of in the background. Jan 6 at 14:53
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Rather than look at the score, have a look at the first edition parts (linked from IMSLP's landing page for the piece. This was published in 1808, no doubt with Beethoven's participation.

In the solo piano part, the "tutti" passages show the orchestral part in smaller "cue" notes in the right hand only, while the left hand has the bass part in normal sized notes. This indicates that the pianist should play a basso continuo realization in this passages. Most modern concert pianists are not trained in this art, so the practice has fallen by the wayside, but any pianist who does play in any of these passages is not, as suggested by other answers, diverging from the composer's intentions.

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  • Oh, wow; I somehow didn't even see the parts on IMSLP. Well spotted!
    – Richard
    Jan 7 at 18:01
  • @Richard they require a little digging, but they can be useful. Another example is in my answer to a question about Bach and figured bass where I point out that the absence of figures in most of Bach's scores does not imply that continuo players were working with unfigured parts.
    – phoog
    Jan 7 at 18:05

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