How the piano concerto developed

MONDAY, February 10, 2020

How the piano concerto developed…

This is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. But where do we start? How do we decide which composers to include?

It usually starts with Bach…

We can go back as far as we wish, but JS Bach seems like the right place to start.

JS Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750)…

The harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052–1065, are concertos for harpsichord, strings and continuo. The one in D minor is the most famous, so I think it is a good place to start. At first I thought of starting with the idea of Romanticism, which is usually taught to have started around 1800, but I find that idea terribly stiffling and limiting. When we think about what it is to be “romantic”, that’s pretty hard to define. Perhaps it is better to focus instead on creativity, originality and the power of the music, and this concerto by Bach has been something I’ve loved since I was quite young. If anything has changed, it is that I like it even better today, Now, how many “concertos” did Bach write? It depends on how many you label as concertos, and this alone is not agreed upon or standardized. My answer: a lot of them.

Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)…

Which is the best Mozart concerto to start with? Let’s start with the “Elvira Madigan”.

There are over 20 over them, but just how they are numbered and counted is weird. If anything, the point (if there is one) is that over time great composers started writing less of these as they got more serious about leaving a legacy.

Beethoven (17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827)…

He wrote only five of them, and Beethoven more or less set the pattern for all later composers. Each of his concertos are amazing, and every major composer who came later was aware of the importance and quality of Beethoven’s writing, so they composed very carefully knowing that all others would be compared to Beethoven, the titan.

Weber (18 or 19 November 1786 – 5 June 1826)…

He was a German composer, conductor and pianist and critic, and was one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school. Weber wrote two concertos.

Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847)…

He was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He wrote two piano concertos.

Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856)…

He was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He wrote only one piano concerto.

Chopin (1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849)…

He was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for solo piano. He wrote two piano concertos in his late teens and early 20s.

Liszt (22 October 1811 – 31 July 1886)

Wrote two

He was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, music teacher, arranger, and organist of the Romantic era. He wrote two piano concertos.

Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897)…

He  was  a German composer, pianist and conductor, a leading representative of late Romantic music. He wrote two piano concertos.

Saint-Saëns (9 October 1835 – 16 December 1921)…

He was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era. 

Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893)…

He was a Russian composer of the Romantic period. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He wrote two piano concertos, but the 2nd is almost never played because it is far inferior to the first.

Dvorak (8 September 1841 – 1 May 1904)…

He was a Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His piano concerto, the only one, is not well known and is not one of his popular works.

Grieg (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907)…

He was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is widely considered one of the leading Romantic era composers, and his music is part of the standard classical repertoire worldwide. His use and development of Norwegian folk music in his own compositions brought the music of Norway to international consciousness. He wrote only one piano concerto.

Edward Alexander MacDowell (December 18, 1860 – January 23, 1908)…

He was an American composer who wrote in the style of earlier European composers. His 2nd Piano Concerto is by far his most famous and most popular work.

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach – (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944)…

She was another American composer who also wrote in the style of earlier European composers.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958)…

He was an English composer. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces and orchestral compositions including nine symphonies, written over sixty years. Strongly influenced by Tudor music and English folk-song, his output marked a decisive break in British music from its German-dominated style of the 19th century. He wrote only one piano concerto.

Rachmaninov (1 April 1873 – 28 March 1943)…

He was a Russian composer, virtuoso pianist, and conductor of the late Romantic period. The influence of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and other Russian composers is seen in his early works, later giving way to a personal style notable for song-like melodicism, expressiveness and rich orchestral colors. He wrote four piano concertos.

Maurice Ravel (7 March 1875 – 28 December 1937)…

He was a French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s Ravel was internationally regarded as France’s greatest living composer. He wrote two piano concertos, but one of them was only for the left hand.

Bartok (25 March 1881 – 26 September 1945)…

He was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; he and Franz Liszt are regarded as Hungary’s greatest composers. He was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology. He wrote three piano concertos.

Prokofiev (27 April 1891 – 5 March 1953)…

He was a Russian Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. As the creator of acknowledged masterpieces across numerous music genres, he is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. He wrote five piano concertos.

Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937)…

He was an American composer and pianist whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. He wrote only one piano concerto.

Gian Carlo Menotti (July 7, 1911 – February 1, 2007)…

He was an Italian-American composer and librettist.

Xavier Montsalvatge i Bassols(11 March 1912 – 7 May 2002)…

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