Piano Concerto No. 1 (Chopin)

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The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, is a piano concerto written by Frédéric Chopin in 1830. It was first performed on 11 October of that year, in Warsaw, with the composer as soloist, during one of his "farewell" concerts before leaving Poland.

It was the first of Chopin's two piano concerti to be published, and was therefore given the designation of Piano Concerto "No. 1" at the time of publication, even though it was actually written immediately after what was later published as Piano Concerto No. 2. It is dedicated to Friedrich Kalkbrenner.

The concerto is scored for solo piano, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, tenor trombone, timpani and strings.

Structure[edit]

It contains the three movements typical of instrumental concertos of the period:

  1. Allegro maestoso
  2. Romanze – Larghetto in E major
  3. Rondo – Vivace in E major

Opinions of the concerto differ. Some critics feel that the orchestral support as written is dry and uninteresting. Others feel that the orchestral backing is carefully and deliberately written to fit in with the sound of the piano, and that the simplicity of arrangement is in deliberate contrast to the complexity of the harmony.

Both the first and second movements feature unusual modulations; in the opening Allegro, the exposition modulates to the parallel major, i-I, instead of the expected i-III. This tonal relation (i-III) between the second and the third theme finally occurs in the recapitulation, where an actual i-I modulation would have been expected, producing a different effect. The Romanze, although not strictly in sonata form, has its second theme of the exposition ascribe to the classical model of modulating to the dominant (I-V), and, when it returns, it modulates to the mediant (III).

Mily Balakirev re-orchestrated the concerto (using the same orchestral forces as Chopin employed, though with cor anglais instead of second oboe), and also wrote arrangements for violin and orchestra as well as for piano solo of the second movement.

First movement[edit]

Chopin followed the structural example of concertos in the style of Jan Ladislav Dussek and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, with which he was familiar. He was interested in neither the Beethoven-style dialogue between orchestra and soloist, nor in a Weber-style interweaving of voices.

The first movement of the E minor concerto has three themes, which are introduced by the orchestra. The piano then plays the first theme (bar 139), followed by the lyric second theme (bar 155), accompanied by the main motif of the first theme in bass counterpoint. The third theme is in E major, introduced in the exposition by the orchestra and taken over by the piano (bar 222). The development begins in bar 385, with the piano opening with the second theme; the orchestra then develops the first theme. The recapitulation begins in bar 486 again with the orchestra playing its opening theme. The coda, whose bass trill paints a gloomy backdrop, requires utmost care by the pianist. Typical performances of the first movement last from 18 to 23 minutes.

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