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, when he was only twenty years old. 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.

Chopin, circa 1849

It was the first of Chopin's two piano concertos 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 the premiere of what was later published as Piano Concerto No. 2.

A typical performance lasts about 40 minutes.

Influences[edit]

The piano concerto is dedicated to Friedrich Kalkbrenner. While writing it, Chopin wrote to Tytus Woyciechowski, saying, “Here you doubtless observe my tendency to do wrong against my will. As something has involuntarily crept into my head through my eyes, I love to indulge it, even though it may be all wrong.”[1] Undoubtedly, this sight must have been the well-known soprano Konstancja Gładkowska, who was the “ideal” behind the Larghetto from Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto.

Reception and premiere[edit]

Opinions of the concerto differ. Some critics feel that the orchestral support as written is dry and uninteresting, notably the critic James Huneker, who wrote in Chopin: The Man and his Music that it was “not Chopin at his very best.”[2] On the other hand, many 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. Robert Schumann reviewed Chopin’s concerti in 1836 for the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik that “Chopin introduces the spirit of Beethoven into the concert hall”[3] with these pieces.

The premiere, on 12 October 1830, was “a success.... a full house.” There was “an audience of about 700,” according to the Kurier Warszawski. The concerto, with Chopin himself at the piano and Carlo Evasio Soliva conducting. The piece was followed by “thunderous applause.” Seven weeks later, in Paris, following the political outbreaks in Poland, Chopin played his concerto for the first time in France at the Salle Pleyel. It was received well, once again. François-Joseph Fétis wrote in La Revue musicale the next day that “There is spirit in these melodies, there is fantasy in these passages, and everywhere there is originality.”[4]

The pianist Martha Argerich said of the concerto, "The virtuosity has to be like an understatement."[5]

Structure[edit]

The first page of the score, published by Breitkopf & Härtel, probably post-1850

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

First Movement[edit]

Allegro maestoso — typical performance lasts 20 minutes

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 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.

Second Movement[edit]

Romanze – Larghetto — typical performance lasts about 10 minutes

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). Chopin wrote in the same letter to Tytus, saying, “It is not meant to create a powerful effect; it is rather a Romance, calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot that calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening.”[6] The second movement has been described as "unashamedly heart-on-your-sleeve stuff."[7]

Third Movement[edit]

RondoVivace — typical performance lasts about 10 minutes

Written with much procrastination, hesitation, and difficulty, the third movement features Krakowiak rhythms, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Krakow.[8] It became one of the last pieces written by Chopin before the political turmoil in Poland that prevented him from returning. When, after completing the Rondo in August 1830, he played it privately — first with a string quartet and then a small orchestral ensemble — he said proudly, “Rondo – impressive. Allegro – strong.”

Cultural legacy[edit]

A performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 features prominently in the 2015 British film The Lady in the Van. The movie "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane" featured this Concerto.

The Second Movement is featured at the climax of Don Hertzfeldt's 2012 film "It's Such A Beautiful Day".

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Quotes by Chopin". Chopin Project. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  2. ^ Huneker, James (1900). Chopin: The Man and his Music (First ed.). C. Scribner's Sons. p. 303. 
  3. ^ Keller, James M. "Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Opus 11". San Francisco Symphony. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  4. ^ Tomaszewski, Mieczysław. "Piano Concerto in E Minor". The Fryderyk Chopin Institute. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Rothwell, Jessie. "Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1". LA Phil. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  6. ^ Beggerow, Alan. "Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor". Musical Musings. Blogspot. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  7. ^ "Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor". Classic FM. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  8. ^ Quinn, Michael. "Chopin: Piano Concertos". Linn Records. Linn. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 

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