Piano Concerto No. 1 (Shostakovich)
The Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra, Op. 35, was completed by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1933. The concerto was an experimentation with a neo-baroque combination of instruments.
The concerto was premiered on 15 October 1933 in the season opening concerts of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra with Shostakovich at the piano, Fritz Stiedri conducting, and Alexander Schmidt playing the trumpet solos. "By all accounts, Shostakovich played brilliantly" and the concerto was well received. The performance was repeated on 17 October.
Despite the title, the work might more accurately be classified as a piano concerto rather than a double concerto in which the trumpet and piano command equal prominence. The trumpet parts frequently take the form of sardonic interjections, leavening the humor and wit of the piano passage work. The trumpet does assume relatively equal importance during the conclusion of the last movement, immediately after the cadenza for piano solo. Years after he wrote the work, Shostakovich recalled that he had initially planned to write a concerto for trumpet and orchestra and then added the piano to make it a double concerto. As he continued writing, it became a piano concerto with a solo trumpet.
Arrangement for two pianos
After writing the orchestral version, Shostakovich wrote an arrangement for two pianos (without orchestra or trumpet). In the two-piano version, the solo piano part is more elaborate. The metronome indications and tempo markings of the two-piano arrangement differ from those of the orchestral version.
The concerto comprises either three or four movements, depending on the interpretation:
- Allegro con brio
The Moderato is sometimes seen as an introductory passage to the Allegro con brio rather than as a separate movement. However, it is usually considered to be the third of four movements, as the moods of the two are very different. While the "Moderato" is of a serious nature, the "Allegro con brio" is in a somewhat lighter tone. Some recordings feature only three movements, with the last marked as Moderato – Allegro con brio. The concerto is concluded by a brief but intense cadenza, with the strings reentering to build tension near the finish. The movement comes to a close with short C Major bursts of the strings and piano, accompanied by the humorous trumpet.
In several places, synchronization with the orchestra can be very difficult, due to the orchestral part often being offbeat to the soloist part, therefore demanding numerous rehearsals.
The second and third movements contain no significant technical difficulties, except perhaps for a more minor one in the form of awkward 16th note runs in both hands in the middle of the second movement.
The greatest technical difficulty in the first movement is the 3 pages of continuous, rapid leaps in the form of 3-note chords stretched out over two octaves in 8th note triplets in the left hand, sometimes even surpassing two octaves, accompanied by quicksilver 8th note rapidly leaping triplet octaves, in the right hand, all at a tempo of presto.
The fourth movement contains very difficult runs in both hands, similarly to the first movement. There is a section near the beginning of the movement that requires the right hand to play very fast repeated notes in the highest register: theee e flat notes followed by an e flat an octave below, all in 16ths, repeated three times. This requires great finger independence.
The final cadenza of the fourth movement is very difficult, containing the typical, very awkward fast runs, big leaps and passages requiring 4th finger independence.
Arguably the most difficult section, albeit a very short one, is a series of quick leaps, first in the left hand in the stride piano style and then in both hands - with the second-to-last leap spanning three octaves in the left hand and two octaves in the right hand, followed immediately by the final, fast leap, spanning four octaves in the left hand and two octaves in the right hand - at the very end of the piece. The stride piano section, if one sticks to the correct tempo of presto, is impossible to play 100% clearly - hitting the sixths and the octaves at that breakneck speed is as much a matter of luck as a matter of one's pianistic skill. Therefore, one has the choice of either:
- Maintaining the speed but sacrificing some of the clarity;
- Maintaining the speed but omitting some of the notes in the left hand to maintain clarity, or;
- Slowing down entirely and therefore losing most of the built-up momentum and excitement, but making it possibly to play all the notes clearly.
Incorporation of other classical works and folk tunes
This concerto incorporates and parodies many other musical works. Shostakovich's extensive use of diverse musical quotations was groundbreaking at the time. In album notes, Robert Matthew-Walker writes, "With such a polyglot collection of quotations and influences, only a composer of genius could have moulded this variety into a cohesive whole. The miracle is that Shostakovich succeeded, and constructed a distinctive and indestructible work..." He also notes that the concerto contains a strong element of parody, beginning with a reference to Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata, and ending with "an uproarious quotation" of Beethoven's "Rage Over a Lost Penny" and a slice of Haydn's D major Piano Sonata. Ironically, the last movement's final cadenza is introduced with exactly the same trill as in the final bars of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 cadenza. The work also includes quotations from Shostakovich's own Hamlet incidental music, Op. 32, and from a revue, Hypothetically Murdered, Op. 31.
In the second movement Shostakovich presents a parody of a theme from his ballet The Golden Age (1935). In the final movement Shostakovich includes excerpts from his opera Christopher Columbus (1929).
There are numerous recordings of the orchestral version of the concerto, including several with Shostakovich at the piano; he repeatedly played the concerto. His style was sometimes criticized as mechanical, and somewhat displaying lack of emotion.
Notes and references
- Dmitri Shostakovich, Pianist Sofia Moshevich, McGill-Queen's Press, 2004, page 76
- Robert Matthew-Walker, notes on LP album cover of Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 35 (for Piano, Trumpet & Strings), Music for Pleasure Limited, UK
- Album notes by Laura Tomlin to The Music of Dmitri Shostakovich
- Dmitri Shostakovich, Piano Concerto (London: Boosey & Hawkes, n.d. HPS644).
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 325-9.