Piano Concerto No. 2 (Bartók)

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Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Sz. 95, BB 101 (1930–31) is the second of three piano concerti, and is notorious for being one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire.


In approaching the composition, Bartók wanted the music to be more contrapuntal. He also wanted to simplify his music (like many of his contemporaries), but his use of counterpoint in this piece makes for an extremely complicated piece of music. This aspect had proven particularly troublesome in the First Concerto, so much so, in fact, that the New York Philharmonic, which was to have given the premiere, could not master it in time, and Bartók's Rhapsody had to be substituted into the program.[1] The composer himself acknowledged that the piano part was arduous and later said that the concerto "is a bit difficult—one might even say very difficult!—as much for orchestra as for audience."[2] Bartók himself claimed in a 1939 article to have composed this concerto as a direct contrast to the First.[3]

Nonetheless, the concerto is notorious for its difficulty. András Schiff said, "For the piano player, it's a finger-breaking piece. [It] is probably the single most difficult piece that I have ever played, and I usually end up with a keyboard covered by blood."[4] Stephen Kovacevich also declared that it was the most technically demanding piece he had ever played and that he nearly paralyzed his hands while preparing the piece.[5]

The concerto was dated 1930/1931,[3] but not premiered until January 23, 1933 in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Hans Rosbaud with Bartók as the soloist.[2][6] The first performance in Hungary was later that same year, conducted by Otto Klemperer with Louis Kentner playing the piano at Bartók's request.[7]

Bartók himself played the work at the Proms in London under Sir Henry Wood as early as January 7, 1936, an initiative of the BBC music producer Edward Clark.[8][9] (Whether this was the UK premiere has not been confirmed; it was in any case three years before the United States premiere.)

The first performance in the United States was given in Chicago on March 2, 1939, with Storm Bull as soloist and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock. The French premiere was given in 1945 by Yvonne Loriod, who had learnt it in only eight days.[10]


The concerto is composed of three movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio—Presto—Adagio
  3. Allegro molto - Più allegro

The overall form of the Second Concerto is symmetrical—the tempo structure is fast-slow-fast-slow-fast—in the Bartókian manner that has come to be identified as arch form. The first movement, marked Allegro, is highlighted by the active, punctuating piano solo. The piano's quick, rhythmic pace and fragmentary scalar movement suggest the influence of Igor Stravinsky, and the ballet Petrushka (1910–11) in particular, while other characteristics point to The Firebird; the main theme of the movement, introduced by the trumpets, is a reference to The Firebird's finale.[3]


The concerto is scored for an orchestra consisting of a solo piano, two flutes (one doubling on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets (in B flat), two bassoons (one doubling on contrabassoon), four horns (in F), three trumpets (in C), three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, and strings.


Some notable recordings are by:


  1. ^ "Bela Bartok Dies In Hospital Here". New York Times. September 27, 1945. Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b May, Thomas. "Program notes: Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra". San Francisco Symphony. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  3. ^ a b c Petazzi, Paolo (1979). Bartók: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2. Liner notes to DGG 415 371-2 (Maurizio Pollini piano, Claudio Abbado conducting the CSO). Translated into English by Gwyn Morris.
  4. ^ "Andras Schiff on Bartok's Piano Concertos". 
  5. ^ Bayley, Amanda (2001). The Cambridge Companion to Bartók. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 232. 
  6. ^ Greene, David Mason (1985). Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers. The Reproducing Piano Roll Foundation. pp. p.1091. ISBN 0385142781.
  7. ^ Summers, Jonathan. "Louis Kentner". Naxos. Retrieved March 18, 2012. 
  8. ^ Quadrille, Ch. 6
  9. ^ BBC Proms Archive
  10. ^ olivier.messaien.org