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A piano concerto is a type of concerto, a solo composition in the Classical music genre which is composed for a piano player, which is typically accompanied by an orchestra or other large ensemble. Piano concertos are typically virtuoso showpieces which require an advanced level of technique on the instrument, including melodic lines interspersed with rapid scales, arpeggios, chords, complex contrapuntal parts and other challenging material. When piano concertos are performed by a professional concert pianist, a large grand piano is almost always used, as the grand piano has a fuller tone and more projection than an upright piano. Piano concertos are typically written out in music notation, including sheet music for the pianist (which she typically memorizes so that she can play the concert without sheet music), orchestra parts for the orchestra members, and a full score for the conductor, who leads the orchestra in the accompaniment of the soloist.
Depending on the era in which a piano concerto was composed, the orchestra parts may provide a fairly subordinate accompaniment role, setting out the bassline and chord progression over which the piano plays solo parts (more typical during the Baroque music era, from 1600-1750 and the Classical music period, from 1720 to 1800), or the orchestra may be given an almost equal role to the piano soloist, with orchestra instrumentalists and sections introducing key musical themes and playing virtuostic parts for their instruments and in which there is a "dialogue" or "conversation" between the piano soloist and the orchestra. When music students and music competition auditionees play piano concertos, the orchestra part may be performed in an orchestral reduction, a conversion of the orchestra parts into a part for an accompanist playing piano or pipe organ, as it is very expensive to hire a full orchestra. Keyboard concerti were common in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach in the Baroque music era, during the Classical music period and during the Romantic music era (1800-1910). Keyboard concerti are also written by contemporary classical music composers. Twentieth and 21st century piano concerti may include experimental or unusual performance techniques. In the 20th and 21st century, J.S. Bach's harpsichord concerti are sometimes played on piano. There are variant types of piano concertos, including double piano concertos, for two solo pianists and orchestra, and double or triple (or larger solo groups) concertos in which the piano soloist is joined by a violinist, cellist, or another instrumentalist.
Classical and romantic
To be the start of George Friedrich Handel Organ Concerto was written in 1707 on the clavier concerto was written after John was spent throughout the Baroque period, including Concerto for harpsichord by the Sebastian Bach. As the piano developed in the early 1700s and became more accepted by musicians and audiences, it gradually replaced the harpsichord and pipe organ in many keyboard-oriented roles. Pipe organ continued to be used in the 1700s and following centuries, but it tended to be used for sacred music for church services and for virtuoso showpiece organ concertos. During the Classical music era, composers started writing concerti for it. This happened in the late 18th century, during the Classical music era. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the most important composer in the early development of the form. Mozart's body of masterly piano concerti put his stamp firmly on the genre well into the Romantic era. Mozart wrote many piano concertos for himself to perform (his 27 piano concertos also include concerti for two and three pianos). With the rise of the piano virtuoso, many composer-pianists did likewise, notably Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, and Robert Schumann—and also lesser-known musicians like Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Joseph Wölfl, Carl Maria von Weber, John Field, Ferdinand Ries, and F. X. Mozart.
Well known examples from the middle to late Romantic era include concerti by Edvard Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saëns, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Antonín Dvořák and Franz Xaver Scharwenka wrote some lesser-known concerti during this time. Edward Elgar made sketches for a piano concerto but never completed it. In the 19th century, Henry Litolff blurred the boundary between piano concerto and symphony in his five works entitled Concerto Symphonique, and Ferruccio Busoni added a male choir in the last movement of his hour-long concerto. Wilhelm Furtwängler wrote his Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which lasts more than one hour, in 1924-1937. In a more general sense, the term "piano concerto" could extend to the numerous often programmatic concerted works for piano and orchestra from the era – Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, Liszt's Totentanz and Ruins of Athens Variations, and Richard Strauss's Burleske are only a few of the hundreds of such works. The few well-known piano concerti that dominate 20th century and 21st century concert programs and discographies comprise only a small part of the repertoire that proliferated on the European music scene during the 19th century.
20th century and contemporary
The piano concerto form survived through the 20th century into the 21st, with examples being written by Leroy Anderson, Samuel Barber, Béla Bartók, York Bowen, Elliott Carter, Emma Lou Diemer, George Gershwin, Ferde Grofe, György Ligeti, Witold Lutosławski, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Frank Martin, Bohuslav Martinů, Nikolai Medtner, Peter Mennin, Peter Mieg, Selim Palmgren, Dora Pejačević, Sergei Prokofiev, Behzad Ranjbaran, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arthur Somervell, Igor Stravinsky, Heinrich Sutermeister, Alexander Tcherepnin, Michael Tippett, Pancho Vladigerov, Charles Wuorinen, and others. Parts of other 20th century symphonic works give the piano occasional prominence like any other instrument of the orchestra, as in the Symphony in Three Movements by Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber's violin concerto, and the Symphony No.3 by Michael Tippett.
Works for piano left-hand and orchestra
The German Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm during World War I, and on resuming his musical career asked a number of composers to write pieces for him that required the left hand only. The Czech Otakar Hollmann, whose right arm was injured in the war, did likewise but to a lesser degree. The results of these commissions include concertante pieces for orchestra and piano left hand by Bortkiewicz, Britten, Hindemith, Janáček, Korngold, Martinů, Prokofiev, Ravel, Franz Schmidt, Richard Strauss,and others.
Works for two and more pianos and orchestra
Concertos and concert works for two solo pianos were written by Bach (two to four pianos, BWV 1060-65, actually harpsichord concertos, but often performed on pianos), Mozart (two, K 242 (originally for three pianos and orchestra) and K 365), Mendelssohn (two, 1823-4), Bruch (1912), Béla Bartók (1927/1932, a reworking of his Sonata for two pianos and percussion), Poulenc (1932), Arthur Benjamin (1938), Peter Mieg (1939-41), Darius Milhaud (1941 and 1951), Bohuslav Martinů (1943), Ralph Vaughan Williams (c. 1946), Roy Harris (1946), Gian Francesco Malipiero (two works, both 1957), Walter Piston (1959), Luciano Berio (1973), and Harald Genzmer (1990). Apart from the Bach and Mozart examples, works for more than two pianos and orchestra are considerably rarer, but have been written by Carl Czerny (Quatuor Concerto for four pianos, op. 230), Morton Gould (Inventions for four pianos and orchestra, 1954), Peter Racine Fricker (Concertante for three pianos, timpani, and strings, 1956), Wolfgang Fortner (Triplum for three pianos and orchestra, 1966) and Georg Friedrich Haas (limited approximations for six microtonally tuned pianos and orchestra, 2010)
A classical piano concerto is often in three movements.
- A quick opening movement in sonata allegro form including a virtuoso cadenza (which may be improvised by the soloist).
- A slow movement that is freer and more expressive and lyrical
- A faster rondo
Examples by Mozart and Beethoven follow this model, but many others do not. Beethoven's fourth concerto includes a last-movement cadenza, and many composers introduced innovations. Liszt's concerti are played without a break, though separate movements are clearly evident. One example of a concerto in only one discrete movement (Allegro brillante) is Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major (1893).
- List of compositions for piano and orchestra
- List of piano concertos by key
- List of works for piano left-hand and orchestra
- Concerto for solo piano
- Maurice Hinson, Music for Piano and Orchestra, an annotated guide, Indiana University Press, 1993
- Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto Series (a commercial website selling recordings on CD)
- Rachmaninoff's Works for Piano and Orchestra An analysis of Rachmaninoff's Works for Piano and Orchestra including the Piano Concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody.
- Classical and Romantic Piano Concertos, an extensive list of Classical and Romantic piano concertos, and other music for piano and orchestra from the same period.
- Music for Piano and Orchestra: The Recorded Repertory, An exhaustive list of recorded works for piano and orchestra.