|About this Recording
8.550118 - GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto / SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Concerto (Jando, Budapest Symphony, A. Ligeti)
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 16
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 54
When the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was still a student in Leipzig he had heard Schumann's widow Clara play her husband's piano concerto. His own piano concerto, written in 1868 during the course of a holiday in Denmark, is very much in the style suggested by the earlier work. The idiomatic piano-writing may well owe something to Liszt, who had seen the concerto in manuscript and to the composer's astonishment had played it through faultlessly at sight. Grieg had been equally impressed by Liszt's sight-reading of a violin sonata of his, in which every detail was included.
Grieg revised his Piano Concerto several times, as he did a number of his other compositions. He rejected at least one of Liszt's suggestions on orchestration, the use of trumpets for the second theme in the first movement, eventually given to the cellos, but was grateful for the encouragement Liszt gave him. The concerto came at a time when the composer was turning away from the predominantly Danish atmosphere of his middle-class Norwegian childhood and the German emphasis of his later musical education towards the music of Norway itself. Whatever its formal debt to Schumann the Piano Concerto has about it much that is purely Norwegian, particularly in its wealth of melodic material.
The concerto opens with a drum-roll leading to the entry of the solo piano, descending the keyboard, followed by a theme given first to the wood-wind, repeated by the piano, which later takes up the second theme, suggested by the cellos. There is a development section which develops relatively little and in the final section a rhapsodic cadenza, followed by a brief coda.
The second movement shifts to the key of D flat major, to be heard as the middle note of the chord of A major. The effect of the change is one of relief from the tumultuous activity that had gone before, orchestra and soloist proposing different melodies, but with no sense of conflict.
The finale is dominated by a Norwegian dance-rhythm, that of the halling, but has time for the kind of rhapsodic piano-writing that has made the concerto one of the most successful and popular in the romantic repertoire.
In common with certain other musicians of the nineteenth century, Robert Schumann showed an early inclination to literature, a bent inherited, possibly, from his father, a bookseller, publisher and writer himself. His literary ability was to find expression in the influential Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik, which he edited and to which he contributed, and this was coupled, at first, with his ambition as a pianist, curtailed by a weakness in fingers of the right hand. Schumann's major achievement, however, was to be as a composer, at first of piano music, then of songs, and finally, principally after his marriage, of orchestral works on a larger scale.
It was in October, 1830, that Schumann became a pupil of Friedrich Wieck, a man who had made his goal in life the creation of a virtuoso in his young daughter Clara. Two years later lessons came to an end: Schumann had proved a dilatory pupil in thoroughbass and counterpoint, under the Leipzig theatre conductor Heinrich Dorn, and the increasing weakness of the fingers of his right hand made any career as a pianist impossible, in spite of attempts by doctors to effect a cure by various means, including Tierbaeder, dipping the affected hand into the carcass of a freshly-killed animal.
The relationship with the Wieck family had a much profounder effect on Schumann's life. By 1835 he had begun to show alarming signs of affection for the fifteen-year-old Clara Wieck, much to the dismay of her father, who in the following years was to try every means, including litigation, to prevent his favourite daughter sacrificing her career to a young man of unsteady and even of immoral character. In the end Wieck was unsuccessful, and Schumann married Clara in 1840, the famous Year of Song, in which he set so many poems to music.
Schumann's A Minor Piano Concerto was started in the first years of marriage. In 1841, while the couple were still living in Leipzig, he completed w hat was intended as a single-movement Phantasie for piano and orchestra, which was later to form the first movement of the concerto. Late in 1844, after concert tours of varying success, and are turn of bouts of depression that were increasingly to afflict him, they moved to Dresden, where Schumann added two further movements. Clara had tried out the original first movement with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra soon after its composition and two weeks before the birth of the first of her seven children. The first public performance of the whole concerto was given in Dresden under Ferdinand Hiller in 1845, while Mendelssohn conducted a second performance in Leipzig on New Year's Day, 1846. Clara Schumann was the soloist on both occasions.
Schumann's later career was to take him from Dresden to Duesseldorf, where in 1850 he assumed the position of Director of Music. In practical matters and in dealings with the City Council he was unsuccessful, and his tenure was, in any case, interrupted by his mental breakdown in 1854 and his death in an asylum two years later. Clara Schumann was to continue her career as a pianist, the greatest pianist of the age, according to the critic Eduard Hanslick, giving her last public concert in 1891, but continuing her musical activities until her death in 1896. The Piano Concerto was to remain part of her repertoire.
The first movement of the concerto opens with all the panache of an improvised piano solo. Structurally, however, the movement is in sonata form, the principal theme following in the oboe being taken up by the piano, and used, in essence, in later movements.
The Intermezzo provides a lyrical interlude, where the piano predominates in narration of a curious story, reminding us of those shorter character-pieces that are so typical of the composer. This leads to the final movement, originally conceived as a separate Rondo, and with all the excitement that we should associate with a last movement. Here the soloist can cut a dash, and the composer demonstrate his control of form and his consistency of inspiration, even after an interval of four years between the composition of the first and the later movements.
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
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