Posted: August 7th, 2013







The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 was composed by Frederic Chopin in 1830. The first performance of the concerto was done on 11 October in Warsaw the same year. This was Chopin’s first of two published concerti and was therefore, designated Piano Concerto “No. 1”. The piano concerto scored for pairs of flutes, four horns, two trumpets, oboes, clarinets, timpani and strings. Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 piano concerto was composed by Dmitry Shostakovich with the first performance premiering on 20th March 1925 at Moscow Conservatory Malyi Hall, Moscow. This piano concerto is considered the main piece that Shostakovich’s personality as a composer began to emerge.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 includes three individual movements. These include allegro maestoso, romance, and rondo. The orchestral part of the allegro maestoso section acts as the pianist’s vehicle with individual instrumental parts seemingly subdued by the piano. The romance smaller section suggests that the orchestral is written deliberately and carefully to fit in with the piano’s sound. Furthermore, the arrangement simplicity is under deliberate contrast to the harmony’s complexity. In the third section, Chopin preferred to employ unusual modulations in the concerto. For example, the exposition in this part modulates with the i-I parallel major instead of the appropriate i-III. Additionally, Chopin uses this format in the second and third themes.

The Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 piano concerto includes three smaller sections, as well. These include march in C major, Polka in C major, and Waltz in G major. This section involves an A B A C A structure that can be shortened to A B A. The polka in C major section gives a comprehensive understanding of the how the phrase, rhythm, and structures work thus allowing the pianist to improvise. The last Waltz in G major section that facilitates the accompanist when playing is made from scored music.

Pieces written earlier in time sound different compared to those written later in time. Pieces written earlier in time were done in short form for orchestra and solo instruments and often had descriptive titles. In the 1800s, such pieces were referred to as Konzertstück or Phantasie. Pieces written later in time were longer and implemented a variety of instruments. In addition, pieces written later in time included more use of modality, the development of atonality, exploration of non-western scales, use of complex, time signatures and polyrhythms. These differences changed the sound of the pieces with sounds aspects that were previously neglected now being implemented – aspects such as dynamics, timbre, and pitch.

The piano in The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 and Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 are mainly used to make a rhythmic effect rather than song like melodies. The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 bears an i-I parallel major that brings out a placid rhythmic motion before introducing a harmonic touch. The i-I parallel major also combines a repeated note bass with a robust theme in full contrast with the emotional intensity. The piano in the Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 also works to bring out a rhythmic effect. The concerto lightens the mood through its effervescent high spirit with a rapt poetry that is lively and playful.

The performer in The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 possesses an excellent physical approach to the piano. In this case, his hands are relaxed and extended with histrionic and dramatic gestures. His spine seemingly soars, but this does not pose a problem to him. The performer in Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 has a strong and natural approach to the piano. He moves through the sound making sure that each phrase and note at the instrument expresses organic fluidity with the elbows, fingers, wrists, hands, fingers, and the entire torso.

Indeed, there are parts of the recital that fascinated me. This fascination comes from the first movement. This movement has three themes that the orchestra introduces. The piano then plays bar 139 (first theme) followed by bar 155 (second theme). This is accompanied by the first theme’s main motif in bass counterpoint. The third theme comes through E-major introduced by the orchestra in the exposition and is taken over by the piano. Development starts at bar 385 with the second theme being reintroduced and developed. The pianist gives utmost care to the coda whose bass trills comes through with a gloomy backdrop. Three Fantastic Dances Op.1 fascinates me in the first movement is wistful and uncomplicated and comes through a sonata form. A single voice is heard throughout with the other instruments providing support until they all fade.

Nevertheless, there are certain parts of the piano concerti I did not enjoy much. Regarding Chopin’s concerto, the orchestral backing was deliberately designed to synchronize with the piano sound rather than writing it to fit in naturally. On the other hand, I also found a part of Shostakovich’s concerti less interesting. In this case, Shostakovich wrote his concerto western tendencies to compose dissonant and formalist music. I feel he should have written music focuses on suiting official tastes.

Shostakovich allows the audience to hear the melody by implementing a prosaic C major key in the form of a sonata. A single voice can be heard even though other instruments are playing. Chopin does this by using polka in C major section that gives a comprehensive understanding of the how the phrase, rhythm, and structures work thus allowing the pianist to improvise and give out the melody even when other instruments are playing.

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