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ClassicsOnline Home » GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto / SCHUMANN, R.: Piano Concerto (Jando, Budapest Symphony, A. Ligeti)
American Record Guide
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 16
Allegro molto moderato Adagio
Allegro moderato molto e marcato –
Quasi Presto - Andante
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 54
Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso
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
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.
Jeno Jandó was born at Pécs, in south Hungary, in 1952. He started to
learn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy
of Music under Katalin Nemes and Pal Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter
on his graduation in 1974. Jand6 has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary
and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a
first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano
Competition in 1977. In addition to his many appearances in Hungary, he has
played widely abroad in Eastern and Western Europe, in Canada and in Japan.
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, part of the Hungarian Television and
Broadcasting Organisation, was established after the Second World War and under
its Principal Conductor György Lehel has won some distinction. Through its
frequent broadcasts and its recordings it has become widely known, and its
tours have taken it to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe as well as
to the United States of America and Canada. The orchestra has worked with some
of the most distinguished conductors and soloists of our time.
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