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ClassicsOnline Home » CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 / FIELD: Piano Concerto No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
Chopin throughout his life remained a Polish patriot. Paradoxically
lie was the son of a French fattier, who had settled is Poland to avoid conscription
into the French army and had become a respected teacher of French in Warsaw.
To add to the paradox, Chopin spent almost his entire professional career in
Paris, where he moved in 1831, quickly winning acceptance as a fashionable piano-teacher
and as a performer in the elegant salons of the French capital.
As a pianist Chopin lacked power but commanded a delicate and
varied idiom and technique of his own. The greater part of the music he wrote
is for solo piano, but at the outset of what seemed likely to be a career as
a virtuoso he wrote works for piano and orchestra, the kind of music that any
performer-composer might have as part of his stock-is-trade.
The second of Chopin’s two piano concertos was written before
the first, both were completed in 1830, the year in which the composer gave
his final concert in Warsaw, before setting out for Vienna and then Paris. The
concerto was first tried out in a private performance at home. Two weeks later
it was repeated in public, in a programme that included the Fantasy on Polish
Airs, before an audience of some 800 and performed again five days later.
Reminiscent in style of the work of Spohr or Hummel, leading
composers of the tune, the F minor Concerto follows its dramatic first theme
with a second, gentler subject, announced by the woodwind, before the entry
of the soloist with the first striking theme. The romantic second movement has
a brief orchestral introduction before the entry of the piano, in the mood of
a Nocturne. The last movement may appear to bear all the marks of a Mazurka,
its music characterised by novel orchestral effects, as the violins accompany
one episode with the wood of the bow and a horn-call heralds the movement’s
final section, during the course of which the second horn descends to the depths,
while the piano brings the work to a climax.
John Field (1782-1837)
Piano Concerto No. 1
John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of Robert Field,
a theatre violinist, and grandson of an organist. In addition to early instruction
and encouragement front his father, he had lessons from the age of nine with
Tommaso Giordani, a Neapolitan musician who had first appeared in Dublin with
his father’s family opera company in 1764. After some fifteen years spent in
London, Giordani had returned to Dublin in 1783, occupying himself there with
operatic ventures of varying degrees of success. He was a prolific composer,
able so work at speed, and it seems that his early teaching had some effect
on Field’s later attempts at composition. John Field himself made his debut
as a pianist in Dublin on 24th March 1792 at the Rotunda Assembly Rooms in a
Lenten concert organized by Giordani, whose own Kyrie and Gloria were part of
the programme. Field, advertised with pardonable understatement an eight years
old, played its later Spiritual Concerts in the season, including in one programme
concerto by his teacher.
As a pianist, Field enjoyed a wide reputation. His playing
was marked by a particular delicacy of nuance, In marked contrast to the newly
popular style of virtuosity, for which he had no time. As a composer his particular
fame lies in his development of that very poetic form of piano music, the nocturne.
His concertos, of which the completed seven, and the counterpart of those by
violinist-composers such as Spohr or even of Rode and Krentzer, classical in
form and clarity and generally relying on relatively straightforward melodic
material, apart from that particular form of embellished operatic melodic contour
that is generally associated now with Chopin. The Fifth Concerto, L’incendie
par I’orage (Fire through Storm) owes something to Daniel Steibelt’s Third Concerto,
L’orage (The Storm), but the slow movements, where he included them, provided
an opportunity for display of his particular ability as a performer, notably
in nocturnes, as is the case with four of the concertos, or, where no slow movement
was written, in the substitution of a solo nocturne for missing movement. An
a teacher Field exercised wide influence, with pupils coming to Russia to study
wills him and other teacher, such as Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann’s father,
claiming that he had trained her in the method of Field.
Nevertheless his chief influence in this respect must have
been as a performer, inspiring by example, while providing every assistance
to others by the meticulous provision of unusual and innovative fingering patterns.
His music enjoyed the greatest popularity and currency and it was only towards
the end of the nineteenth century that popular fashions began to change, leading
to the present general neglect of much of hit work.
Field’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major was first published
in St Petersburg in 1814. The work had been heard in London in 1799 but since
then had undergone various revisions. Field himself sometimes played this and
other concertos without an orchestra, omitting orchestral passages and making
various other necessary changes in the process. This first concerto is scored
for an orchestra thee includes a flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, French horns,
trumpets and drums, and the usual strings. The first movement opens with the
expected orchestral exposition, its first subject repeated before a dramatic
translation, leading to the first violin second subject, accompanied by plucked
strings. The first solo entry brings other material, at first unaccompanied
and then accompanied lightly, before rapid passage-work leads to a second subject
in lop-aided octaves. It is the soloist who opens the central development with
grandiose B flat minor chords, as the movement continues to explore other keys,
before an abridged recapitulation. The slow movement, wills fashionable exoticism,
introduces a Scottish air, is this case James Hook’s Within a mile of Edinburgh
Town, to which Field adds two variations. Patrick Piggott has pointed out, in
his important study of Field, the possible influence of the rival London virtuoso
George Griffin, who had introduced The Bluebelts of Scotland into a concerto,
followed by Steibelt who had used a Scottish air in his Storm Concerto. The
air used by Field is simply stated, rhythmic snap and all, followed by a short
cadenza before the first variation, with its intricately ornamented melodic
line. A further cadenza leads to the second variation, in triple rhythms. A
third cadenza is followed by a brief coda. Scottish influences wane in the final
rondo, in spite of the bagpipe drone with which the movement smarts. Here the
cheerful principal melody returns to frame intervening episodes, with a final
appearance that introduces the coda.
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