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Piano concerto

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Piano concerto

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A piano concerto is a concerto for solo piano and orchestra. It may be divided into several movements.



Concerti for the harpsichord were written throughout the Baroque era, notably by Johann Sebastian Bach. Today these harpsichord concerti are often performed with a piano as the solo instrument.

As the piano developed and became accepted, composers naturally started writing concerti for it. This happened in the 18th century, and so corresponded to the Classical music era. The most important composer in the development of the form in these early stages was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart wrote many of his 27 piano concerti for himself to perform. Mozart's large body of piano concerti, being written by such a great composer during a time of musical change when other composers during the era such as Joseph Haydn largely ignored the genre, put Mozart's stamp firmly on that genre well into the Romantic era. With the development of the piano virtuoso many composer-pianists did likewise, notably Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev, and also the somewhat lesser-known Johann Nepomuk Hummel and John Field. Many other Romantic composers wrote pieces in the form, well known examples being those by Robert Schumann, Edward Grieg, Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The few well-known piano concerti which dominate today's concert programs and discographies account for only a minority of the repertoire which proliferated on the European music scene during the 19th century. Critical opinion has often dismissed the bulk of the Romantic piano concerto repertoire for its vapid mediocrity (many pieces were slavish variations on opera tunes). However, many of these compositions were more than just flashy calling-cards churned out by composer-virtuosi for their sensational tours of Europe and America. These "showpieces" were also a formative influence on the training and styles of the composers whose concerti managed to secure a place in the canon of "greatness" [1].

The piano concerto form survived through the 20th century into the 21st, with examples being written by Béla Bartók, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Samuel Barber, Michael Tippett, Witold Lutosławski, György Ligeti, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Leroy Anderson, Philip Glass, George Gershwin and others.

There are examples of piano concerti written to commissions by pianists. Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I, on resuming his musical career asked a number of composers to write pieces for him which required the pianist to use his left hand only. The results of these commissions include the concertante pieces for orchestra and piano left hand by Benjamin Britten, Franz Schmidt, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev (Piano Concerto No. 4) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.


A classical piano concerto is often in three movements.

  1. A quick opening movement in sonata form including a cadenza (which may be improvised by the soloist).
  2. A slow expressive movement
  3. A faster rondo

Examples by Mozart and Beethoven follow this model, but examples abound which do not. Many composers have introduced innovations - for example Liszt's single-movement concerti.

Other compositions for piano and orchestra

Concerti have been written where the piano is not the only solo instrument. A famous example is the Triple concerto (for piano trio and orchestra) by Beethoven.

There also exist a number of compositions for piano and orchestra which treat the piano as a solo instrument while not being piano concerti. Examples of such works include George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Liszt's Totentanz. The last two of these works are each in variation form, based on the 24th Caprice for solo violin by Niccolň Paganini and the ancient Gregorian Dies Irae chant respectively.

There are also works written for orchestra or large ensemble requiring a solo pianist, such as Olivier Messiaen's Des canyons aux étoiles... and Turangalîla-Symphonie, and Karol Szymanowski's 4th Symphony.

Composers also occasionally bring orchestral pianists into the limelight, as for example Igor Stravinsky does in episodes of his ballet Petrushka.

See also

External links

  • Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto Series A project to record and reassess the work of Romantic composers whose contributions to the development of the piano concerto (in some cases entire careers) have been neglected or forgotten. Contains the sleeve notes of many of the recordings, offering both musical and biographical analysis. Streaming audio of selected movements also available.
  • 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.

Home | Up | Sinfonia concertante | Concerto grosso | Concerto for Orchestra | Piano concerto | Viola concerto | Violin concerto | Violoncello concerto | Concertino | Clarinet concerto | Harpsichord concerto

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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