Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A
Edvard Grieg composed his famous Piano Concerto in 1868, and remained the only completed concerto by the composer. Grieg was the intended soloist for the 1869 premiere in Copenhagen, however the 25-year old composer had another commitment. Edmond Neupert was drafted in as soloist, with Holger Simon Paulli conducting. The concerto was premiered in Denmark as that is where Grieg composed the work. After numerous premieres across Europe, including Franz Liszt performing the work by sight in Rome, Piano Concerto in A was published in Leipzig in 1872. Grieg made a number of subtle orchestration changes over the years, and the work was re-published.
The concerto is structured into three movements, with a fast-slow-fast set up.
Movement I – Allegro molto moderato
Starting in the home key of A minor, after a quick rumble from the timpani, the dramatic piano entrance remains one of the most beloved parts of the concerto. The falling minor seconds reflect some Norwegian folk music, which ties in to other parts of the concerto. The woodwind leads into a string interlude before the piano returns. The first theme is presented and developed, with the overall style being rich and Romantic. The harmony moves the music into C major for the second theme, which leads to a recapitulation that is now in A major. After the reprise, the soloist plays a challenging and virtuosic cadenza which bears resemblance to the opening of the movement. The fiery opening movement closes dramatically.
Movement II – Adagio
The slow second movement, marked ‘Adagio’, is primarily set in the key of Db major. This movement is often celebrated for its delicate use of the strings and piano together, and Grieg’s handling of the three chief themes. After an extended string and woodwind introduction that presents the first theme, the piano enters with a gentle counter-theme. As the music moves through some closely-related keys, the nuanced changes create a glimmer of colour within the music. The small climaxes add a sense of drive to the music, without breaking the overall character of the music. Dream-like in character, the piano’s themes are similar to that of a lullaby, and each time a new theme is presented it starts in this way. As it began, the second movement concludes quietly.
Movement III – Allegro moderato molto e marcato
The finale starts quickly with an energetic theme back in the home key of A minor. The orchestra takes a more dominant role in parts of this opening section, with the soloist engaging in some dramatic call and response passages. The finale moves through a number of different sections, with a central lyrical section in F major preceding the fiery opening. After, a new version of the first theme is heard. The piano part is virtuosic and highly complicated and requires keen precision and drama to play successfully. After another reprise, the music enters the dramatic Coda, with the strings, brass and percussion creating intensity and drama through bold, loud and energetic playing. The concerto ends as the orchestra and soloist unite to play the last three chords.
Ⓒ Alex Burns