Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1
Composed in 1830 when Frédéric Chopin was just twenty years old, his First Piano Concerto has remained a popular staple in concerto repertoire. At its world premiere, Chopin himself played the soloist’s part as part of his ‘farewell’ concert before he left Poland. The concerto was dedicated to pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner. Although published and known as the first, Chopin actually composed this concerto straight after the premiere of the published Second Piano Concerto. For the sake of clarity, this blog will be looking into the published Piano Concerto No.1.
Movement I – Allegro maestoso
The opening movement begins with an extended orchestral introduction that presents the three main themes of the movement. When the piano does enter some 139 bars later, they too also play through all three of the principal themes. This movement is in sonata form, and a very extended version at that. Clocking it at around 24 minutes, the opening movement is by far the longest of three. The extra time used sees Chopin extend the exposition and development sections to really get the most out of the three main themes.
The piano and orchestra work together to create big swells of sound before more piano-led sections ensue. Critics at the premiere of this work commented on the basic orchestral accompaniment throughout this concerto, however what it does do is aptly support the soloist with firm foundations and essential harmonic sequences. After some big key changes the coda begins. The orchestra and soloist revisit the core themes of the movement once more before concluding in a dramatic fashion.
Movement II – Romanze
Now in the key of E major, the melancholy second movement was described by Chopin as:
“It is not meant to create a powerful effect; it is rather a Romance, calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot that calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening.”
Chopin’s delicate handling of both the orchestra and the soloist in this movement is a testament to his own style. Delicate waves of strings support the sparkling piano part that slowly moves between the various themes. The sensitive atmosphere is carried through this whole movement, with subtle waves of dynamic changes showing development through the loose sonata form that Chopin has used. The short piano interludes are set in the instrument’s upper register which creates an aura around them. This ethereal technique is seen in a number of places in this movement. As it began, the movement concludes quietly.
Movement III – Rondo
Inspired by the Krakowiak dance, the third movement is laden with syncopated dance rhythms. The first theme is fast in tempo and bouncy in character. The bold orchestral accompaniment is much bolder than the other movements. Chopin writes more unison playing in this movement to represent the strength of this closing rondo. The virtuosic piano part runs up and down the instrument as the orchestra play a counter-theme. Through heavier sections, the piano always prevails and is always in the spotlight, which was very important to Chopin. After a slightly slower central section, the music bounces off again into another variation of the Krakowiak dance. As the music gains momentum in the final section of the concerto, the virtuosic piano part becomes even more chaotic with huge scalic runs and intricate fingering. The concerto ends with everybody together for the final chords.
Ⓒ Alex Burns