Emilie Mayer: Piano Concerto in Bb Major


Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) was a prolific German composer, who, although admittedly started seriously composing later in life, still managed to create a huge oeuvre of music. Mayer composed c.15 overtures, 8 symphonies and a large selection of chamber music. Mayer’s earlier works were largely inspired by the traditions of the classical era, specifically the Viennese style. However, her later works were influenced by the changes in the Romantic trends such as harmony and texture. Mayer’s only concerto was composed in 1850, right around the time her music began to step into the pools of Romanticism. 


The Music

Set into three movements, Mayer’s Piano Concerto is full of solid classical writing, but also some progressive harmonic language, as well as a highly-virtuosic solo piano part. 


Movement I – Allegro

The opening movement, largely set in the key of Bb major, opens with an orchestral prelude. The main melody is heard in the first instance by the upper woodwind, with the changes between the string and woodwind interludes laying the foundations for the soloist to arrive later on. When the piano enters after a nearly two-minute orchestral introduction, it plays the main woodwind theme heard at the beginning. This leads into a dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, as both work together towards a common cause – harmonic resolution. The piano part soon becomes very intricate and Mayer’s virtuosic style is put into the forefront of the texture. Full of dramatic twists and turns, but with its feet firmly planted in the classical style, the opening movement follows convention, with Mayer adding some Romantic flair with her harmonic language. 


Movement II – Un poco adagio

The lyrical second movement opens once again with an orchestral prelude. The rich textures and memorable melody is picked up by the soloist and developed. The stylings of this movement hark back to the music of Mozart, with a sweet piano melody supported by sustained strings. Although Mayer does experiment with dynamics throughout this movement, it does not fundamentally rock the largely solemn atmosphere of the music. As it began, the movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Allegro

Unlike the other two movements, the piano opens this movement with a dance-like melody. The jovial character of this movement is embedded within the orchestra as the two voices move together. The bouncy main theme is playful and leaves room to be explored throughout the movement. Mayer experiments slightly more with chromatic harmony during corners of this movement, with the piano part in particular creating some colourful harmony above the orchestra. Once again Mayer writes a technically difficult piano part which flies above the albeit light orchestral accompaniment. The excitement induced by the virtuosic piano part creates a buzz around the finale, with a final reinstatement of the theme closing this German composer’s only concerto. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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