Friday, October 28, 2011

Rimsky-Korsakov - Piano Concerto In C-sharp Minor

Nicolai Rimsky - Korsakov  was a master of orchestration and was recognized as such early in his career. Despite his lack of formal education in music theory and harmony, he was appointed professor of Composition and Orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music in 1871.   To prepare himself and stay one step ahead of his pupils he ceased to compose for three years, studied textbooks at home and followed a strict regimen of writing exercises in counterpoint and fugue. Rimsky-Koraskov wrote that while teaching he became "possibly the best pupil of the conservatory judging by the quality of the information it gave me!"

He wrote his only piano concerto in 1883-1884 at the urging of Balakirev.  Despite not being a pianist, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote:
 It must be said that it sounded beautiful and proved entirely satisfactory in the sense of piano technique and style; this greatly astonished Balakirev, who found my concerto to his liking. He had by no means expected that I ... should know how to compose anything entirely pianistic.
The piece is much better known in Russia and influenced other composers such as Rachmaninoff.  Rimsky-Korsakov used the concertos of Franz Liszt as his model  and acknowledged this by dedicating the work to Liszt. The concerto is very short, only about 15 minutes in duration, and is in three contrasting sections played without pause:

Moderato - Allegretto quasi polacca -  An introduction starts off the concerto that introduces the Russian folksong that the composer used in the work. It is the only theme of the concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov uses the Lisztian technique of thematic metamorphosis on it throughout, which makes the concerto a type of theme and variation movement. This introduction is followed by a polonaise treatment given to the theme. The next section is marked:
Andante mosso -  The accompaniment played by the piano is based on the first part of the folksong while the treble is based on the second part. The solo part gets more complex and erupts directly into the final section:
Allegro - The theme continues its metamorphosis as the piano part grows more brilliant with bravura passages. The concerto ends with a final flourish.

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