Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rubinstein - Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor

Anton Rubinstein (1829 - 1894) was a Russian pianist, conductor and composer. He was part of the tradition of the 19th century virtuoso performer/composers such as Franz Liszt. Although his compositions are seldom heard now, at one time he was equally valued as a composer as a performer.

He toured Europe as a virtuoso pianist and even toured the United States during the 1872-73 concert season. He gave over 200 concerts in 239 days. The Steinway piano company financed this tour, and he received $200 per concert plus expenses. Rubinstein said of this tour: "May Heaven preserve us from such slavery! Under these conditions there is no chance for art—one simply grows into an automaton, performing mechanical work; no dignity remains to the artist; he is lost.... The receipts and the success were invariably gratifying, but it was all so tedious that I began to despise myself and my art. So profound was my dissatisfaction that when several years later I was asked to repeat my American tour, I refused pointblank..."  The fact that he earned enough from this tour alone to never have to worry about money  no doubt helped him make the decision to not do it again.

In appearance, Rubinstein favored Beethoven so much that rumors had him as Beethoven's illegitimate son. Liszt called him 'Van II'. He had hands that were more like paws with a broad palm,  short, thick fingers that were broad and square at the finger tip. He could make the piano roar, or have it speak in a whisper. He was a master of the pedal, and said of it that, "The pedal is the soul of the piano."

Rubinstein's life was music and he contributed greatly to music education in Russia by founding the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music in 1862.  He continued to compose, conduct, and give recitals all of his life until his death from heart disease.

His Piano Concerto No. 4 was  once highly esteemed and was part of the repertoire of such virtuoso pianists as Rachmaninoff and Paderewski.  It was composed in 1864, revised twice and the final version was published in 1872. It follows the typical Romantic piano concerto structure and is in 3 movements:

I. Moderato assai - The main theme is stated by orchestra alone, the piano enters alone then joins with the orchestra in the main theme. The movement is in sonata form with a cadenza added towards the end. The movement ends with another statement of the main theme and a coda.
II. Andante -  Serene music that begins in D minor and progresses to F major. Some of the most beautiful music Rubinstein ever composed.
III. Allegro- An exuberant rondo in the style of a Russian peasant dance. After the orchestra and piano take turns yelling and stamping, the movement ends with piano pyrotechnics.