Sunday, January 22, 2012

Litolff - Concerto Symphonique No. 5

Living a complicated lifestyle evidently was a part of Litolff's personality. He traveled Europe on concert tours, got married and divorced, spent time in prison, had to escape from Germany after he participated in the revolution of 1848, married a widow of a music publisher and managed the publishing firm into a successful venture, settled in Paris, was a piano teacher and conductor, was married four times - the last to a woman seventeen years old when he was 57 years old, was afflicted with rheumatism in later life but still continued to compose.  It was a life filled with hard work, travel, romance, hardship, depression and physical pain in later years.

Composing was evidently part of Litolff's personality also, as he composed throughout his life, sometimes amid thunderous turmoil. The Concerto Symphonique No. 5  is his Opus 123 and was written in 1869. He died in 1891, 22 years later and continued composing, mostly operas,  up until the end.

The Concerto Symphonique No. 5  has some differences from the previous ones. For one thing, the other Concerto Symphonique's are not by any means easy to play, but the fifth is even more demanding.  The fifth never achieved the popularity of the others. In the other works the scherzo is the second movement, in the fifth it is placed third.  Overall, the general feeling of the fifth is a little more serious, somewhat more complicated.

The work opens with a long orchestral section before the piano joins in in the give-and-take style that Litolff used in all the concertos. The second movement is a slow, lyrical song. The third movement is the most diabolical sounding scherzo Litolff ever wrote.  The fourth movement's cadenza is written out and is a fugue derived from part of the theme that opens the movement.

Litolff and Liszt knew and admired each other's music, and each ones music influenced the other. The concertos of Litolff show the influence of Liszt in structure and harmonic language, and the fact that Liszt dedicated  his first piano concerto to Litolff can be meant as a tribute to his influence. For a musician that composed so much and was friends with and admired by such other composers as Liszt and Berlioz, the four Concerto Symphoniques  are really the only pieces available on recordings, and only one recording of each one at that. Litolff's most popular piece of music is the scherzo from the Concerto Symphonique No. 4  which is available in a few recordings. It would be a good thing to be able to hear more of this composer's music, in the concert hall and on recordings.

Litolff - Concerto Symphonique No. 5

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