Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paderewski - Piano Concerto in A Minor

Paderewski wanted to be known as a composer as much as a piano virtuoso, perhaps even more so.  He had scant little time to compose after his premieres in Vienna and Paris as his popularity skyrocketed.

Paderewski's career began in fits and starts with studying composition off and on in Warsaw and Germany. He was accepted as a pupil of the greatest piano pedagogue of the era, Theodore Leschetizky when Paderewski was 24 years old. Leschetizky lamented that Paderewski had begun serious study far too late to develop a concert technique, but Paderweski practiced non-stop to try and make up for lost time. He practiced so much that Leschetizky worried about him ruining his health with so much practice.  But Paderewski persevered, and became a piano virtuoso known around the world.
Paderweski was the most popular and most well-known of any pianist of his time. The adulation audiences gave him bordered on hysteria and he loved to play for them, sometimes giving so many encores that the encores took as long as the recital.

He traveled extensively and became a very rich man, so rich that many times he would refuse payment for a concert. He was also the second Prime Minister of Poland after World War One. He was not only a fine pianist but an excellent public speaker.

Paderweski finished composing and orchestrating the piano concerto in 1889 and it was premiered in 1890 in Vienna. Paderewski wanted to play the premiere himself, but he acquiesced to a request from Anna Essipoff (a brilliant pianist, student and wife of Leschetisky) to play the premiere.  Essipoff had played other pieces of Paderewski in her recitals and wanted to premiere this work also. The orchestra was conducted by Hans Richter, one of the great conductors of the era. The concerto is in three movements:

I. Allegro - The work opens with a loud statement by the orchestra by way of introduction. The first theme is played quickly after with woodwinds and strings. The piano enters and takes up the theme. After the theme is expanded, a second theme is played solo by the piano. After the expansion of the second theme the development section begins with the first theme. After a solo for timpani the soloist plays a short cadenza and the development section continues. Paderewski follows traditional sonata form as he brings back both themes in the recapitulation with the customary key changes in the secondary material. A cadenza follows the recapitulation, after which a short coda brings the movement to a virtuosic close.

II. Romanza: Andante -  Paderewski finished the orchestration of the concerto while he was in Paris, and in a move that he later admitted was presumptuous, he took the completed score to the apartment of Camille Saint-Saëns for his opinion. The two composers had previously met when Paderewski played Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 4 In C Minor.  After initially grumbling about being disturbed, Saint-Saëns read through the score while Paderewski played it on the piano. The entire concerto pleased Saint-Saëns, but it was the second movement that he asked to be repeated. Saint-Saëns advised Paderweski to not change a thing in the work, that it would be a crowd pleaser. It was in this second movement, in what can arguably called the heart of the concerto, where Paderewski comes closest to the passion and beauty of his country man's music, Chopin. The theme is first played gently by the woodwinds, and when the piano enters it plays its own rendition of it. After sections that are as light as tender chamber music, the theme grows in passion and depth until it gradually fades away at the end.

III. Allegro molto vivace - The final movement begins with  a stomping Polish dance that has plenty of opportunity for the soloist to show their stuff. It is followed by a more reverent theme in the orchestra that is ornamented by the piano in its own version. These two themes comprise most of the movement as they are altered and elaborated on each time they are played. A grand coda whips up the virtuosity as the music races to the finish.

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