Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dreyschock - Piano Concerto

Alexander Dreyschock was born in Bohemia in 1818 and became one of the era's top virtuoso pianists. By the time he was 20 years old he was an accomplished pianist and went on a tour of Europe.  He was renown for his stunning technical ability, especially in playing thirds, sixths and octaves. He was also known for his compositions for the left hand alone which he played in his recitals. He garnered the praise of Berlioz and other musicians of the time, while others were not as impressed. Felix Mendelssohn heard him and said, "He plays some pieces so admirably, you fancy yourself in the presence of a great artist, then immediately afterwards something so badly that you change your mind." Others commented on his marvelous tone while still others complained that he played loud enough to be heard in the next town.

There seems to have been somewhat of a circus atmosphere to his recitals, as he would amaze the audience with his technique with his own compositions and transcriptions of other composer's music.  He increased his reputation as a master of technique with his transcription of  Chopin's Opus 10, Number 12 Etude, the famous Revolutionary Etude with octaves in the left hand instead of single sixteenth notes.  Legend has it that he practiced the piece twelve hours a day for six weeks until he could bring it up to tempo. Mendelssohn heard him play the transcription and was amazed by it. Anton Rubinstein thought enough of Dreyschock's abilities to hire him on as a staff member at the newly-founded St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1862. He was named Professor of Piano, and also Court Pianist to the Tsar and Director of the Imperial School of Music for the Operatic Stage.  Dreyschock died in 1869 of tuberculosis

Most of his compositions were for piano solo, with his single piano concerto being written around 1865. As with many concertos written and performed by the composer, Dreyschock emphasizes his strengths with the type of music he writes. The concerto is reminiscent of the Chopin piano concertos as there is no doubt that the spotlight is on the piano throughout, with all the crackling virtuosity that the composer was known for.   It is in three movements:

I. Allegro ma non troppo - The first movement is in loose sonata form, with there being no exposition repeat and the development/recapitulation sections being combined.  The orchestra begins with a statement of the first material, the piano enters and comments.  The second group of themes is ushered in by the piano with orchestra accompaniment. There is no usual exposition repeat of this material. The development section and recapitulation is combined and the piano develops one of the beginning themes, after which the horns have a short fanfare that brings forth the development/recapitulation of some of the second group of themes.  A brilliant coda for octaves and other Dreyschock 'tricks' brings the movement to a close.

II. Andante con moto  -  This movement for me shows Dreyschock's rather plain gifts for writing any kind of music for piano that is less than technically brilliant. The music sounds like an obligatory 'slow' movement that the times called for with not much sweetness or lyricism. There are some rather awkward moments, and the music sounds like nothing but 'filler' until the fireworks can start again.

III. Allegro vivace - There are two major themes in this movement, the first in a minor key in a rapid tempo and dramatic mood, the second rather attractive theme is in a major key in a slower tempo and a more mellow mood. A third theme is heard prancing along in a major key until the first theme returns. The theme is expanded upon slightly until  the second theme is heard in a different key than before. Then a fiery coda winds up the movement spitting fire with octaves chasing each other, whirlwind single-note runs and other knuckle-busting goings-on that no doubt brought down the house.

The Dreyschock concerto is not great music. Dreyschock was not a great composer,  there's even plenty of disagreement about how great a pianist he was. This concerto is more like a hodgepodge of tunes held together by some fairly weak compositional glue. But the tunes aren't bad, the piano writing is brilliant, the orchestration at least adequate. And for all of that, for whatever reason, this concerto remains one of my favorites of the not so well-known repertoire.

Dreyschock Piano Concerto

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