Friday, May 4, 2012

Mendelssohn - Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor

Felix Mendelssohn was one of the most naturally gifted musicians that ever lived. And unlike some other composers he was born into an affluent family. By the time Felix was fourteen he had written 12 symphonies for strings and many other compositions. The Mendelssohn household in Berlin held private concerts in their home every Sunday morning. There was a private orchestra of musicians that knew the family and participated in the concerts where Felix's music was heard.

Some of Mendelssohn's most well-known works were written when he was still a teenager. His String Octet when he was sixteen, the Overture To A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was seventeen.  His style seems to have developed quite early, and stayed relatively unchanged during his short life.

His Piano Concerto No. 1 was written in 1830 when he was 21 years old. He played the premiere in Munich in a concert that also included his Symphony No. 1Overture To A Midsummer Night's Dream and some improvisations at the keyboard.  Mendelssohn said he had composed the concerto in only a few days and despite Clara Schumann and Liszt championing the work, Mendelssohn's opinion of his work was:

"I wrote it in but a few days and almost carelessly; nonetheless, it always pleased people the most, though me very little.”

Mendelssohn experimented with linking movements together in this concerto, as there is no formal pause between movements. But there is no doubt the concerto is in three distinct sections. The concerto begins with a few bars of introduction by the orchestra, and then the piano enters with a bravura display. Many piano concertos of the time opened with a long orchestra introduction of themes before the piano enters. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 and Beethoven's 4th and 5th Piano Concertos. These examples have the piano enter with a brief statement or comment, and then it remains silent until the end of the orchestral introduction. Mendelssohn has the piano enter early also, but it doesn't remain silent. It continues to play, and introduces the themes while the orchestra comments on them later.  This makes Mendelssohn's concertos one of the first truly Romantic era concertos that broke with tradition to this length.

The fiery first movement segues into a gentle Andante, one of Mendelssohn's songs without words. A fanfare for trumpets leads into the finale, a quicksilver rondo where the piano ripples its way through episodes and the refrain  of the theme. The soloist's fingers scamper over the keys vivace in music only Mendelssohn could write.

The concerto was once wildly popular, but for whatever the reasons it went out of favor. It is a work of a master composer and will no doubt come back into the repertoire where it belongs.


 

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