Saturday, April 18, 2020

Mendelssohn - Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor

 Felix Mendelssohn musical precociousness was apparently comparable to Mozart's, but unlike Mozart he was fortunate enough to be born into a family that was financially well off . His parents recognized his musical gifts early on and hired the best teachers of the time to give him private lessons.  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 didn’t have a very high opinion of it:

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

Like Franz Liszt, 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. 

I. Molto allegro con fuoco -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 concertos that broke with tradition.

Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann helped make the concerto very popular in its day. With the quick tempo and a piano part bristling with arpeggios, scales, and octaves, the piano is the star and leader of the ensemble as much of the thematic development is taken up by the piano. The orchestra plays a secondary role, but adds much color and balance to the movement. Mendelssohn manages to create a movement full of fire and passion that retains elegance as well. The movement segues without a break to the next movement.

II. Andante - The fiery first movement segues into a gentle andante, one of Mendelssohn's songs without words, in E major. This movement is slow, with a middle section that changes key for contrast. The initial theme is slightly varied when it returns to end the movement.

III. Presto - Molto allegro e vivace - A fanfare for brass 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 in music that Mendelssohn intends to be played very fast by the tempo designations. Towards the end of the movement, snippets of themes from the first movement appear, and the movement grows to a brilliant conclusion.

No comments:

Post a Comment