Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rubinstein - Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor

In the beginning of the Romantic era in the early 19th century, the virtuoso pianist/composer emerged. Major composers such as Hummel, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Thalberg and many others dazzled audiences with their own compositions for piano and orchestra. At the top of them all were Liszt and Rubinstein.

Due to musical tastes changing with time, Liszt's music has been more appreciated now than in his own time. The politics of the music scene of late 19th century Romanticism, the Wagner versus Brahms debate, no doubt added to the problems Liszt's music had in gaining a more solid foothold in the repertoire. The opposite has happened with the music of Rubinstein. Once regarded just as important a composer as pianist, his works are now performed infrequently, more of a novelty than anything else.

Perhaps Rubinstein himself put his finger on the reason that his compositions suffered so much neglect later on when he said:
I write on the spur of the moment, driven by an inner force; I could not... criticize, file and brood over my compositions. They are indeed improvisations and have the virtues and vices of improvisations.
Rubinstein's piano concertos fare better than some of his other works and a few are occasionally performed.  He wrote 5 in all, along with three other works for piano and orchestra. His first concerto was written in 1850 and is a rather traditional piano concerto in form, but the force of Rubinstein's personality and prowess at the keyboard can be felt in it. It is in the traditional 3 movements:

I. Moderato - The first movement is in a traditional concerto sonata form. The orchestra plays through the themes of the concerto before the soloist enters playing the main theme of the movement. The lyrical second theme appears in a piano solo with a very slight orchestral accompaniment. A third dance-like theme is taken up by the piano. The development section expands on the themes. The recapitulation follows the same order of themes along with modulations to other keys. Further development of themes occur in the coda and Rubinstein increases the drama with a short section for piano and timpani. The tempo quickens as the beginning of the main theme is tossed about in different keys.  The virtuosity of the piano part increases as the orchestra helps build tension. There is a sudden dying away of volume as the piano and clarinet have a short dialog. The piano plays quietly, and a sudden loud chord for piano and orchestra sounds to end the movement.

II. Andante con moto - The horn plays the beginning of the main theme of the second movement. The piano takes up the theme. The horn and piano alternate with the theme. A dramatic middle section  presents the strings playing a persistent long-short-short rhythm as the low strings and bassoon play a short motif. The piano accents the proceedings with loud chords. The horn and piano have a dialog between presentations of the strings dramatic pulse. The main theme come to the fore again after a short transition and continues to play until near the end of the movement when the strings dramatic pulse interrupts a few times until the lyrical main theme ends the movement.

III. Con moto - There is a short introduction by the woodwinds before the main theme of the movement is played by the piano. This theme occurs throughout the movement along with other themes, most notably a march-like theme,  until the coda is reached. The coda is a double octave tour de force for the soloist as the orchestra plays the march-like theme at full volume.


  1. Can someone please provide the information on where one might get a full score (not the 2 piano arr.)? Thank you

  2. Where is and what publisher of full orchestra score of this concerto available?None is available in the USA.Greatly appreciate your help.Thanks!

  3. I would greatly appreciate help to get the information on this concerto.Where it available and who is the publisher.Thanks!

  4. Beautiful piece, very underated and should be played more!