Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hiller - Piano Concerto No. 2 In F-sharp Minor, Opus 69

Ferdinand Hiller was born in 1811 in Frankfurt am Main to Jewish parents. His natural music ability was recognized early and he had learned his studies well enough by the age of 10 that he performed a Mozart piano concerto in public and wrote his first compositions two years later. His life was a veritable who's who of acquaintances of European music from his early years on. His piano technique grew to be one of the best in all of Europe. 

He met Felix Mendelssohn in 1822 and struck up a friendship that lasted until they had a falling out in 1843. He went on to study with Johann Hummel in Weimar from 1825 to 1827, and when Hummel went to Vienna to visit the dying Beethoven, Hiller was with him at the deathbed. While in Vienna, he went with Hummel to hear Franz Schubert and Johann Vogl perform Schubert's Winterreise.  After his time with Hummel he went to Paris for a few years, and then went to Italy as he hoped to write a successful opera. 

In Milan he met and befriended Rossini, and went on to meet and know Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Luigi Cherubini, Charles Valentin-Alkan, and Richard Wagner. Robert Schumann dedicated his Piano Concerto In A Minor to Hiller, and Chopin dedicated the three nocturnes of Opus 15 to him. It was Hiller's personality that allowed him to maintain so many acquaintances of some highly artistically temperamented composers. He was by most accounts a charming man, and after he married his wife Antonka in 1840, their home became a meeting place for musicians and intelligentsia. He was also a teacher, lecturer and writer whose articles were published in many of the musical periodicals of the time. 

Although Hiller had a profound influence on European music as a composer, conductor, pianist, and author, he was not an advocate of the New German School Of Music that was led by Liszt and Wagner. He remained an essentially conservative musician and composer. He was a fine conductor, but avoided playing the works of some of his friends. Perhaps that is one reason that his music was so rapidly forgotten after his death in 1885.  He wrote 3 piano concertos among his other numerous works. 

I. Moderato, ma con energia e con fuoco -  Although Hiller was a somewhat conservative composer, that doesn't mean he didn't have some different ideas on how to meet the challenge of writing a work for soloist and orchestra. His 1st concerto written about 1829 was in the mold of many concertos written by composers/pianist in that the first movement begins with the orchestra presenting the themes of the movement. This 2nd concerto written in about 1843 begins with the piano stating a rhythmic first theme with the orchestra adding a few accents. Another theme emerges after the first, this one of a more lyrical nature. Yet another theme is first stated by the orchestra, and the soloist adds its own decorated version of it. A short development section leads to a return to the first theme and a compression of the exposition as themes are combined and played through until the orchestra reaches a cadence that brings forth a piano solo directly to the next movement. 

II. Andante espressivo - Several lyrical motifs are brought forth in this movement where the soloist is the main attraction. The orchestra accompanies lightly and only a few times carries thematic material, and when it does the piano adds a filigree of an accompaniment. The first theme returns and endswith three quiet chords from the piano. 

III. Allegro con fuoco -  The orchestra begins the movement and the piano enters with the first theme. The piano also presents the second theme as well. The movement consists of these two themes developing and weaving in and out between soloist and orchestra in various keys. The piano has many embellishments that add variety to the themes The movement ends with a flourish from the piano in octaves while the orchestra plays the closing cadence.

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