Frédéric Chopin. Piano Concerto No 1, Op. 11
The Piano Concerto in E Minor was written in 1830 by a very young man who had only just completed his studies at the Lyceum. Chopin performed it at a concert in Warsaw on 11 October 1830 and later at his first concert in Paris at the Salle Pleyel on 26 February 1832. He would subsequently return to the Concerto in E Minor on occasions when he wanted to escape the close circle of the salons and appear before a broader public. The work is dedicated to the composer and virtuoso performer Friedrich Kalkbrenner, who assisted Chopin in organising the first concerts in Paris.
Robert Schumann said that if Mozart had been alive that would be the kind of music he would be writing. In the First Concerto one can, in fact, hear echoes of Mozart’s concerti in minor key, but it contains much more indications of the “dazzling style” of the early 19th century and traces of the composer’s admiration for the romantic bel canto, which comes through in all of the lyrical themes.
With Chopin, the piano is not a rival to the orchestra, as it was in classical concerti. It is a romantic hero who commands the audience’s full attention. In the first section – a muscular Allegro maestoso – and in the final Rondo the orchestra is still trying to seize the initiative, but in the second section – a wonderful Romance – it merely provides a delicate accompaniment to the virtuoso soloist.
The Fifth Symphony in E Minor, Op. 64, was composed by Tchaikovsky in the summer of 1888 in the village of Frolovskoe. It has no literary programme, but the theme that flows throughout, from the introduction of the first movement to the last bars of the finale, transforming from the gloomy into the triumphant, make one suspect that Tchaikovsky nevertheless had some kind of secret “plot” in mind.
Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of the Fifth Symphony in St Petersburg on 5 (17, Old Style) November 1888, and it soon won widespread acclaim abroad. This is linked to a curious episode, recorded by Tchaikovsky’s acquaintance Alina Ivanovna Bryullova: “They loved it particularly well in Hamburg, where the director of the music society was the kind and erudite old Theodor Avé-Lallemant, and he and Tchaikovsky somehow got on very well together. Apropos, in an instance of spiritual openness this Avé-Lallemant, an excellent musician, suddenly grasped Tchaikovsky’s hands and said ‘I have a tremendous favour to ask of you, if you will permit me to offer my advice: don’t use these wild Cossack melodies and different trepaks in amazing your works. Write in the spirit of our European music.’ Tchaikovsky, a very tactful man, merely smiled and in response dedicated his Fifth Symphony to him.”
It is not known if the elderly gentleman liked the finale. But he had to forgive the composer anything for the sake of the second movement with the inspired French horn solo and the third movement – a magnificent waltz.