Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Concerto Guide: Shostakovich, Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra, op. 35

This piece, usually just called his Piano Concerto No. 1, was written in 1933, just two years after the Stravinsky Violin Concerto we discussed last week. Shostakovich was quite young, twenty-seven, and he wrote this for his own use as a performer (he was an accomplished pianist). It bubbles with youthful exuberance. The Wikipedia article I linked above cites a book on Shostakovich as pianist in saying that the concerto is "an experimentation with a neo-baroque combination of instruments." I don't have the book handy, so I haven't read the argument for that, but as there is nothing exclusively Baroque about the combination of piano, trumpet and strings, I suspect that it might be because this superficially reminds one of a concerto grosso with more than one solo instrument. But the way the music unfolds is very un-Baroque. It is full of quotations and the piano completely dominates with the trumpet offering witty asides from time to time. The piece, while certainly possessing a neo-Classical flavor, is quite unique.

Unfortunately, I cannot come up with the score for this piece (though I did find that of his second piano concerto, dedicated to his son Maxim) so you won't get any music examples.

At this time in Shostakovich's career he was writing a great deal of music for film, theater and ballet and was becoming quite well-known as a result. Shortly after completing his opera Lady Macbeth and a set of preludes for piano, he began work on this concerto, his first foray into a large symphonic form since his Symphony No. 1 of several years earlier. Early comments from Shostakovich's ex-composition teacher Maximilian Steinberg referred to the piece's brash hodge-podge of styles which included quotes from Beethoven, Haydn and Mahler as well as stylistic references to music-hall and jazz styles. In the last movement, where the trumpet comes to occupy a role nearly as important as the piano, we hear fanfares that always seem to be on the verge of quoting the William Tell Overture of Rossini--a theme that recurs in his Symphony No. 15.

I think that while the Piano Concerto No. 1 is certainly not the kind of ideological "statement" that might have come from another composer of the time, it has shown itself to be a successful piece over the years, popular with both performers and audiences. It reveals a side of Shostakovich that those familiar with his symphonies and string quartets may not know: the young pianist who, to support his family, played piano in cinemas to accompany silent films (later, he was commissioned to compose scores for silent films). Shostakovich's ballets, film and theater music are very little known, but in this concerto, we get a taste of what they are like.

Again, sorry for the lack of musical examples, but I think you will enjoy this music even in their absence. Here is Khatia Buniatishvili, piano; Rainer Küblböck, trumpet with the Vienna Symphony conducted by Philippe Jordan:


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, there is a two piano arrangement available on Scorser. It's the same score as shown in this video (but the video has a poor resolution for some reason): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0EsE1LT5ZA

Excellent concerto. Shostakovich's other concertos are also excellent.

Rickard Dahl said...

Oh and btw: I assume/hope you're going to cover Gershwin's Piano Concerto, Ravel's Piano Concerto/s and one or more of Schoenberg's concertos.

Bryan Townsend said...

Good find! I will have to look again, as I didn't see it. Maybe I will add some examples. Yes, it is an excellent concerto with the exuberance that is often the mark of a successful concerto.

Bryan Townsend said...

I haven't planned out all the ones I will look at, but those should all be on the list.