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chopin – piano concerto no. 1

The title “Piano Concerto No. 1” is famously a misnomer in this case, as the Piano Concerto in E minor is actually the second in order of composition of the two concerti Chopin wrote for himself in 1829-30. It was the first to be published, however, and by a fairly wide margin; so the Piano Concerto in E minor is given the designation Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, followed by the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21.

Chopin in 1829, when he began the first of the two concerti.

Nearly all of Chopin’s music was for piano alone. The two concerti, along with a handful of other somewhat less ambitious works from his youth, comprise the whole of his concertante output for soloist with orchestra. These works Chopin wrote as virtuosic vehicles for his own use in establishing himself as a pianist and composer—for in that time, the boundary between concert pianist and composer was still blurry, and pianists generally performed mostly or exclusively their own compositions. Indeed, Chopin gave the premiere performances of both of these works in Warsaw during the year 1830. He was only twenty years old.

The concerti show a remarkable grasp of large scale formal conventions, particularly for a young composer who would come into his own entirely through smaller, more intimate pieces. They also evidence his proclivity for exotic harmonies and modulations and for highly pianistic figurations of a new order. The E minor concerto, in particular, remains one of the most accessible and widely-performed concerti in the Romantic repertoire. It is dedicated to Friedrich Kalkbrenner, one of the great virtuoso pianists of the day. Chopin would later study with him in Paris, although there can be little doubt that the young Pole already exceeded his teacher in artistry and finesse if not in pyrotechnic ability. Continue reading ‘chopin – piano concerto no. 1’