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Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor, Op 25
Molto allegro con fuoco –
Presto – Molto allegro e vivace
The first of Mendelssohn’s two piano concertos was a work of his early twenties, written hastily in 1831 – in a letter to his father he described it as “a thing quickly thrown off” – and first performed in Munich in October that year. He took the solo part on that occasion, and indeed had devised the work as a vehicle for his own playing. But he dedicated it to a young Munich-based pianist, Delphine von Schauroth, whose playing and person he seems to have found equally attractive.
In form, the Concerto represents a reconciliation between the three-movement classical concerto form of Mozart and Beethoven and the much freer structure of shorter display pieces such as Weber’s Konzertstück for piano and Spohr’s Gesangszene for violin – a union that was to be cemented the following decade in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and to have a profound influence on the genre throughout the nineteenth century. What Mendelssohn did was take the outline of the classical concerto, but make the three movements roughly equal in length, instead of giving the first movement the lion’s share, and link them into a continuous whole. He also increased the fluidity of the form within each movement, by dispensing with most of the classical concerto’s clear-cut divisions between solo and tutti sections.
For a start, the first movement lacks the long opening tutti of the classical concerto. Instead, the piano muscles in on the in-tempo introduction after a few bars, and takes the lead in presenting the two main themes, respectively assertive and lyrical, of the compact first movement. Horn and trumpet fanfares help make the link to the Andante, an intimate ‘song without words’ in E major with a reduced orchestra (bassoon, horn and lower strings with divided cellos, joined towards the end by flutes and four-part tremolando violins). And more fanfares launch the introduction to the finale, an ebullient major-key rondo based on a melody related to the first theme of the first movement, and including further backward glances shortly before the end.
© Anthony Burton