Piano concerto

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Performance of a piano concerto involves a piano on stage with the orchestra

A piano concerto is a concerto written for a piano accompanied by an orchestra or other large ensemble.

Keyboard concerti were common in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. Occasionally, Bach's harpsichord concerti are played on piano.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, typical concertos for keyboard were organ concertos and harpsichord concertos, such as those written by George Friedrich Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Classical and romantic

As the piano developed and became accepted, composers naturally started writing concerti for it. This happened in the late 18th century, during the Classical music era. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the most important composer in the early development of the form. Mozart's body of masterly piano concerti put his stamp firmly on the genre well into the Romantic era.

Mozart wrote many piano concertos for himself to perform (his 27 piano concertos also include concerti for two and three pianos). With the rise of the piano virtuoso, many composer-pianists did likewise, notably Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, and Robert Schumann—and also lesser-known musicians like Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Joseph Wölfl, Carl Maria von Weber, John Field, Ferdinand Ries, and F. X. Mozart.

Well known examples from the middle to late Romantic era include concerti by Edvard Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saëns, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Antonín Dvořák and Franz Xaver Scharwenka wrote some lesser-known concerti during this time. Edward Elgar made sketches for a piano concerto but never completed it.

In the 19th century, Henry Litolff blurred the boundary between piano concerto and symphony in his five works entitled Concerto Symphonique, and Ferruccio Busoni added a male choir in the last movement of his hour-long concerto. Wilhelm Furtwängler wrote his Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which lasts more than one hour, in 1924-1937. In a more general sense, the term "piano concerto" could extend to the numerous often programmatic concerted works for piano and orchestra from the era – Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, Liszt's Totentanz and Ruins of Athens Variations, and Richard Strauss's Burleske are only a few of the hundreds of such works.

The few well-known piano concerti that dominate today's concert programs and discographies comprise only a small part of the repertoire that proliferated on the European music scene during the 19th century.

20th century and contemporary

The piano concerto form survived through the 20th century into the 21st, with examples being written by Leroy Anderson, Samuel Barber, Béla Bartók, York Bowen, Elliott Carter, Emma Lou Diemer, George Gershwin, Ferde Grofe, György Ligeti, Witold Lutosławski, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Frank Martin, Bohuslav Martinů, Nikolai Medtner, Peter Mennin, Peter Mieg, Selim Palmgren, Dora Pejačević, Sergei Prokofiev, Behzad Ranjbaran, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arthur Somervell, Igor Stravinsky, Heinrich Sutermeister, Alexander Tcherepnin, Michael Tippett, Pancho Vladigerov, Charles Wuorinen, and others.

Parts of other 20th century symphonic works give the piano occasional prominence like any other instrument of the orchestra, as in the Symphony in Three Movements by Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber's violin concerto, and the Symphony No.3 by Michael Tippett.

Works for piano left-hand and orchestra

The German Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm during World War I, and on resuming his musical career asked a number of composers to write pieces for him that required the left hand only. The Czech Otakar Hollmann, whose right arm was injured in the war, did likewise but to a lesser degree. The results of these commissions include concertante pieces for orchestra and piano left hand by Bortkiewicz, Britten, Hindemith, Janáček, Korngold, Martinů, Prokofiev, Ravel, Franz Schmidt, Richard Strauss, and others.

Works for two and more pianos and orchestra

Concertos and concert works for two pianos were written by Bach (two to four pianos, BWV 1060-65, actually harpsichord concertos, but often performed on pianos), Mozart (two, K 242 (originally for three pianos and orchestra) and K 365), Mendelssohn (two, 1823-4), Bruch (1912), Béla Bartók (1927/1932, a reworking of his Sonata for two pianos and percussion), Poulenc (1932), Arthur Benjamin (1938), Peter Mieg (1939-41), Darius Milhaud (1941 and 1951), Bohuslav Martinů (1943), Ralph Vaughan Williams (c. 1946), Roy Harris (1946), Gian Francesco Malipiero (two works, both 1957), Walter Piston (1959), Luciano Berio (1973), and Harald Genzmer (1990). Apart from the Bach and Mozart examples, works for more than two pianos and orchestra are considerably rarer, but have been written by Carl Czerny (Quatuor Concerto for four pianos, op. 230), Morton Gould (Inventions for four pianos and orchestra, 1954), Peter Racine Fricker (Concertante for three pianos, timpani, and strings, 1956), Wolfgang Fortner (Triplum for three pianos and orchestra, 1966)[1] and Georg Friedrich Haas (limited approximations for six microtonally tuned pianos and orchestra, 2010)[1]



A classical piano concerto is often in three movements.

  1. A quick opening movement in sonata allegro form including a cadenza (which may be improvised by the soloist).
  2. A slow, free expressive movement
  3. A faster rondo

Examples by Mozart and Beethoven follow this model, but many others do not. Beethoven's fourth concerto includes a last-movement cadenza, and many composers introduced innovations. Liszt's concerti are played without a break, though separate movements are clearly evident.

One example of a concerto in only one discrete movement (Allegro brillante) is Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major (1893).

See also


  1. Maurice Hinson, Music for Piano and Orchestra, an annotated guide, Indiana University Press, 1993

External links