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Pianos and Pianists - Editor Ates Orga

Martha Argerich





first appeared at the BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts
September 17th 1966

next Wednesday, August 30th, she returns to the Royal Albert Hall
to fly the highwire again in




with the
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas


Here, in a montage from the Leipzig
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1836-39,




reflects on the problems and perils
of the Romantic piano concerto


... I denounce concert-concerto composers ... because they write the solos first, and the tutti afterwards, unconstitutionally - as the orchestra is the Parliament, without whose consent the piano does not undertake anything. Why not begin at the regular beginning? Was our world created on the second day? And is it not far more difficult to take up a torn thread (especially musical threads, which are so fine that every knot must be found out with critical antennæ), than to wind it off quietly. Should we lay a wager that Kalkbrenner found his introductory and middle tutti last, and then inserted them in the solos, we should be tolerably certain to win it ...

... Pianoforte composition holds a considerable place in the modern history of music; in it the first dawn of a new musical genius is generally displayed. The most talented composers of the present day are pianists; a fact that has been observed during former epochs. Bach and Handel, Mozart and Beethoven, all grew up at the pianoforte; and , like sculptors who first model their statues in small, soft masses, they may often have sketched at this instrument what they afterwards worked out in grander orchestral forms. Since their time, the pianoforte has been improved to a high degree of completion. Side by side with the continually progressive mechanism of pianoforte playing, with the bolder sweep and swing which composition gained through Beethoven, the instrument has gained in compass and significance; and should pedals be added to it, as in the organ (and this, I believe, will eventually be the case), new possibilities will suggest themselves to the composer, who, freeing himself more and more from the support of the orchestra, will acquire a richer, more harmonious, and independent movement [see Schumann's 1845 Studies, Sketches and Fugues for Pedal-Flügel, Opp 56, 58, 60]. We see this separation from the orchestra prepared beforehand; in spite of the symphony, modern pianoforte playing is determined to predominate through its own resources only, and this may be the reason why recent times have produced so few pianoforte concertos, and still fewer original compositions with orchesrtral accompaniment. Since the establishment of our journal [first published April 3rd 1834], it has reported the appearance of all new pianoforte concertos; during the past six years, scarcely sixteen or seventeen of these have been published, a very small number in comparison with past publications. Thus, art epochs alter, and what was formerly considered as an enrichment of instrumental forms, as an invention of consequence, is now voluntarily given up. It should certainly be considered as a loss, if the pianoforte concerto with orchestra passed entirely out of date; but we could scarcely contradict pianoforte players should they say, 'We need not the assistance of others; our instrument is most completely effective when heard alone.' And so we must wait patiently for the genius who may show us how the orchestra should be reunited to the pianoforte, who may disclose all the powers of the instrument to its conquerors, while rendering the orchestra something more that a bystander, and enlivening the whole scene with more varied characterisation. We would gladly insist, however, that young composers should give us, as an indemnification for that serious and dignified concert form, equally serious and dignified solo composition; no caprices, no variations, but finely rounded, characteristic allegro ovements, that might be used, at any rate, for the opening of a concert. But, until then, we shall often return to those older works that open a concert in so artistic a manner, and that so fully and worthily test the powers of an artist; to those admirable concertos of Mozart and Beethoven, or - should a highly refined and chosen circle desire to gaze again on the face of a great man too little and too seldom honoured - to one by Sebastian Bach; or, if we wish to produce a novelty, one of those later ones, in which the fine old path, more especially that of Beethoven, is tastefully and happily pursued further ...

... Four-fifths of the newest concertos ... are in the minor; one sometimes fears that the major third will disappear altogether from the tone system ...

... when so-called classicists rush in and cry out about the degeneration of the modern music, holding up a Mozart concerto, and croaking 'that is dear and noble!' (a fact nobody ever doubted) - then such ... concertos [as the German Wilhelm Taubert's: Wilhlem Taubert (1811-91), Thodor Kullak's teacher] are good to hush the first anger, and to prove to them, in cold blood, that people can still invent and compose in our day ...

... [concertos where] everything is sacrificed to mechanism and finger bravura, are very discouraging. We are often told that the public is spoiled; but who has spoiled it? Ye, ye, virtuoso composers. I cannot remember a single occasion in which the public has grown sleepy over a Beethoven concerto ...

... We owe special thanks to recent concerto writers, because they no longer fatigue us at the close with trills and octave passages. The old cadence [cadenza], in which old virtuosos crammed every possible difficulty, had a far more sensible reason for its existence, and might possibly be successfully revived [as Schumann himself was to do]. Might not [prophesying Liszt's post-Moschelesian concerto fantastique First, likewise the Brahms B flat and Litolff] the scherzo, so familiar to us in the symphony and sonata, be introduced with effect in the concerto also? There would be a charming contest between the separate orchestral parts, but [though] a slight change in the whole form of the concerto would be necessary ...


- Robert Schumann, Music & Musicians, Second Series, translated Fanny Raymond Ritter (London 1877)



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