SUMMARY OF THE COMPOSITION
Among the seven works Liszt had written for piano and orchestra, only two of them were titled by him as concerto. In Piano Concerto No. 1, the four movements are played without a break, showcasing one of Liszt’s finest mastery of the cyclic form, where the first theme is transformed radically in sequence to highlight the sharp contrasting ideas that the whole structure is built on.
The first movement begins with the strings playing part of the main theme. This fragment is played twice with the rest of the orchestra answering to it each time. The piano then enters in thundering octaves. After a short solo, the orchestra resumes the main theme while the piano comments upon it with another solo. The orchestra and the piano alternate the call until the piano and the clarinet enter into a short dialogue. The piano introduces a second theme with the solo clarinet, and a solo violin comments on it later on. The entire string section enters, and the music segues back to the main theme. The chromatic run from the piano binds the first movement to the second movement without any pause in between.
The muted strings enter with a mellow main theme, followed by the piano playing a lyrical, gentle nocturne version of the main theme. Then, the orchestra plays a part of the theme while the piano corresponds to it with slight agitation. The piano calms once again and returns to the dreamy mood. The piano plays the trills while the solo winds sound a new theme as accompaniment. It continues until the trills cease, and the third movement begins without a pause.
Allegretto vivace - Allegro animato
This movement begins with a triangle, which is answered by the pizzicato strings. The piano plays a theme, and the themes from the other two movements enter in a scherzo for the piano and the orchestra. After some prancing, the main theme heard at the beginning of the piece reappears, and the fourth movement begins without pause.
Allegro marziale animato
The orchestra begins a new rhythmic theme complete with the triangle. The previous themes reappear, with the piano sparkling as it comments. Liszt said: “The fourth movement of the concerto from the Allegro marziale corresponds with the second movement, Adagio. It is only an urgent recapitulation of the earlier subject-matter with quickened, livelier rhythm, and contains no new motive, as will be clear to you by a glance through the score. This kind of binding together and rounding off a whole piece at its close is somewhat my own, but it is quite maintained and justified from the stand-point of musical form.”
WHO IS ... FRANZ LISZT?
Suprising fun facts
- Liszt had been with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein for 40 years, which was his longest-running relationship. They never married, though they wanted to.
- The young Liszt once fell in love with one of his students, but the student’s father forbade their relationship.
- Liszt found his passion in music through his father Adam Liszt, a musician who personally knew prominent classical musicians, including Haydn and Beethoven.
- Liszt was well-known for keeping absolute tempo, an ability that might be attributed to his father’s strictness about him practising with a metronome.
- Liszt was able to attract audiences with his solo performances when he could not find any musicians to perform together with. He even elevated the piano as a solo instrument and moved its position on stage to project the sound more loudly, and so the audience could watch his hands while he was performing.