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Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (Stravinsky)

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Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky


General Info

Year: 1924 / rev. 1950
Duration: c. 20:00
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown   |   Full Score Only - $92.00


Movement

1. Largo - Allegro - Maestoso - 7:10
2. Largo - 7:00
3. Allegro - 5:00


Instrumentation

Full Score
Solo Piano
Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboes I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II-III
Soprano Clarinet in A I-II
Bassoon I-II (II doubles Contrabassoon)
Horns in F I-II-III-IV
Trumpet (in C) I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Tuba
String Bass
Timpani


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

This concerto was composed during the winter of 1923-24 when Stravinsky was living in France and touring as a concert pianist. The premiere was in Paris in 1924 with Koussevitzky conducting and Stravinsky as soloist. The work remained the exclusive performance right of Stravinsky, who performed it around 40 times in the next five years.

The scoring for the concerto is unconventional, employing a large band of woodwinds and brass made deliberately bottom-heavy by the addition of both timpani and double basses. Unfortunately, this concept was not clear to everyone at the time of the first performance. Stravinsky wrote the following some months later:

“I remember that I was reproached on the subject of the constitution of the orchestra, which was said to be ‘incomplete’ because of the absence of strings (except for the double basses). The unfortunate critic did not know at the time that there is such a thing as un orchestre d’harmonie. It is this orchestre d’harmonie (concert band) which I have chosen for my piano concerto, and not the symphonic orchestra, as an instrumental body more appropriate to the tone of the piano. Strings and piano, a sound scraped and a sound struck, do not sound well together; piano and winds, sounds struck and blown, do."

- Program note by Keith Brion


The Concerto for Piano and Winds from 1923- 24 was composed 11 years after The Rite of Spring, and premiered by the composer himself at the piano. Although this piece marks Stravinsky’s departure into the new style of neo-classicism, there is also a continuation of the imaginative variety of ideas he uses.

In the tradition of Western music, a musical element conveys expression through a range of tension and release, for example through dissonance and consonance. On the heels of a romantic era in which rubato timing also added to expression, Stravinsky’s rhythms provide a cellular energy that expresses tension and release in innovative ways. Rhythm that used to anchor our heartbeats, that used to stabilize far-reaching harmonic modulations, has now become the more dominant expressive element. Tension and release, no longer limited to the realm of harmony, is now created by the upbeats, ties, elusive downbeats and rhythmic instability to stability.

The opening of the first movement sets up one of the most stable rhythms: the French overture rhythm. In contrast, when the piano solo begins, the ground starts to shift, with the pianist’s left-hand and right-hand downbeat sliding apart out of sync, giving this section more tension.

The second movement starts and ends with rhythmic stability, while the juicy contrast is found in the jazzy scales and rhapsodic arpeggios of the cadenzas. The passions of these two cadenzas provide the antidotal energy to the perpetuo mobile of the rest of the work.

The playful character of this work stems from its unpredictable metric structure. In tonal music before the twentieth century, rhythm is perceived against a backdrop of meter, and our ears are constantly trying to find the beginning point of each measure. The pitch content typically reinforces this, with more structural events landing on stronger beats. But when the meter consistently changes and the tonal language is less hierarchic, the listener starts to let go of patterns and feel afloat.

At one point towards the beginning of the first movement, we sense that the phrasing has become additive, with quarter-note pulses of three, four, then five beats. A few minutes later, the piano solo dances spontaneously with fast-changing meters, so that the melodic motives always feeling familiar but never identical. By the cadenza, there is no longer any ordered pattern. Every phrase has a different length, and there is no algorithm to predict the next downbeat.

While the term neo-classicism places a high value on structural order and control, this piece has plenty of exuberant energy and quirky effects. That comes largely from syncopations and the powerful physical effect they possess. In 1916, his friend, collaborator, and former Swiss neighbor Ernest Ansermet brought back from a U.S. tour a collection of ragtime scores and records. To Stravinsky’s delight, he was greatly inspired by these American ragged rhythms, or le temps du chiffon.

The timbre of this work does not have much precedence, but fits right into Stravinsky’s rhythmic precision. He wanted to use the wind symphony because it could hold up the sound world with some rigidity and crispness, although the double bass is still used here to double the bass line, according to its original purpose. In lieu of the opulent full symphonic textures of the day, Stravinsky sought out a new sound environment with fast-changing rhythms, fulfilling his desire to return the percussive qualities to the piano and redeem it from the romantic obsession with lyricism.

Might it be possible that Stravinsky’s perspective as an outsider, a foreigner who could play with the ideas of Bach and Beethoven, Debussy and Tchaikovsky, without having to take on the burden of inheriting one singular culture, gave him more options in shaping his new style? Perhaps post- World War I Europe also provided an unusual abundance of unsettled adrenaline and endless possibility.

Through all these moments of rhythmic tension and release, unpredictable meters and syncopations, musicians can delight in the delicious recklessness of doing such an eccentric rhythmic piece all together as a unified large ensemble.

Program Note by Hsing-ay Hsu for the University of North Texas Wind Symphony concert program, 21 November 2019


Commercial Discography


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


Performances

To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of South Florida (Tampa) Symphonic Band (Marc Sosnowchik, conductor; Eunmi Ko, piano) – 25 February 2020
  • University of Colorado (Boulder) Wind Symphony (Donald McKinney, conductor; Hsing-ay Hsu, piano) – 21 November 2019
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor; Liz Ames, piano) – 27 September
  • State University of New York, Fredonia, Wind Ensemble (Paula Holcomb, conductor; Sean Duggan, piano) – 28 April 2019
  • University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Robert Carnochan, conductor; Oleksii Ivanchenko, piano) – 25 April 2019
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles) Thornton Wind Ensemble (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor; Kevin Fitz-Gerald, piano) – 29 March 2019
  • United States Military Academy Band (West Point, N.Y.) (Tod Addison, conductor; Yalin Chi, piano) – 23 February 2019
  • Manhattan School of Music (New York) Wind Ensemble (Eugene Migliaro Corporon, conductor; Joseph Mohan, piano) – 18 January 2019
  • University of Missouri, Kansas City, Wind Symphony (Steven D. Davis, conductor; Tom Rosenkranz, piano) – 23 September 2018
  • Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.) Wind Ensemble (Matthew M. Marsit, conductor; Gregory Hayes, piano) – 5 May 2018
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) Wind Ensemble (Emily Threinen, conductor; Michael Kim, piano) – 12 December 2017
  • New England Conservatory (Boston, Mass.) Wind Ensemble (Charles Peltz, conductor; Aoshuang Li, piano) – 11 April 2017
  • Lynn Conservatory of Music (Boca Raton, Fla.) Wind Ensemble (Kenneth Amis, conductor; Lisa Leonard, piano)– 14 January 2017
  • Baldwin-Wallace College Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Brendan Caldwell, conductor; Sungeun Kim, piano) – 7 October 2016
  • London Symphony Orchestra (Jeremy Denk, Piano and John Adams, Conductor) - 11 & 16 March 2010
  • Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Jeremy Denk, Piano and Jeffrey Kahane, Conductor) - 17 & 18 April 2010
  • Ensemble ACJW (Jeremy Denk, Piano and John Adams, Conductor) - 9 & 10 May 2010
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic (Peter Serkin, Piano and Pablo Heras-Casado, Conductor) - 7 November 2010


Works for Winds by this Composer


Resources

  • Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 571-572.
  • Walsh, Stephen. (1988). The Music of Stravinsky. Oxford: Clarendon Press.