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Length: c. 40 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 21, 1924, with soloist Moriz Rosenthal, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
By the time Chopin left Poland to study in Paris at age 20, he had already written several significant works, including both of his piano concertos. In fact, he wrote the E-minor, labeled No. 1, a year after writing No. 2 in F minor. Chopin gave the first performance of the E-minor at the National Theater in Warsaw in 1830 before leaving for Paris. Several months later, when the latest and bloodiest Polish revolt - the "November Uprising" - failed, he decided against any return to Poland.
Like Berlioz, Chopin had a Beethovenian strength and unity at the core of his music, and a natural feel for classically pure melodies. He improvised often, and extremely well, drawing a fine line between improvisation and composition; his exploration of chromaticism, ornamentation, and lyricism was exquisitely restrained, with little if any display for its own sake. His music encapsulates the Romantic spirit at its best. Like Beethoven, he exalted humanity and hope, and like his great forebear, faced mortality without self-pity.
Though he preferred playing small recitals over large concerts, Chopin was still effective in using his music to indict injustices; by incorporating the folk melodies and rhythms of Poland in his preludes and dances, he subtly embraced the cultural traits that Poland's overlord hoped to suppress. Observed Schumann: "If the Czar knew what a dangerous enemy threatens him in the works of Chopin, in the simple melodies of those mazurkas, he would banish that music. Those works are like cannons hidden beneath flowers." Notwithstanding, Chopin often expressed conservative tastes in music and in visual art, despite developing and inventing new genres (the ballade, the scherzo) and bringing others (the nocturne) to new levels of depth. Every piece he wrote included piano, yet his broader effect on the composers of the day, and music to come, is incalculable.
The E-minor Concerto was composed, like the F-minor, as a showcase for a traveling virtuoso. According to the pianist Martha Argerich, "the virtuosity has to be like an understatement." The first movement is passionate and proud, and also tender. The piano waits through several minutes of orchestral introduction before making a stormy entrance. The second movement, marked Romanze: Larghetto, is a nocturne characterized by restrained singing, haunting simplicity, and an intricate spianato section. The third movement is incredibly difficult pianistically, beginning with a slightly ominous sequence of chords, then quickly jumping into a krakowiak - a Polish national dance. It continues with cascades of piano ripples, with scales and sequences rolling all the way to its jubilant conclusion.
- Jessie Rothwell is the Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also writes music, plays oboe, and sings Bulgarian folk music.