Romeo, solo and concerto !
The concerto, from genre to form
The concerto is a musical genre in which a soloist or small group of instruments engages in a dialogue with the orchestra. Advances in violin making spurred the development of the concerto for soloist at the beginning of the 18th century. The violin stepped into the spotlight: Vivaldi composed more than 200 concertos for this instrument! During the second half of the century, keyboard instruments gained in popularity. Performers enthralled the public with their technical prowess, and the complexity of the concerto grew steadily with the compositions of Mozart, Beethoven and famous 19th-century virtuosos like Liszt and Paganini.
It was during the 18th century that the concerto adopted its “classical” form, consisting of three main sections called movements. The first movement of a concerto is often written in a lively tempo. The orchestra musicians play tutti, an Italian word meaning “all together,” and the soloist responds to the orchestra in what becomes a veritable musical dialogue between them! In contrast to the first, the second movement is slower and calmer. The final movement is generally highly spirited, allowing the soloist to put on a dazzling display of virtuosity and end the piece with a burst of explosive energy!
- Frédéric Chopin, Piano Concerto no. 2: I. Maestoso
- Charles Richard-Hamelin, the OSM and Kent Nagano
Bartók’s Violin Concerto no. 2
This 20th-century Hungarian composer drew on the folk music of his country to forge his musical identity. In 1940, one year after composing the Violin Concerto no. 2, Bartók went into exile in New York because he refused to support the Nazi party.
It is the soloist who opens the conversation at the beginning of the work. The orchestra joins in this intimate dialogue to the sound of harp and pizzicato violins. The word concerto, from the Latin verb concertare, meaning both “to join together” and “engage in a contest” takes on its full meaning in this first movement, where we hear the soloist and the orchestra alternately compete with each other and play in harmony. For the second movement, Bartók penned a set of variations on a theme for the soloist. The violinist’s soaring virtuosity and the orchestra fill the sound space of the third and final movement in swelling crescendi that explode like fireworks.
Bela Bartók, Violin Concerto no. 2, Sz. 112 – 1. Allegro non troppo – Gil Shaham
Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto
Born in Denmark into a family of modest means, Carl Nielsen left home in 1879 at the age of 14 to play the cornet in a military orchestra. However, it was his qualities as a violinist, conductor and composer that left their mark on the Danish musical world. His opera Maskarade is now considered Denmark’s national opera.
- Carl Nielsen, Clarinet Concerto, op. 57
In his Clarinet Concerto, Nielsen uses the classical concerto structure as his inspiration, interweaving each of the three movements into the next to create one continuous movement. In this work written specifically for his friend, clarinetist Aage Oxenvad, the character and personality of this wind instrument take centre stage. Nielsen creates a musical representation of the emotional extremes of this bipolar musician through alternating surges of virtuosity and long melancholic themes. The divisions between orchestra and soloist seem less marked than usual in this concerto. Instead of engaging in a contentious dialogue with the solo instrument, for the most part, the orchestra seems to accompany and support its virtuosic flights.
Roméo et Juliette de Prokofiev
Prokofiev (1891-1953) studied piano, composition and conducting at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. The Russian child prodigy realized his artistic potential and decided he should travel to open doors for his musical talent. He was quickly recognized by the public and his peers as a fiercely creative avant-garde artist. Back in Moscow in 1936, he composed the musical tale of Peter and the Wolf and the ballet Romeo and Juliet.
Ballet is a performing art in which theatrical action is danced. Commissioned to write a Russian ballet, Prokofiev set the famous Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet to music. The work was deemed too difficult to dance to and was rejected. But two years later, following its success in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), it was finally accepted. Prokofiev adapted the ballet’s music into two orchestral concert suites that depict the main scenes of the play.
The lovers meet at a masquerade ball and are smitten with each other. They declare their mutual love during the famous balcony scene. But the hatred that separates their two families threatens their happiness. Forced to marry another man, Juliette fakes her death to get out of marrying him so that she can be with her beloved Romeo. Unaware that this is just a ploy, a grief-stricken Romeo drinks poison at her grave. Upon waking, Juliet seizes Romeo’s dagger and joins him in death.
Quiz : Solo ou concerto ?
Flute - Solo or concerto ?Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Flute Concerto in D minor
Oboe : Solo or concerto ? Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky
Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky, Le lac des cygnes, solo de hautbois
Bassoon : Solo ou concerto ?Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky, Le sacre du printemps, solo de basson
Piano : Solo ou concerto ?Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt, Concerto pour piano no. 2