Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Piano Concerto (1964 -1965)

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1964 - 1965
    • Duration: 25 mn
    • Publisher: Associated Music Publishers
Detailed formation
  • soloist: piano
  • 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, strings

Premiere information

  • Date: 6 January 1967

    États-Unis, Boston


    Jacob Lateiner : piano, Boston Symphony Orchestra, direction : Erich Leinsdorf.

Program note

The Piano Concerto (1964-1965) adapts to another musical situation the same preoccupation with expression, physical performance methods and formal processes found in my String Quartet No. 2 (1959) and my Double concerto for Harpsichord and Piano with Two Chamber Orchestras (1961). As in these, there are variously graded sequential and simultaneous oppositions of dramatic character and material associated with the musical protagonists: here, a concertino of three winds and four solo strings mediates between the individualized solo piano part and the orchestral mass. As the work progresses through its two movements, the soloist becomes increasingly disassociated from and opposed to the orchestra, each developing its own musical expression and material in its own way. A unifying musical discourse, however, joins the conflicting elements into one artistic whole.

On a dramatic level, the work is not concerned with the heroics of the solo-plus-orchestra concept of the nineteenth century, but rather that of contrast and conflict between an individual (soloist) of many changing moods and thoughts, and an orchestra treated more or less monolithically – massed effects pitted against Protean figures and expressions of the piano and its accompanying concertino.

Technically, the work is based on twelve different three-note groups (triads): six, used exclusively by the piano and concertino and six, by the orchestra. Each triad is associated with one or more tempi and expressive characters. Musical ideas are formed out of constantly changing uses of these fundamental materials.

At the outset, the piano and concertino state ideas derived from the triad shape exemplified by C, F#, G and the three speeds and characters associated with it. This is answered briefly by the orchestra using material from one of its triads (shape: G, Db, F). Later these two triads, which are the primary ones for the orchestra and piano, each join three others from their respective instrumental groups to form one twelve-note chord for the soloists and another of different character for the orchestra, the alternation of which constitutes the conclusion of the first movement, summarizing in brief all the various expressive characters that have been brought into increasingly sharp focus and contrast.

The second movement starts where the first ends with the orchestra introducing bit by bit its two main new features: regularly accented beats of many different speeds and ever-changing soft string chords which form the background of the piano’s increasingly impulsive and passionate recitative which emerges from the material of the first movement. This recitative is interrupted here and there by the concertino, particularly by cadenzas of the three wind soloists who, like Job’s friend, sympathize and comment. This large section is brought to an end by a coda of fast altercations between the piano with concertino and the orchestra. The work concludes with a brief passage by the soloist.

Elliott Carter.