Concerto: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A concerto (from the Italian: concerto, plural concerti or, often, the anglicised form concertos) as a musical work is a composition usually in three parts or movements, in which (usually) one solo instrument (for instance, a piano or violin) is accompanied by an orchestra. The etymology is uncertain, but the word seems to have origin from the conjunction of the two Latin words conserere (meaning to tie, to join, to weave) and certamen (competition, fight): the idea is that the two parts in a concert, the soloist and the orchestra, alternate episodes of opposition and cooperation in the creation of the music flow.

The concerto, as understood in this modern way, arose in the Baroque period side by side with the concerto grosso, which contrasted a small group of instruments with the rest of the orchestra. While the concerto grosso is confined to the Baroque period, the solo concerto has continued as a vital musical force to this day.


Baroque concertos

The concerto was established as a form of composition in the Baroque period. Starting from a form called Concerto grosso introduced by Arcangelo Corelli, it evolved into the form we understand today as peformance of a soloist with/against an orchestra.

The main composers of concerti of the baroque were: Tommaso Albinoni, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Pietro Locatelli, Giuseppe Tartini, Francesco Geminiani and Johann Joachim Quantz. The concerto was intended as a composition typical of the Italian style of the time, and all the composers were studying how to compose in the Italian fashion (all'italiana).

The baroque concert was mainly for a string instrument (violin, viola, cello, seldom viola d'amore or harp) or a wind instrument (oboe, trumpet, flute, recorder, horn, clarinet).

The piano concert, with the exception of the organ and some harpiscord concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, was not yet a common practise in the baroque period simply because the piano did not exist yet. The keyboard concerts became more and more important when evolving from harpsichord, to fortepiano, and in the end to the the modern piano. The increased volume and the richer sound of the instrument allowed the keyboard instrument to better compete with the full orchestra.

Classical concertos

The concertos of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach are perhaps the best links between those of the Baroque period and those of Mozart. C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard concertos contain some brilliant soloistic writing. Some of them have movements that run into one another without a break, and there are frequent cross-movement thematic references. Mozart, as a boy, made arrangements for harpsichord and orchestra of three sonata movements by Johann Christian Bach. By the time he was twenty, he was able to write concerto ritornelli that gave the orchestra admirable opportunity for asserting its character in an exposition with some five or six sharply contrasted themes, before the soloist enters to elaborate on the material. He wrote one concerto each for flute, oboe (later rearranged for flute and known as Flute Concerto No. 2), clarinet, and bassoon, four for horn, a Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra, and a Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. They all exploit and explore the characteristics of the solo instrument. His five violin concertos, written in quick succession, show a number of influences, notably Italian and Austrian. Several passages have leanings towards folk music, as manifested in Austrian serenades. However, it was in his twenty-three original piano concertos that he excelled himself. It is conventional to state that the first movements of concertos from the Classical period onwards follow the structure of sonata form. Mozart, however, treats sonata form in his concerto movements with so much freedom that any broad classification becomes impossible. For example, some of the themes heard in the exposition may not be heard again in subsequent sections. The piano, at its entry, may introduce entirely new material. There may even be new material in the so-called development section, which in effect becomes a free fantasia. Towards the end of the first movement, and sometimes in other movements too, there is a traditional place for an improvised cadenza. The slow movements may be based on sonata form or abridged sonata form, but some of them are romances. The finale is sometimes a rondo, or even a theme with variations.

Romantic concerto


Violin concertos

In the 19th century the concerto as a vehicle for virtuosic display flourished as never before. It was the age in which the artist was seen as hero, to be worshipped and adulated with rapture. Early Romantic traits can be found in the violin concertos of Viotti, but it is Spohr’s twelve violin concertos, written between 1802 and 1827, that truly embrace the Romantic spirit with their melodic as well as their dramatic qualities. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is unique in its scale and melodic qualities. Recitative elements are often incorporated, showing the influence of Italian opera on purely instrumental forms. Mendelssohn opens his violin concerto (1844) with the singing qualities of the violin solo. Even later passage work is dramatic and recitative-like, rather than merely virtuosic. The wind instruments state the lyrical second subject over a low pedal G on the violin – certainly an innovation. The cadenza, placed at the start of the recapitulation, is fully written out and integrated into the structure.

The great violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini was a legendary figure who, as a composer, exploited the technical potential of his instrument to its very limits. Each one exploits rhapsodic ideas but is unique in its own form. The Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps contributed several works to this form. Édouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole (1875) displays virtuoso writing with a Spanish flavor. Max Bruch wrote three violin concertos, but it is the first, in G minor, that has remained a firm favorite in the repertoire. The opening movement relates so closely to the two remaining movements that it functions like an operatic prelude. Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto (1878) is a powerful work which succeeds in being lyrical as well as superbly virtuosic. In the same year Brahms wrote his violin concerto for the virtuoso Joseph Joachim. This work makes new demands on the player, so much so that when it was first written it was referred to as a "concerto against the violin". The first movement brings the concerto into the realm of symphonic development. The second movement is traditionally lyrical, and the finale is based on a lively Hungarian theme.

Cello concertos

Cello concertos have been written since the Baroque era if not earlier. Among the works from that period, those by Antonio Vivaldi and Giuseppe Tartini are still part of the standard repertoire today.

In the classical era, the cello did not receive nearly as much recognition as a solo instrument as it did later; however, Haydn provided us with two surviving examples, and Boccherini several. Since the Romantic era, the cello has received as much attention as the piano and violin as a concerto instrument, and many great Romantic and even more 20th century composers left examples. The concertos of Robert Schumann, Carl Reinecke, David Popper, and Julius Klengel focus on the lyrical qualities of the instrument. Antonín Dvořák’s cello concerto ranks among the supreme examples from the Romantic era. Beethoven contributed to the repertoire with a Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello and orchestra while later in the century, Brahms wrote a Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. The instrument was also popular with composers of the Franco-Belgian tradition: Saint-Saëns and Vieuxtemps wrote two cello concertos each and Lalo and Jongen one. Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the genre is a series of Variations on a Rococo Theme. He also left very fragmentary sketches of a projected Cello Concerto which was only completed in 2006. Today's 'core' repertoire which is performed the most of any cello concertos are by Elgar, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, Haydn, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Schumann but there are many more concertos which are performed nearly as often (see below: cello concertos in the 20th century).

Piano concertos

Beethoven’s five piano concertos increase the technical demands made on the soloist. The last two are particularly remarkable, integrating the concerto into a large symphonic structure with movements that frequently run into one another. His Piano Concerto no 4 starts, against tradition, with a statement by the piano, after which the orchestra magically enters in a foreign key, to present what would normally have been the opening tutti. The work has an essentially lyrical character. The slow movement is a dramatic dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. Concerto no 5 has the basic rhythm of a Viennese military march. There is no lyrical second subject, but in its place a continuous development of the opening material. He also wrote a Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra.

The piano concertos of Mendelssohn, Field, and Hummel provide a link from the Classical concerto to the Romantic concerto. Chopin wrote two piano concertos in which the orchestra is very much relegated to an accompanying role. Schumann, despite being a pianist-composer, wrote a piano concerto in which virtuosity is never allowed to eclipse the essential lyrical quality of the work. The gentle, expressive melody heard at the beginning on woodwind and horns (after the piano’s heralding introductory chords) bears the material for most of the argument in the first movement. In fact, argument in the traditional developmental sense is replaced by a kind of variation technique in which soloist and orchestra interweave their ideas.

Liszt's mastery of piano technique matched that of Paganini for the violin. His concertos No. 1 and No. 2 left a deep impression on the style of piano concerto writing, influencing Rubinstein, and especially Tchaikovsky, whose first piano concerto's rich chordal opening is justly famous. Grieg’s concerto likewise begins in a striking manner after which it continues in a lyrical vein.

Brahms's First Piano Concerto in D minor (pub 1861) was the result of an immense amount of work on a mass of material originally intended for a symphony. His Second Piano Concerto in B major (1881) has four movements and is written on a larger scale than any earlier concerto. Like his violin concerto, it is symphonic in proportions.

Fewer piano concertos were written in the late Romantic Period. But Grieg-inspired Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote 4 piano concertos between 1891 and 1926. His 2nd and 3rd, being the most popular of the 4, went on to become among the most famous in piano repertoire and shining examples of Russian musicianship.

Small-scale works

Besides the usual three-movement works with the title "concerto", many 19th-century composers wrote shorter pieces for solo instrument and orchestra, often bearing descriptive titles. From around 1800 such pieces were often called Konzertstück or Phantasie by German composers. Liszt wrote the Totentanz for piano and orchestra, a paraphrase of the Dies Irae. Max Bruch wrote a popular Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, César Franck wrote Les Djinns and Variations symphoniques, and Gabriel Fauré wrote a Ballade for piano and orchestra. Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra have an important place in the instrument's repertoire.

20th century

Many of the concertos written in the early 20th century belong more to the late Romantic school than to any modernistic movement. Masterpieces were written by Edward Elgar (a violin concerto and a cello concerto), Sergei Rachmaninoff (four piano concertos), Jean Sibelius (a violin concerto), Frederick Delius (a violin concerto, a cello concerto, a piano concerto and a double concerto for violin and cello), Karol Szymanowski (two violin concertos and a "Symphonie Concertante" for piano), and Richard Strauss (two horn concertos, a violin concerto, Don Quixote —a tone poem which features the cello as a soloist— and among later works, an oboe concerto).

However, in the first decades of the 20th century, several composers such as Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bartók started experimenting with ideas that were to have far-reaching consequences for the way music is written and, in some cases, performed. Some of these innovations include a more frequent use of modality, the exploration of non-western scales, the development of atonality, the wider acceptance of dissonances, the invention of the twelve-tone technique of composition and the use of polyrhythms and complex time signatures.

These changes also affected the concerto as a musical form. Beside more or less radical effects on musical language, they led to a redefinition of the concept of virtuosity in order to include new and extended instrumental techniques as well as a focus on aspects of sound that had been neglected or even ignored before such as pitch, timbre and dynamics. In some cases, they also brought about a new approach to the role of the soloist and its relation to the orchestra.

Violin concertos

Two great innovators of early 20th-century music, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, both wrote violin concertos. The material in Schoenberg’s concerto, like that in Berg’s, is linked by the twelve-tone serial method. Bartók, another major 20th century composer, wrote two important concertos for violin. Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich both wrote two concertos while Khachaturian wrote a concerto and a Concerto-Rhapsody for the instrument. Hindemith’s concertos hark back to the forms of the 19th century, even if the harmonic language which he used was different.

Three violin concertos from David Diamond show the form in neoclassical style.

More recently, Dutilleux's L'Arbre des Songes has proved an important addition to the repertoire and a fine example of the composer's atonal yet melodic style.

Other composers of major violin concertos include Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Britten, Frank Martin, Carl Nielsen, Ligeti, Philip Glass, John Adams, and Kan-no.

Cello concertos

In the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War, the cello enjoyed an unprecedented popularity. As a result, its concertante repertoire caught up with those of the piano and the violin both in terms of quantity and quality.

An important factor in this phenomenon was the rise of virtuoso cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. His outstanding technique and passionate playing prompted dozens of composers to write pieces for him, first in his native Soviet Union and then abroad. His creations include such masterpieces as Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto, Dmitri Shostakovich's two cello concertos, Benjamin Britten's Cello-Symphony (which emphasizes, as its title suggests, the equal importance of soloist and orchestra), Henri Dutilleux' Tout un monde lointain, Witold Lutosławski's cello concerto, Dmitri Kabalevsky's two cello concertos, Aram Khachaturian's Concerto-Rhapsody, Arvo Pärt's Pro et Contra, Alfred Schnittke, André Jolivet and Krzysztof Penderecki second cello concertos, Sofia Gubaidulina's Canticles of the Sun, Luciano Berio's Ritorno degli Snovidenia, Leonard Bernstein's Three Meditations, James MacMillan's cello concerto and Olivier Messiaen's Concert à Quatre (a concerto for cello, piano, oboe, flute and orchestra which was almost finished at the time of his death and completed by Yvonne Loriod and George Benjamin).

In addition, it must be noted that several important composers who were not directly influenced by Rostropovich wrote cello concertos: György Ligeti, Alexander Glazunov, Paul Hindemith, Toru Takemitsu, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Nikolai Myaskovsky, Samuel Barber, Joaquín Rodrigo, Elliot Carter, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, William Walton, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Hans Werner Henze, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Einojuhani Rautavaara for instance.

Piano concertos

Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto is a well known example of piano concerti. In addition, Stravinsky wrote three works for solo piano and orchestra: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, and Movements for Piano and Orchestra. Prokofiev, another Russian composer, wrote no less than five piano concertos which he himself performed. Shostakovich composed two. Fellow soviet composer Khachaturian contributed to the repertoire with a piano concerto and a Concerto-Rhapsody.

Bartók also wrote three piano concertos. Like their violin counterparts, they show the various stages in his musical development.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote concertos for piano and for two pianos while Britten's concerto for piano (1938) is a fine work from his early period.

Ligeti's concerto is a good example of a more recent piece (1985) that uses complex rhythms.

Concertos for other instruments

The 20th century also witnessed a growth of the concertante repertoire of instruments, some of which had seldom or never been used in this capacity. As a result, almost all the instruments of the classical orchestra now have a concertante repertoire. Examples include:

Amongst the works of the prolific composer Alan Hovhaness may be noted Prayer of St. Gregory for trumpet and strings.

Today the concerto tradition has been continued by composers such as Maxwell Davies, whose series of Strathclyde Concertos exploit some of the instruments less familiar as soloists.

Concertos for orchestra

In the 20th century, several important composers wrote concertos for orchestra. In these works, different sections and/or instruments of the orchestra are treated at one point or another as soloists with emphasis on solo sections and/or instruments changing during the piece. Famous exemples include those written by Bartók, Lutoslawski, Hindemith, Carter, and Lindberg. Dutilleux has also described his Métaboles as a concerto for orchestra.

Concertos for two or more instruments

Many composers also wrote concertos for two or more soloists, for example Vivaldi (for 2, 3 or 4 violins, for 2 cellos, for 2 mandolins, for 2 trumpets, for 2 flutes, for oboe and bassoon, for cello and bassoon... etc.) and Bach (for 2 violins, for 2, 3, or 4 harpsichords as well as several of his Brandenburg concertos). Later in the 18th century, Mozart composed concerti for both two pianos and three pianos as well as one for flute and harp.

In the Romantic era, Beethoven wrote a triple concerto for piano, violin, and cello, Brahms a double concerto for violin and cello and Bruch a double concerto for viola and clarinet.

Notable examples in the 20th century include:

Following the tradition of Mozart, Poulenc and Martinu each wrote a concerto for two pianos.

See also


  • Berry, W. (1986). Form in Music (2nd ed.). NJ, Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians; ed. Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • The concerto; ed. Ralph Hill, Pelican 1952

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CONCERTO (Lat. concertus, from certare, to strive, also confused with concentus), in music, a term which appears as early as the beginning of the 17th century, at first as a title of no very definite meaning, but which early acquired a sense justified by its etymology and became applied chiefly to compositions in which unequal instrumental or vocal forces are brought into opposition.

Although by Bach's time the concerto as a polyphonic instrumental form was thoroughly established, the term frequently appears in the autograph title-pages of his church cantatas, even when the cantata contains no instrumental prelude. Indeed, so entirely does the actual concerto form, as Bach understands it, depend upon the opposition of masses of tone unequal in volume with a compensating inequality in power of commanding attention, that Bach is able to rewrite an instrumental movement as a chorus without the least incongruity of style. A splendid example of this is the first chorus of a university festival cantata, Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten, the very title of which ("united contest of turn-about strings") is a perfect definition of the earlier form of concerto grosso, in which the chief mass of the orchestra was opposed, not to a mere solo instrument, but to a small group called the concertino, or else the whole work was for a large orchestral mass in which tutti passages alternate with passages in which the whole orchestra is dispersed in every possible kind of grouping. But the special significance of this particular chorus is that it is arranged from the second movement of the first Brandenburg concerto; and that while the orchestral material is unaltered except for transposition of key, enlargement of force and substitution of trumpets and drums for the original horns, the whole chorus part has been evolved from the solo part for a kit violin (violino piccolo). This admirably illustrates Bach's grasp of the true idea of a concerto, namely, that whatever the relations may be between the forces in respect of volume or sound, the whole treatment of the form must depend upon the healthy relation of function between that force which commands more and that which commands less attention. Ceteris paribus the individual, suitably placed, will command more attention than the crowd, whether in real life, drama or instrumental music. And in music the human voice, with human words, will thrust any orchestral force into the background, the moment it can make itself heard at all. Hence it is not surprising that the earlier concerto forms should show the closest affinity (not only in general aesthetic principle, but in many technical details) with the form of the vocal aria, as matured by Alessandro Scarlatti. And the treatment of the orchestra is, mutatis mutandis, exactly the same in both. The orchestra is entrusted with a highly pregnant and short summary of the main contents of the movement, and the solo, or the groups corresponding thereto, will either take up this material or first introduce new themes to be combined with it, and, in short, enter into relations with the orchestra very like those between the actors and the chorus in Greek drama. If the aria before Mozart may be regarded as a single large melody expanded by the device of the ritornello so as to give full expression to the power of a singer against an instrumental accompaniment, so the polyphonic concerto form may be regarded as an expansion of the aria form to a scale worthy of the larger and purely instrumental forces employed, and so rendered capable of absorbing large polyphonic and other types of structure incompatible with the lyric idea of the aria. The da capo form, by which the aria had attained its full dimensions through the addition of a second strain in foreign keys followed by the original strain da capo, was absorbed by the polyphonic concerto on an enormous scale, both in first movements and finales (see Bach's Klavier concerto in E, Violin concerto in E, first movement), while for slow movements the ground bass (see Variations), diversified by changes of key (Klavier concerto in D minor), the more melodic types of binary form, sometimes with the repeats ornamentally varied or inverted (Concerto for 3 klaviers in D minor, Concerto for klavier, flute and violin in A minor), and in finales the rondo form (Violin concerto in E major, Klavier concerto in F minor) and the binary form (3rd Brandenburg concerto) may be found.

When conceptions of musical form changed and the modern sonata style arose, the peculiar conditions of the concerto gave rise to problems the difficulty of which only the highest classical intellects could appreciate or solve. The number and contrast of the themes necessary to work out a first movement of a sonata are far too great to be contained within the single musical sentence of Bach's and Handel's ritornello, even when it is as long as the thirty bars of Bach's Italian concerto (a work in which every essential of the polyphonic concerto is reproduced on the harpsichord by means of the contrasts between its full register on the lower of its two keyboards and its solo stops on both). Bach's sons had taken shrewd steps in forming the new style; and Mozart, as a boy, modelled himself closely on Johann Christian Bach, and by the time he was twenty was able to write concerto ritornellos that gave the orchestra admirable opportunity for asserting its character and resource in the statement in charmingly epigrammatic style of some five or six sharply contrasted themes, afterwards to be worked out with additions by the solo with the orchestra's co-operation and intervention. As the scale of the works increases the problem becomes very difficult, because the alternation between solo and tutti easily produces a sectional type of structure incompatible with the high degree of organization required in first movements; yet frequent alternation is evidently necessary, as the orchestral solo is audible only above a very subdued orchestral accompaniment, and it would be highly inartistic to use the orchestra for no other purpose. Hence in the classical concerto the ritornello is never abandoned, in spite of the enormous dimensions to which the sonata style expanded it. And though from the time of Mendelssohn onwards most composers have seemed to regard it as a conventional impediment easily abandoned, it may be doubted whether any modern concerto, except the four magnificent examples of Brahms, and Dr Joachim's Hungarian concerto, possesses first movements in which the orchestra seems to enjoy breathing space. And certainly in the classical concerto the entry of the solo instrument, after the long opening tutti, is always dramatic in direct proportion to its delay. The great danger in handling so long an orchestral prelude is that the work may for some minutes be indistinguishable from a symphony and thus the entry of the solo may be unexpected without being inevitable. This is especially the case if the composer has treated his opening tutti like the exposition of a sonata movement, and made a deliberate transition from his first group of themes to a second group in a complementary key, even if the transition is only temporary, as in Beethoven's C minor concerto. Mozart keeps his whole tutti in the tonic, relieved only by his mastery of sudden subsidiary modulation; and so perfect is his marshalling of his resources that in his hands a tutti a hundred bars long passes by with the effect of a splendid pageant, of which the meaning is evidently about to be revealed by the solo. After the C minor concerto, Beethoven grasped the true function of the opening tutti and enlarged it to his new purposes. With an interesting experiment of Mozart's before him, he, in his G major concerto, Op. 53, allowed the solo player to state the opening theme, making the orchestra enter pianissimo in a foreign key, a wonderful incident which has led to the absurd statement that he "abolished the opening tutti," and that Mendelssohn in so doing has "followed his example." In this concerto he also gave considerable variety of key to the opening tutti by the use of an important theme which executes a considerable series of modulations, an entirely different thing from a deliberate modulation from material in one key to material in another. His fifth and last pianoforte concerto, in E flat, commonly called the "Emperor," begins with a rhapsodical introduction of extreme brilliance for the solo player, followed by a tutti of unusual length which is confined to the tonic major and minor with a strictness explained by the gorgeous modulations with which the solo subsequently treats the second subject. In this concerto Beethoven also dispenses with the only really conventional feature of the form, namely, the cadenza, a custom elaborated from the operatic aria, in which the singer was allowed to extemporize a flourish on a pause near the end. A similar pause was made in the final ritornello of a concerto, and the soloist was supposed to extemporize what should be equivalent to a symphonic coda, with results which could not but be deplorable unless the player (or cadenza writer) were either the composer himself, or capable of entering into his intentions, like Joachim, who has written the finest extant cadenza of classical violin concertos.

Brahms's first concerto in D minor, Op. 15, was the result of an immense amount of work, and, though on a mass of material originally intended for a symphony, was nevertheless so perfectly assimilated into the true concerto form that in his next essay, the violin concerto, Op. 77, he had no more to learn, and was free to make true innovations. He succeeds in presenting the contrasts even of remote keys so immediately that they are serviceable in the opening tutti and give the form a wider range in definitely functional key than any other instrumental music. Thus in the opening tutti of the D minor concerto the second subject is announced in B flat minor. In the B flat pianoforte concerto, Op. 83, it appears in D minor, and in the double concerto, O. 102, for violin and violoncello in A minor it appears in F major. In none of these cases is it in the key in which the solo develops it, and it is reached with a directness sharply contrasted with the symphonic deliberation with which it is approached in the solo. In the violin concerto, Op. 77, Brahms develops a counterplot in the opposition between solo and orchestra, inasmuch as after the solo has worked out its second subject the orchestra bursts in, not with the opening ritornello, but with its own version of the material with which the solo originally entered. In other words we have now not only the development by the solo of material stated by the orchestra but also a counter-development by the orchestra of material stated by the solo. This concerto is, on the other hand, remarkable as being the last in which a blank space is left for a cadenza, Brahms having in his friend Joachim a kindred spirit worthy of such trust. In the pianoforte concerto in B flat, and in the double concerto,' Op. 102, the idea of an introductory statement in which the solo takes part before the opening tutti is carried out on a large scale, and in the double concerto both first and second subjects are thus suggested. It is unnecessary to speak of the other movements of concerto form, as the sectional structure that so easily results from the opposition between solo and orchestra is not of great disadvantage to slow movements and finales, which accordingly do not show important differences from the ordinary types of symphonic and chamber music. The scherzo, on the other hand, is normally of too small a range of contrast for successful adaptation to concerto form, and the solitary great example of its use is the second movement of Brahms's B flat pianoforte concerto.

Nothing is more easy to handle with inartistic or pseudoclassic effectiveness than the opposition between a brilliant solo player and an orchestra; and, as the inevitable tendency of even the most artistic concerto has been to exhaust the resources of the solo instrument in the increased difficulty of making a proper contrast between solo and orchestra, so the technical difficulty of concertos has steadily increased until even in classical times it was so great that the orthodox definition of a concerto is that it is "an instrumental composition designed to show the skill of an executant, and one which is almost invariably accompanied by orchestra." This idea is in flat violation of the whole history and aesthetics of the form, which can never be understood by means of a study of averages. In art the average is always false, and the individual organization of the greatest classical works is the only sound basis for generalizations, historic or aesthetic. (D. F. T.)

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Simple English

A concerto is a piece of music made for a solo instrument and an orchestra. When an orchestra plays at a concert they might play a symphony (a piece for orchestra) and they might play a concerto (with a soloist). If the solo instrument is a violin the piece is called a “violin concerto”, if it is a piano it is called a “piano concerto”, etc. The orchestra accompanies the soloist. This means that it is the soloist who decides how fast or slow to play. The conductor should listen to the way the soloist wants to play and make the orchestra accompany sensitively.

The word “concerto” is an Italian word (the second “c” is pronounced like an English “ch”). It means “agreeing” or “playing together”. The English plural is “concertos”.

The concerto became popular during the 17th century in Italy. Some concertos had several soloists instead of just one. This kind of concerto was called a concerto grosso.


The concerto in the Baroque period

The solo concerto became popular with composers like Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) who wrote over 400 concertos for various instruments. His most famous concertos are a group of four known as The Four Seasons. These are violin concertos, and each concerto deals in turn with one of the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Many other Baroque composers wrote concertos: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote several concertos for violin although only two have survived, the others have been lost. He also wrote solo concertos for the harpsichord. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) wrote concertos for the organ. Organs in England were very small in those days and balanced well with an orchestra. Handel sometimes put pauses in his concertos where the soloist could improvise (make up) some music. These improvised bits became known as “cadenzas”. Concertos ever since have cadenzas where the soloist can show how brilliant they are at playing and at improvising. Some composers wrote their own cadenzas. this is not correct as in (wrong) because of the poor word choices

The concerto in the Classical period

In the Classical period Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) wrote a few concertos including two for the cello, but he is better known for his symphonies. It was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) who wrote many wonderful piano concertos. This was at a time when the piano was a new instrument. Mozart was a brilliant pianist and he wrote most of them for himself to perform. He also wrote five violin concertos, four horn concertos, two flute concertos and a clarinet concerto. He also wrote concertos for more than one soloist e.g. a flute and harp concerto and a violin and viola concerto which he called Sinfonia Concertante. By this time concertos always had three movements: a fast one (usually in sonata form), a slow one, and a fast movement (often a rondo) to finish with.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) became famous as a pianist before he was known as a composer. He wrote five piano concertos. The last one, known in English-speaking countries as the Emperor Concerto, is a very big, powerful work which looks forward to the music of the Romantic period. Beethoven wrote a beautiful violin concerto. At the time everyone thought it was too hard for the soloist to play, but as composers wrote harder and harder music the players had to become better and better. Nowadays every professional violinist should be able to play it. Beethoven also wrote a Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello and orchestra.

The concerto in the Romantic period

The 19th century is known as the age of Romanticism. People adored creative men like artists, musicians and writers (the time for women to be equal had not yet come). They were seen as heroes. The concerto fitted in very well with this way of thinking. The soloist was a great hero, and the concerto enabled him to show off his great technique. The violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) was one of these great heroes. He played the violin like no one else had ever done, and because he was a thin, skinny man with a pale face and long hair people thought he looked like the devil. He wrote violin concertos which at the time only he could play.

Romantic and modern concertos

Some of the most famous violin concertos of the 19th and 20th centuries include those by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch (no 1), Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Dmitri Shostakovich (no 1), Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky and Sir William Walton.

Famous piano concertos after Beethoven’s time include those by Frederic Chopin (2), Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms (2), Pjotr I. Tchaikovsky (3), Edvard Grieg, Sergei Rachmaninoff (4), Béla Bartók (3), Sergei Prokofiev (5) and Igor Stravinsky.

Famous cello concertos include those by Antonín Dvořák, Edouard Lalo, Edward Elgar and Dmitri Shostakovich. Tchaikovsky wrote a piece for cello and orchestra called Rococo Variations and Benjamin Britten wrote a piece for cello and orchestra which he called a “Cello Symphony” because the cello and orchestra are equal in importance. Brahms wrote a Double Concerto for violin and cello with orchestra.

There are viola concertos by Paul Hindemith and William Walton, and Hector Berlioz wrote Harold in Italy which is like a viola concerto.

Famous concertos for woodwind instruments include two for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, clarinet and flute concertos by Carl Nielsen, a clarinet concerto by Aaron Copland, an oboe concerto by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Richard Strauss wrote two concertos for the French horn. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a trombone concerto and Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a tuba concerto.

Modern composers have written percussion concertos. These are usually pieces for one percussion player playing lots of different percussion instruments, and an orchestra accompanying. James MacMillan wrote a piece for percussion and orchestra called Veni, Veni Emmanuel.

Joaquin Rodrigo wrote several works for guitar and orchestra including Concierto de Aranjuez.

Béla Bartók wrote a piece called Concerto for Orchestra. He gave it this title because, although it is a piece for orchestra (like a symphony), there are lots of solos for the different instruments. Other composer, such as Alan Hovhaness, have also written concertos for orchestra.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has written ten concertos, each for a different solo instrument. They are known as the "Strathclyde Concertos".


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