The Piano Concerto

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The Piano Concerto

The development of keyboard music reached staggering new heights at the turn of the 18th century. It was during this time that the idea of the concerto became a very innovative and popular style of music which combined a large symphony setting and a virtuoso. With the growing popularity of the piano, the end of the 18th century saw a new and more innovative genre of piano concertos. However this concerto received a great deal of criticism due to its lack of proper form and balance between symphony ensemble and soloist. Eventually classical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perfected the form of the piano concerto and his approach to writing the concerto was used throughout the classical period. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that other composers had expanded on this idea and found different ways of keeping the piano concerto relevant. The evolution of the piano concerto from the mid-18th century through the 19th century became a detrimental part in music and has solidified its place in music history.

The piano concerto did not become relevant until the late 18th century. The Baroque keyboard instruments (Harpsichord, clavichord, and organ) were primarily used throughout the 18th century to write keyboard music. While Mozart’s concept of the concerto was the model for many composers throughout the 19th century, the keyboard concerto was said to have originated in the family of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s greatest contributions to the concerto are his six Brandenburg concertos. Although he primarily wrote these for chamber and orchestral instruments, it was not until the fifth Brandenburg concerto that Bach chose to raise the status of the harpsichord from continuo part to principal soloist, which in essence became the first keyboard concerto. Manfred Bukofzer, German American musicologist has continually stated that the Brandenburg concertos are “the most inspired and complex concerti grossi of the baroque era” (Nelson 10). Bach’s concerto approach consisted of the “alternation between solo and tutti sections as the subject material continually expanded and unfolded” (Nelson 11). Although there was no sense of key relationship, Bach would often utilize the tonic-dominant relationship in the order of themes and keys. This would later become the cornerstone of the sonata form. It is important to note the vast difference between a Baroque concerto and a modern concerto. A modern concerto assumes the use of sonata form which was not fully developed during the Baroque period. Baroque concerto movements often use many themes that expand and evolve by means of various techniques as the movement progresses (Nelson 13). With the use of thematic and key contrast, the Baroque concerto was able to bridge a point of contact between its era and the classical period.

The period of music known as Rococo preceded that of Joseph Haydn yet took place after the years of J.S. Bach. The music has been described as “graceful, courtly, and euphonious” (Nelson 17). Among the best known composers of this time were the sons of J.S. Bach, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach. C.P.E Bach is best known for his contributions to the sonata form and his role for the development of piano music; however of the fifty-two keyboard concertos he has written, none of them have gained any recognition or become part of any regular repertoire. Johann Christian Bach had a profound impact on the piano concerto of this period. J.C. Bach, who had a very profound influence on Mozart, wrote prolifically in the concerto style. The structure he used was closely related to the form that Mozart would later use. While predecessors of J.C. Bach elaborated on only one theme in multiple variations, Bach had formally organized his movements, and the familiar pattern of sonata form is clearly evident in his pieces. The Cembalo Concerto, Op. 13, No. 4, clearly demonstrates Bach’s use of a second subject in a dominant key...
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