30 Sep 2011

Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, op. 10

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, strings

Duration: 16 minutes in three movements (played without pause).

THE COMPOSER – SERGE PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) – Prokofiev premiered his own 1st Piano Concerto in the summer of 1912 while still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. With his teen prodigy days now behind him, he had the ironic reputation as a “modernist” which, true or not, would have disturbed his conservative instructors. He dedicated the concerto to one of the more critical among them, “the dreaded Tcherepnin.”

THE MUSIC – Though he was an excellent pianist, the premiere of his own 1st Concerto was Prokofiev’s first appearance with an orchestra. He understood the stakes, both as a composer and performer, when he admitted that he would need to “know it cold” before the expected huge audience. The crowd loved it, even if the critics did not. One claimed Prokofiev “ripe for the straitjacket” while another stated that he lacked the capacity for “novelty” in “the inner depths of his nature” and wondered if the piece even deserved “to be called music.” Brutal, to be sure, but the composer’s incisive playing won over the audience and in all the ways that mattered to him, won the day. The music progresses as a single unbroken movement with three obvious sections and the young man’s abundant creativity is on display throughout. Like the 1st Violin Concerto, Prokofiev originally planned the piece as a more modest Concertino but decided en route to give it more weight and significance. The composer later stated that he regarded the 1st Piano Concerto as his first fully mature work and it undoubtedly signaled his arrival as a talent that could not be ignored. So sure was he of the work’s merit that he entered with it in the Conservatory’s concerto performance competition, normally the domain of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Whether blissfully innocent or woefully overconfident, the move was certainly brazen…and successful!                                                                                              

THE WORLD – China became a Republic in 1912. New Mexico and Arizona achieved statehood. Scott reached the South Pole, only to find Amundsen’s flag already there. Also in 1912, the RMS Titanic went down during its maiden voyage.