• Geoffrey Burgon
  • Piano Concerto (1997)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the British Council for Joanna MacGregor and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra

  • 2(2pic)2(ca)3(Eb:bcl)2(cbn)4.2.2+btbn.1timp.4[=5]perc[pf]str
  • piano
  • 18 min

Programme Note

One can approach any commission as a ‘problem’ to be solved. The ‘problem’ for me in the case of a concerto is that although I find virtuosity exciting to hear, and see, I have never been attracted by the idea of writing music that is virtuosic for the sake of it. Maybe that is because the historical precedents are so daunting - Rachmaninov, Brahms, Prokofiev etc etc, especially for a non-pianist like myself. So, like many other twentieth century composers, I began by looking at other ways of combining soloist with orchestra.

One of my first thoughts was the idea of exploring the percussive qualities of the piano - it is after all a percussion instrument - and how to combine this characteristic of the piano with different combinations of instruments, and colouring those instruments with the piano’s own timbre, to create different colours. I have used a large body of percussion, and a second piano in the orchestra to further explore this sound world, and this has resulted in a piece in which the primary elements are colour and rhythm.

After a slow introduction of piano tremolandi combined with glissanding strings, the piano, plus brass and strings, and in the third wind, introduces the three main motifs of the first movement. These are based on harmonies built from fourths and, apart from the return of the slow introduction, all the music in this movement is a rhythmic and harmonic variation of these motifs. In fact all the music in the concerto derives from the harmonic and melodic possibilities offered by the opening allegro.

The second movement is made up of brief melodic phrases over a slowly pulsing accompaniment, which are set up by the piano and wind and thereafter travel around the orchestra being transformed as they proceed. A harmonically darker passage is announced by a repeating quaver figure on the piano. This leads to a tutti climax after which the music resumes the calmer mood of the opening.

The final movement is predominantly very fast and is characterised by the use of the extremes of the piano’s register, irregular rhythmic patterns and sudden dynamic contrast. This pattern is interrupted by a cadenza-like passage for piano and timpani, a brief reference to nineteenth century pianism, after which the music resumes its headlong rhythmic race. A sforzato note on the horns heralds the coda, which builds to a tutti climax and then gradually fades, and a repeated piano phrase over a string chord tranquilly concludes the piece.

Geoffrey Burgon 1997

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