• John McCabe
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 (1966)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Southport Centenary Festival

  • 2(pic)222/4.2.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/hp/str
  • piano
  • 26 min

Programme Note

Lento - Cadenza - Allegretto - Maestoso - Lento
Giocoso - Danzato - Giocoso

The 1967 Southport Centenary Festival commissioned this concerto, which was first performed at the Festival by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves, with the composer as the soloist. Though the third and fourth movements are weightier and more dramatic, the overall tone of the work is light, and Michael Kennedy likened its impact to that of an English Poulenc after one of the earlier performances.

The four movements fall into pairs, each played without a break. The first pair is, however, much shorter, consisting of a slow prelude followed by a brief toccata in which the piano plays in semiquavers almost throughout. The opening of the first movement provides the concerto with all its thematic material: the gradually ascending opening phrase for strings (with its emphasis on fourths and sevenths) followed by a variant of this on the harp, and the succeeding clarinet tune (accompanied by a long-held piano trill).

The third movement begins with a lengthy passage for orchestra only, based on a variation of the early clarinet tune from the first movement, and it gradually gains intensity until the piano bursts out of the texture with a cadenza. There follows a quicker, dance-like section leading to another climax and then a slow epilogue. The finale is rondo-like in form, with an opening tune initially divided between timpani and piano - the main contrasting tune is for full brass, with an erratic but strongly marked rhythmic shape. These two tunes alternate for a while, in quiet scoring, to lead to the passage taking the music back to the main rondo theme's full return in the coda. This passage starts with swaying, overlapping chords on horn and piano, the texture gradually filling in to lead to a bravura coda bringing the concerto to a virtuosic final flourish.

© 1991 John McCabe