• Elliott Carter
  • Double Concerto (1961)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)

The solo parts for harpsichord and piano are available from ClassicalOnDemand.com

  • Two Chamber Orchestras: 1(pic)11(Ebcl)1/2110/4perc/str(
  • Harpsichord and Piano
  • 23 min

Programme Note

Composer Note:

Cadenza for Harpsichord
Allegro Scherzando
Cadenza for Piano

My Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano, commissioned by the Fromm Foundation, is dedicated to Paul Fromm. Completed in August, 1961, it is an antiphonal work for two small orchestras each led by one of the soloists. The harpsichord is associated with an ensemble of flute, horn, trumpet, trombone, viola, contrabass, and percussion (largely metallophones and lignophones) while the piano is joined by an ensemble of oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, cello, and percussion (largely membranophones). In addition to being isolated in space and timbre, the antiphonal groups are partially separated musically by the fact that each emphasizes its own repertory of melodic and harmonic intervals – the harpsichord ensemble: minor seconds, minor thirds, perfect fourths, augmented fourths, minor sixths, minor sevenths and minor ninths; the piano ensemble: major seconds, major thirds, perfect fifths, major sixths, major sevenths and major ninths. Each of these intervals is associated, for the most part, with a certain metronomic speed with the result that the speeds and their inter-relationships are also different for the two groups. Rhythmically the harpsichord ensemble is apt to specialize in derivations of the polyrhythm 4 against 7, while the piano ensemble in 5 against 3. These fields of specialization of the two groups are not carried out rigorously throughout the work but give way to the more important considerations which come from the fact that the two groups not only also have different repertories of musical character, gestures, logic, expression and “behavioral” patterns, but that all of these are meant to be combined within each group and from group to group and result in recognizable overall patterns. The motion of the work is from comparative unity with slight character differences to greater and greater diversity of material and character and a return to unity. The form is that of confrontations of diversified action-patterns and a presentation of their mutual inter-reactions, conflicts and resolutions, their growth and decay over various stretches of time.

The Concerto, although continuous, falls into seven large interconnected sections. During the Introduction, the two groups in becoming progressively more differentiated state each facet of their material with greater and greater definition. The Cadenza for Harpsichord presents in condensed form all the salient characteristics, rhythms and intervals of its ensemble. The Allegro Scherzando is primarily for the piano ensemble with brief interruptions and comments by the other group. An Adagio, largely for the winds of both groups accompanied by accelerating and retarding figurations by the two soloists and the percussion joined occasionally by the strings, follows, and is concluded by an extended duet for the two soloists meeting at a stage in the piano’s acceleration and the harpsichord’s retardation only to separate as the piano proceeds toward its maximum speed while the harpsichord and its percussion proceed toward their minimum speed simultaneously.

The Presto is for harpsichord and all the other instruments except the percussion and the piano, which later constantly interrupts with fragments of the Adagio. Twice the soloist breaks into a short Cadenza based on other elements of its material, and its second cadenza leads to an amplification of the questioning inflections of the Presto by all the instruments with the percussion dominating. After a brief pause, the work closes with an extended Coda, using the entire ensemble in a series of long-phased oscillations (that include many subsidiary short-phased ones) from one group to the other, during which previous ideas are recalled in new contexts. Reversing the general plan of the Introduction (although not the musical one) these fragments lose their definition bit by bit, become shorter, sometimes more condensed, sometimes more dispersed, gradually merging into the slow waves of percussion rolls that move according to the basic polyrhythmic structure of the whole work.

Elliott Carter


Double Concerto for Harpsichord & Piano: I. Introduction - II. Cadenza for Harpsichord
Double Concerto for Harpsichord & Piano: III. Allegro scherzando - IV. Adagio - V. Presto - VI. Cadenza for Piano
Double Concerto for Harpsichord & Piano: VII. Coda



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