Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
Related Artists/CompaniesSergei Prokofiev
National Symphony Orchestra: Cornelius Meister, conductor / Nikolai Lugansky, piano, plays Prokofiev - Apr. 17 - 19, 2014
Making his NSO debut, young conductor Cornelius Meister leads Mozart's Symphony No. 40, a Mendelssohn masterpiece, and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 featuring "colorful and exciting" (The New York Times) Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky.
About the WorkIn a 1962 interview, Madame Lina Llubera Prokofiev, the composerâ€™s first wife, recalled her husbandâ€™s working method at the time he wrote the C major Piano Concerto in 1921: "Prokofiev toiled at his music. His capacity for work was phenomenal. He would sit down to work in the morning â€˜with a clear head,â€™ as he said, either at the piano or at his writing desk. He usually composed his major works in the summer, in the mountains or at the seaside, away from the turmoil of city life. Always he sought places where the rhythm of work was not interrupted, where he could rest and take long walks. So it was with the Third Piano Concerto, which he completed during the summer of 1921 while staying at St. Brévin-les-Pins, a small village on the Atlantic coast of Brittany in France."
The composition of this Concerto was not a sudden inspiration for Prokofiev. The plan for a large virtuoso work to follow the first two piano concertos emerged in 1911, but he made little progress on it except for one passage he eventually placed at the end of the first movement. By 1913, he later recalled in his memoirs, "I had composed a theme for variations, which I kept for a long time for subsequent use. In 1916-1917, I had tried several times to return to the Third Concerto. I wrote a beginning for it (two themes) and two variations on the theme for the second movement." At that time, he was also working on what he called a "white" quartet (i.e., in a diatonic style, playable on the white keys of the piano) but abandoned it because he thought the result would be monotonous. He shuttled two themes from this aborted quartet into the Concerto. "Thus," he continued in his autobiography, "when I began [in 1921] working on the Third Concerto, I already had the entire thematic material with the exception of the subordinate theme of the first movement and the third theme of the finale."
Prokofiev completed the Third Concerto in time to take it on his 1921 American tour, which also included the world premiere in Chicago of his opera The Love for Three Oranges. The excitement (and publicity) surrounding that production generated a sympathetic interest in the new Concerto played by its composer, and the work was a considerable success at its first performance, given on December 16, 1921 with conductor Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Despite a cool reception when it was introduced to New York only a month later, Prokofievâ€™s Third Concerto has become one of the most popular works of 20th-century music, and is a staple of the concert repertory.
Prokofiev provided the following description of the score: "The first movement opens quietly with a short introduction (Andante, 4/4). The theme is announced by an unaccompanied clarinet and is continued by the violins for a few bars. Soon the tempo changes to Allegro, and the strings have a passage in sixteenths, which leads to the statement of the principal subject by the piano. Discussion of this theme is carried on in a lively manner, both the piano and the orchestra having a good deal to say on the matter. A passage in chords for the piano alone leads to the more expressive second subject, heard in the oboe with a pizzicato accompaniment. This is taken up by the piano and developed at some length, eventually giving way to a bravura passage in triplets. At the climax of this section, the tempo reverts to Andante, and the orchestra gives out the first theme, fortissimo. The piano joins in, and the theme is subjected to an impressively broad treatment. In resuming the Allegro, the chief theme and the second subject are developed with increased brilliance, and the movement ends with an exciting crescendo.
"The second movement consists of a theme with five variations. The theme is announced by the orchestra alone, Andantino. In the first variation, the piano treats the opening of the theme in quasi-sentimental fashion, and resolves into a chain of trills, as the orchestra repeats the closing phrase. The tempo changes to Allegro for the second and third variations, and the piano has brilliant figures, while snatches of the theme are introduced here and there in the orchestra. In Variation Four the tempo is once again Andante, and the piano and orchestra discourse on the theme in a quiet and meditative fashion. Variation Five is energetic (Allegro giusto). It leads without pause into a restatement of the theme by the orchestra, with delicate chordal embroidery in the piano.
"The finale (Allegro ma non troppo, 3/4) begins with a staccato theme for bassoons and pizzicato strings, which is interrupted by the blustering entry of the piano. The orchestra holds its own with the opening theme, however, and there is a good deal of argument, with frequent differences of opinion as regards key. Eventually the piano takes up the first theme and develops it to a climax. With a reduction of tone and a slackening of tempo, an alternative theme is introduced in the woodwinds. The piano replies with a theme that is more in keeping with the caustic humor of the work. This material is developed, and there is a brilliant coda."